If there's anything we can learn from LeBron James' move from the Miami Heat back to Cleveland, it's that the right public relations team is worth its weight in gold.
We're mere months away from the entire nation rejoicing at the demise of James and the Heat, not even able to stretch the San Antonio Spurs to a sixth game. Good had triumphed over evil, and all was right in the universe.
Six months and 15 days later, with a few commercials and a well-placed letter, the villain to the entire league is well down the path to making himself much more likable to every fan base except Miami.
It's brilliant because they found the right and only story line: LeBron James, the king himself, is returning home. He's now much more humble when he left — there was no "not one, not two, not three ..." championship talk, only a hope to bring one back to Cleveland, which would mean more than anything to that state as a whole.
His humble homecoming is what the best PR staff in the business is selling here. And they're doing a really good job of it while lining their client's pockets with cash from commercials.
His first home game! Imagine the scenes in Cleveland when the king comes back.
Oh, what's this? His first home game isn't in Cleveland. It's back home in front of a bunch of kids at a park in Akron! Look at him walking with the kids and talking to them, just like a regular guy. Don't pay attention to that big swig of Sprite he took at the end of the commercial that earned him tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars for a day's work. He's back, and he's just one of the kids playing basketball at home in Akron.
They're the first words out of Gloria James's mouth in this commercial: "Akron is home."
He's home again. His greater purpose, all he's playing for, is his city. Listen to the "Amen" chorus start right when he walks into St. Mary's High School to go work out (wearing the newest Beats By Dre headphones). It's almost like it's divine providence that he's back with the Cavaliers, not that he has a better deal that he can opt out of when the new TV contract takes effect and pours more money into the league. You know, that deal he agreed with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, whose team is freshly stocked with younger and better talent than the Heat? The same ones who give James all the perks he wants, the same ones Pat Riley wouldn't allow in Miami? But that's not important — look how hard James is working out. He looks really determined to work hard for Cleveland!
Or that's what you're supposed to be buying. If you are and you like it, good. Really, there's some truth to that story, and I believe LeBron when he says that he wanted to win a title for Cleveland and for Ohio, for everyone back home.
But what you should realize is that LeBron's move back to Cleveland never would had happened if the business of it all wasn't right. He taught Gilbert a hard lesson in leaving, then made Gilbert promise him whatever he wanted in order to return to Cleveland, now a better team than Miami. He'll get the max money he can earn now and the max figure on his next contract in Cleveland too. LeBron got his rings and a better deal back home. He won.
What else you should realize is there's nothing wrong with that. Basketball is the sport most affected by its top-tier talent. The best players in the league deserve to get whatever they can pry from their owners.
But that'd look selfish to the public. More than anything else, being selfish and proud are the two worst things an athlete can be. Sometimes it's better for an athlete to be an actual criminal than for people to think he's too interested in himself or to not be humble.
That's where LeBron's PR team has been winning. Instead of the much more important reasons behind LeBron's coming back to Cleveland — a better deal, more perks within the team and a better team — we get the homecoming story. And it's a beautiful story for everyone involved … especially LeBron.
"Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very
disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more
important than that."
Follow me on Twitter @cheedelt for more me.