Ben AKHIA

I am not ashamed to admit I was sucked in by LeBron’s Decision 2.0 (or was it Decision 2014? Or the Indecision?) – and not just because he ended up back in Cleveland. What had me hooked was what no one outside of Dan Le Batard seemed to notice – LeBron was changing… well, everything.

He was changing journalism. He was changing the face of the NBA. He was changing his legacy. He was changing marketing. Sure, he made some significant mistakes along the way, but at this point I’m not convinced those were all part of the plan as well.

I hope the marketing world paid attention to LeBron over the past two weeks because in my opinion there are some key takeaways that our industry should be taking note of:

Become the publisher. And the producer. Perhaps the biggest takeaway for me? The Decision 2010 needed ESPN. The Decision 2014 didn’t. In fact, it really didn’t need anyone except…us. Sure, Sports Illustrated was where the story ultimately broke but honestly, that story could’ve had as much impact had it run on LeBron’s website. In 2010, ESPN produced The Decision. This time around, LeBron produced every piece of it. Do you know how many brands wish they could produce and control a message like that?

Twitter is faster than you. In 2010, I was glued to my TV and radio (ESPN radio) while digging for facts and tidbits on Twitter. In 2014, I relied solely on Twitter for my information. Good thing too, because from what I could tell it moved about 10 – 15 minutes faster than traditional media. Yes, I know that’s because on Twitter everyone is an expert and sources are rarely confirmed. However, the story and general flow of information moved a lot faster on Twitter. At one point I was just sitting there ‘watching’ Twitter. Forget the second screen – Twitter was THE screen.

Local media – believe it! There was a lot of speculation around LeBron’s decision – we saw everything from Nike buying up billboards to Dan Gilbert’s plane to random people who had it from a good source that this was a done deal. And while the national media plodded along, the local media kept plugging away at this story. When it was all said and done it was amazing to me how much of what was being called local speculation actually ended up being true. This was a testament to how strong local media can be, especially in the era of social media.

Everything is (potentially) an event. I wrote about this before, discussing how social media can elevate major events, like the Super Bowl and the Oscars, to a whole new level of public interest. In 2010, The Decision was a major event. But it had a start time. In 2014, the Decision 2.0 was a major two-week event that had no start time… and really, hasn’t ended yet. Who would’ve thought that NBA free agency could compete with the World Cup for a share of social media chatter?

Facts are nice to have. This scares me more than anything, but when you realize that everything I talked about to this point took place with only two real pieces of verified information – LeBron had opted out; LeBron would be meeting with Pat Riley – you see just how powerful (and dangerous) the modern news cycle has become. Remember, as you plan your marketing strategy, your participation and the facts aren’t needed for a story to happen.

And, on a personal note…

Never underestimate the power of sports. I gave away my LeBron gear in 2010. I put all my LeBron ‘stuff’ in bins. I rooted for the Heat to lose. Perhaps more than I ever rooted for the Cavs to win. And despite how much I wanted to hate LeBron, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I wrote earlier this year that as you watched the Finals to appreciate just how good LeBron had become. Go ahead and hate him for not doing it here. But don’t hate him for doing it.

I had finally come to accept LeBron for what he was. Someone who is a top five all-timer. Someone who reluctantly had to leave what he loved most – his hometown – to become a winner. And just as I had finally done that, sports, which can be as forgiving and uplifting as it is cruel, decided to shine down on Cleveland. Even the most cynical Cleveland fan has hope today. Even people who knew nothing about sports know what has happened here. We were all witnesses once. We were all witnesses again… to the greatest day in Cleveland sports history.

“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.”
-LeBron James

It’s only a game. Except for Cleveland.