The World According to James

01 Dec 2008

The popcorn, jokes, and testosterone zing around the room with all the patience of an electron. Across town the same scene is amplified in a crowded bar, long and skinny, the popcorn substituted with beer. In both rooms the flicker of television screens — rhythm — and the dance between sports and advertising provides the meter by which the hours will unfold. Where elbows and dripping bottles crowd one space, coasters and crumbs crowd the other. It is the job of Lebron James to communicate above the din in both these spaces. If, during commercial breaks, he can do just half of what his body does during the game many millionaires not pictured on the screen sweating and chest-bumping will be just as enthused.

LeBron James, the icon, comes to form before our eyes. We see, just a bit sharper in Nike’s new spot “Chalk.”

And was that Lil Wayne mugging from the courtside seats? Indeed, we’re not sure if the cameo will help sell more albums to sports fans or sneakers to hip-hop fans, but the will is there. He’s even blogging for ESPN. Guess who he talks about most?

LeBron James was a junior in high school when he first appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. His senior season’s games were broadcast nationally on ESPN. Now a six-year pro and gold medalist, the table is set for him to become a legitimate media personality, or, as Nike once put it, for us to Witness.

further reading at Esquire.
Early SI cover here.


  1. 1 Dec 2008 MHB

    that spot is church, like when I saw Nike spots as a kid. And Weezy blogging? Helps to remind all those that may not understand – so much to that man beyond the rhymes and purp.

  2. 2 Dec 2008 nerditry

    Eh and meh.

    Bron continues to be the Emperor in his new clothes. He is a vacuum of substance, thought and depth of development.

    The faltering economy is going to show how the passe idea of self-branding is gone by the wayside. No more MJ cologne or Diddy-endorsed vodka.

    He wants to be an icon, but people put them up for a specific reason. No one is better poised to take advantage of the dearth of leadership in the star-centric NBA. No one is worse-suited to fill that gap than a guy who couldn’t even stand to bring bullets to a reasonable argument with Charles Barkley.

    Vote Chris Bosh…for everything.

  3. 2 Dec 2008 Raafi

    Didn’t catch the Barkley interview. Athlete filmographies have always intrigued me though. Kevin Garnett was arguably at a similar place in his career a few years ago.

    The athlete’s agency in his own career both as a player and market force — their interdependence — seems a unique facet of that line of work.

  4. 2 Dec 2008 nerditry

    Raafi : My disagreement in the agency of a player is the assumption that people want said player to extend their influence beyond basketball. While that does ask one to holster the idea of how far out that influence can be based solely on their vocation (such as having an interest in a LeBron line of non-athletic apparel), I think that there are relatively few people clamoring for more James off the court.

    There’s no history built into Brand James ala Michael at UNC or the 1984 Olympic Team. He has never come out with any statement to be construed as insightful or controversial aside from a lack of statements. Suffice it to say that everything about LBJ seems made to be packaged and sanitized for consumption by marketing and advertising types who adore that easy “access.”

    Aside from having one’s face on a product, what exactly does being a “Global Icon” (as he put it), entail?

    Smoke and mirrors. At least Garnett has always had personal depth and is a student of all aspects of basketball’s history, more specifically the people (not just players) that came before him.

  5. 2 Dec 2008 raafi

    @ Nerditry

    Maybe I’ll have to break out my thoughts a bit further on this, maybe it’s even post-worthy. I do enjoy being a spectator of Brand James in the way that I appreciate watching the rise of a company with a superior product find its footing in the market — say, iPhone vs nokia. In the case of Brand James, I find that the messaging has been superior, even if the product is (merely?) on par with other great brands — Garnett, et al.

    I disagree that there’s no history built into Brand James — no championships, surely. But the brand messaging is correct, we are witnesses to the history. The question is this: Can he deliver on the promise of that SI cover? Garnett has finally delivered on his, but maybe a little too late.

    The Esquire article hints at what I think you’re asking: is all this “Global icon” business a bunch of hooey? Isn’t this just hubris? Is it disgusting, absurd?

    At the close of the summit, LeBron initiates a team huddle, because, see, this is not only more than sponsorship, this is even more than partnership — this is a promise. Family.

    A moment of incredible surreality, this huddle. Adam Sullins of Upper Deck went to Yale; he is the sort of smart that never falters. Lynn Merritt’s got the tested significance of aspirin. Here are these men, the top executives at the best companies in the world — hey, really, close your eyes and imagine it — here are these gentlemen folding willingly into a team huddle.

    But what I’m looking at is the game of it all. Sure, this isn’t about being Ali. There’s no social justice component to it. But the level of endeavor, the audacity of it is captivating and, I’ll say it, inspiring. LeBron James and Maverick Carter are arguing that it’s possible to create a globally recognized brand in the form of a person who has yet to win anything on his own. (the gold medal was as much about Kobe Bryant as any other player). And they’ve got major brands lined up with them because it’s impossible not to see that the potential is absolutely there.

    Jordan never started his career thinking that. Perhaps Tiger Woods is the only other athlete to come close and all would, I’m sure, willingly cite Jordan as their example. So I’ll call it a giant bit of commercial theater, but with the democratic justice of sport to back it up. And we get to see the best of the advertising world as a consequence.

  6. 3 Dec 2008 nerditry

    Raafi : You are correct in that assumption, I have trouble reconciling the issue of building a brand based on potential when I can tell absolutely nothing about the person if the product is not directly related to the foundation of one’s celebrity.

    I don’t argue their intentions, the success of them or even the methodology. I think that there is going to be a shift away from the single-celebrity, multiple-brands format of endorsements and that Bron may be the last of a breed of players that defined the NBA from Magic & Larry and may be the only one able to elevate himself to the status of Superstar the way Kobe cannot from prior issues of consumer/fan trust.

    Definitely email me direct if you are going to write more or want to discuss further.