Thursday, July 08, 2010

On Vacation ... with LeBron

It's amazing how things get away from you on vacation. I'm in Indiana with family and friends, and have thought very little about this blog (or work in general, for that matter). When I saw how long it had been since I posted here I felt more than a slight twinge of embarrassment.

One person who has not been out of touch is NBA star LeBron James. Tonight on ESPN, LeBron turns a simple free agent signing into the mega-reality/awards show of all time. Before a national TV audience James will announce what NBA team he will play for next season.

Among the many interesting things about this made-for-sports media event is that James and his handlers approached ESPN with the idea; not the other way around. This is truly a young man savvy in the ways of sports media and how to promote/position himself to the highest level. (But to be fair, much of the money made in the program will go to charity). How savvy? In an excellent article, Bill Simmons of ESPN notes, "You're a brand as much as an athlete. In the past 72 hours, LeBron ... created a Twitter account, launched his own website and agreed with ESPN on a selection show." (Simmons said it should be called the "LeBratchelor," with teams whittled down from 8 to 6 to four, etc.). And it's not just LeBron. Chris Bosh, who just signed to play in Miami, purportedly hired a documentary crew to follow him around to capture the supposed drama of his decision.

Simmons' point about NBA players (and all athletes, really) becoming brands is well taken and at least so far, James has used the media to his benefit. But now the danger is over exposure, especially if he signs with a team in a large media market such as New York or Chicago. If that happens, we really will find out if there can be too much of a good thing. It seems hard to believe, but James has been relatively shielded living in a small media market and near his hometown. There has been little serious criticism of him. That could all change quickly going to a place like New York.

It would be an interesting test of LJ's (so far) canny use of the sports media to his advantage.