The LeBron Commercial

Yesterday, when LeBron James tweeted his new Nike commercial, called “Rise,” it got more positive feedback than anything James has done since winning second MVP. People on Twitter loved it (if you didn’t know this, LeBron himself took the liberty of retweeting practically every good thing said about the ad), Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon both called it “brilliant” on Pardon the Interruption, and the Internet went crazy praising it as the first positive step in the rehabilitation of LeBron’s image.

“Rise” certainly is another example of Nike grasping the nuance behind a sponsor’s public image (something I was in the minority in seeing in April’s Tiger Woods ad). In 90 seconds, the ad manages to touch on LeBron’s Decision, the fallout, the betrayal felt in Cleveland, the criticisms he took from Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley, his new role as the NBA’s Bad Guy, the attacks on LeBron’s “handlers” this season, his infamous “mental notes,” and the drop in his celebrity value, among other things.* It’s impressively comprehensive for one ad.

*It shouldn’t be lost in all this that the ad also includes the new Nike Air Max LeBron VIII shoes, albeit in a sly, self-deprecating way: LeBron playfully says, “Wanna see my shiny new shoes? Should I just sell shoes?” in an ad in which he is, of course, ultimately selling shoes.

The ad is also quite funny, with humor ranging from the broad—like Don Johnson’s cameo as LeBron’s co-star in a hypothetical Miami Vice remake—to the more subtle and biting—like LeBron standing in front of an empty Hall of Fame banquet muttering, “So, this went well…” in an allusion to Jordan’s disastrous 2009 Hall of Fame speech. The ad ends with LeBron asking, “Should I be who you want me to be?” in an attempt to point to the unfair demands of LeBron’s fans.

And while parts of this ad are incisive, particularly the digs at Jordan and Barkley, overall it only serves to illustrate how pathetic LeBron’s current situation is. The thesis of the commercial—that LeBron is his man and therefore not obliged to follow the paths dictated by previous greats or what the fans want for him—is reminiscent of Chuck Klosterman’s analysis from a recent podcast with Bill Simmons: “What if what we’re seeing is real confidence—not what we’ve come to accept as what we think a confident person is like—but what if this is a real kind of confidence that is unrelated to how others perceive them (sic)?” This is exactly what LeBron James would like us to think: that he is simply too confident in his own abilities to care what other people—whether they be fans, owners, teammates, or members of the media—think of him, and that he is only going to listen to himself and his friends and loved ones.

Except that people who think this way tend to not make commercials. The image of LeBron as someone who doesn’t care what people think is totally at odds with the LeBron who wanted to be a “global icon” when he was 23. It’s also at odds with the very things LeBron says earlier in the commercial: After James’ sly dig at Jordan in the banquet hall he turns to the camera and asks, “Should I really believe I ruined my legacy?” The point—that Jordan’s legacy, like LeBron’s, is ultimately determined on the courts and not in banquet halls or speeches or TV specials—is a good one, but you only make a point like this if you are still concerned about your legacy.

A lot of what LeBron would probably like us to interpret as clever commentary in “Rise” merely comes off as excuses. When he drives past a crew taking down the famous “Witness” banner in Cleveland he asks, “Should I tell you how much fun we had?” Surely he wants to remind the audience of the great years he had in Cleveland, but it sounds like he’s saying, “Weren’t those seven great years enough?” when of course every Cleveland fan who is still without a championship knows that the answer is “Not even close.” Similarly, when he later asks, “Should I stop listening to my friends? They’re my friends…” he probably wants us to see whose opinions really matter to him, but he sounds like a kid after getting a lecture about peer pressure.

Even the very question LeBron repeats throughout the commercial—“What should I do?”—doesn’t really land the way it’s supposed to. He wants us to realize that someone as skilled and talented as LeBron doesn’t need to ask his fans something like that. But even after all the commercial packs into 90 seconds, it sounds like he’s only asking because he still doesn’t know.

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33 responses to this post.

  1. Excellent this comment, congratulations

    Reply

  2. It does sound like he’s making excuses. It frustrates me when people say they are not role-models. People like him are, but nobody wants to do the hard work of bettering themselves. Excuses are much easier.

    Reply

  3. I still don’t know what I should be when I grow up…you think that’s the same thing?
    ;)

    Crystal
    http://www.crystalspins.com

    Reply

  4. Posted by charles on October 26, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    Simply brilliant. I really loved your analogy of the commercial even though at times it sounded as if you were doing some clever PR for LeBron. Nice job all the same and keep it up.

    Reply

  5. Great commercial and very informative post…I still don’t care for Lebron very much anymore. Just wish he could be more humble like Kevin Durant.

    http://www.runtobefit.wordpress.com

    Reply

  6. Lebran weonderfol

    Reply

  7. The ad struck me as being a second cut at Cleveland. The first was the thumb in your eye ‘The Decision’ special. This one is now the ‘grow-up and get over it’ message. The first was a boneheaded way to handle something that should’ve been all about how Miami might dominate in the game, etc. This is salt in the wound and I think furthers the notion that things are going to his head.

    Reply

  8. We all can use a PR do-over from time to time. Social Networking Media just makes it easier.

    Ava

    Reply

  9. What an awesome analysis of the commercial. I watched it this morning and thought it was entertaining, but it definitely didn’t do much for his image. Although, who knows if that was the purpose. At this point, it doesn’t matter what he says. He’s not gonna earn any fans back in Cleveland with a Nike commercial.

    I love the point that he obviously does care what people think? You want to see someone who doesn’t give a crap what people think? Look at Allen Iverson. Which just goes to show you, it doesn’t matter whether you care what we think. The public is going to judge you on what you say and do whether you care or not.

    Reply

  10. Posted by Tim on October 26, 2010 at 2:17 PM

    The interesting thing is that, as he asks all these questions about all these identities purportedly projected on to him, LeBron basically cycles through what he’s tried to be: the guy who picks the rich high school to play with his friends; the “fun”-loving player in Cleveland; the guy who cares about his legacy and talks about being a “global icon,” the guy who does sell shoes; the guy who has largely accepted his role as the villain since The Decision; the guy who is, unquestionably, chasing championships; the guy who listens to his hangers-on and handlers; the guy who has acted in all those “The LeBrons” commercials, et. al. LeBron has spent his entire career trying to be who we want him to be, and this commercial seems no different.

    It’s yet another example of the lack of self-awareness from a man whose Twitter avatar used to be a photo from his GQ spread — a spread that ran alongside a condemnatory feature of him.

    Reply

  11. I don’t know if these are Cleveland or straight up haters but I think this commercial is perfect. LeBron shouldn’t be saying to nobody!! I mean yeah “The Decision” wasn’t the best way to change teams but could any of you imagine if he tweeted or something?? No matter how did it “Cleveland fans would be burning jersey and etc.. What does those should be mad at is the owner. LeBron asked countless of times for them to spend more on bettering that sorry team.

    As far as this genius commercial goes.. LeBron is saying “I am sick of everyone blaming me for everything and I’m coming for my haters”. He is the great that legend Cleveland but what more do you want him..? He is only one man finding. In this legend where you can’t be one star among bunch of average players and still win championship. IS UNHEARD OF PERIOD!! Did you Kobe do alone?? No Did shaq do it alone?? NO! Did KG do it alone?? NO!!! So why can’t LeBron go to a better team that has great players, good coaching, the hunger to win multiple championships and be surrounded by friends cause we all know no millionaire/famous person wants to live in Ohio. Matter a fact what normal person wants to live in Ohio?? CTFU.

    Reply

  12. Posted by Last time here on October 26, 2010 at 3:36 PM

    This is THE worst analysis i’ve read so far. I don’t think you understand some of the subtle nuances of the commercial, especially the knock towards jordan….”shiny new shoes”. Please pay attention more closely to what the commercial is saying.

    Reply

  13. I don’t watch basketball (he plays basketball, right?). But I knew the story and the backlash when he decided to leave Cleveland. As an “interested outsider” I loved the commercial – thought it was a piece of brilliant marketing. It “worked” in that it made me have sympathy for his situation.

    And then I read this post.

    Thanks for the insights.

    Reply

  14. Your analysis is exactly correct. Great job — you summarize the commercial, the backdrop to the story, and you even highlight what I think is the biggest takeaway from this ad — that shoe makers are now joining the U.S. media in providing commentary on the state of modern superstars (and they have a hell of a bigger microphone than most folks in the media). As for LeBron, you’re right, he DOES seem to be telling us, “I’m not doing things because of what you all think . . . ” at the same time he is going to great lengths to spin and hype his image in this ad.
    Well done, sir.
    -Wineguider, http://wineguider.wordpress.com

    Reply

  15. I love the commercial, especially the dig at Barkley. It’s funny and clever. Main takeaway: LeBron is more than capable of making his own decisions and he has proven that he can deal with the fallout of those choices. Sure he’s not doing everything the “right” way whatever that means, but this commercial is further proof that he isn’t running away from anything. This NBA season is going to be one of the more exciting ones in my lifetime! Though all of this, I think I’m actually becoming more of a LeBron James fan.

    Reply

  16. People hype this whole thing up too much, if he wins it will all go away.

    Reply

  17. I know what you should do! you should give me 100.000 $ Ok?

    Reply

  18. [...] The LeBron Commercial « No Pun Intended. [...]

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  19. It seems that when someone is looked up to… In this case a star athlete there are a certain set of rules that he or she should live by. We all have made mistakes. If you don’t believe me just ask your mirror. In this case he is using the marketing machine that is the combination of YouTube, Twitter, NIke and posts like this to let you know that being human doesn’t have a salary. It is part of his life at the current point and that you can either accept that or not.

    Reply

  20. Posted by elmer on October 27, 2010 at 6:03 AM

    Im LOLing today as the Boston Celtics beat the Heat in the NBA opener. Cant wait to see the finals w/o Miami.

    Reply

  21. Posted by tswalking on October 27, 2010 at 7:33 AM

    I only know basketball from my husband’s conversations with friends and his watching of ESPN. The commercial seems like really great PR work and I think LeBron comes across as slightly vulnerable. Maybe just what he needs to get back in with his fans. Great analysis!

    Reply

  22. I don’t buy any part of that man. Something about the way he speaks throughout the commercial…
    Of course he cares. He’s not just a man anymore, he’s a marketing ploy.

    Nike cares, LeBron cares.

    Dunk puppet dunk.

    Reply

  23. The analysis is insightful and inciting. A mogul shoe company using the celebrity’s recent pitfalls to elicit an emotional response for the sake of said shoe’s consumption. Nike’s ad team has to be the greatest team assembled. If you look at the last 20 years of Nike commercials, they kill it, softly but deadly, they kill it. This post could not have been more spot on with the between the lines. My question is: Where do you stand?

    Reply

  24. [...] it. We wanted to start with a cool branding link, yesterday’s Internet sensation, to have you check out the new Nike-LeBron James ad with special analysis from No Pun Intended, to show how hip we are and to make a wise comment about sales and branding. Unfortunately, right [...]

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  25. Thanks for the insights.

    Reply

  26. Posted by doc on October 27, 2010 at 4:19 PM

    One thing that came across to me is that the commercial is a shameless ploy to project a certain image that in no way reflects the real LeBron. The real LeBron bites his nails on the bench. The real LeBron has no sense of loyalty. The real LeBron is not a student of academia or the game of basketball. The real LeBron is narcissistic, self-doubting, and egocentric enough to announce his decision on “The Decision”. The real LeBron has no sense of history, that’s why folks like Jordan and Barkley are upset. The real LeBron is as contrite as the real Tiger Woods (hint – not much). Only when called to task does the real LeBron question his motives. I have seen a lot of great basketball players over time and the greatest were modest, intelligent, and team-oriented. The real LeBron has not yet shown those attributes. Ironically, he will now be forced to show those qualities with players who are close to his equal. Now, we will see if the real LeBron can “just do it” for his team rather than for his own self- aggrandizement. Good job, John for questioning his motives.

    Reply

  27. [...] Yesterday, when LeBron James tweeted his new Nike commercial, called “Rise,” it got more positive feedback than anything James has done since winning second MVP. People on Twitter loved it (if you didn’t know this, LeBron himself took the liberty of retweeting practically every good thing said about the ad), Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon both called it “brilliant” on Pardon the Interruptio … Read More [...]

    Reply

  28. Posted by doc on November 1, 2010 at 12:09 PM

    Looks like the real LeBron peeked out of his ego for a second and now says he regrets his decision regarding “The Decision”.

    http://nba.fanhouse.com/2010/10/31/lebron-james-says-he-would-change-the-decision/?icid=main|main|dl9|sec3_lnk3|181498

    Reply

  29. Man, I thought this commercial wasn’t all that great. I think what Lebron should do is not give up on the Cavs during the playoffs. It was like a double rip your heart out experience from people in Cleveland. I don’t like Lebron or the Cavs, so it doesn’t bother me all that much. Did you see the southpark spoof they did on it? Hilarious! check out our blog sometime http://doin-work.com

    Reply

  30. [...] Speaking of those Heat, remember The Decision? We sure do, as it was a popular topic of conversation for us last summer. Tim started it out by defending The Decision (although he’d like to point out the significant caveat within that piece that reads “so long as he doesn’t curiously choose Miami”). John S defended The Decision even after it took place while Tim expressed disappointment in LeBron’s view of championships. John wondered why everyone claimed James was being selfish and then told some of his most well-known critics to shut their mouths. Finally, he took on the infamous Nike commerical, “Rise.” [...]

    Reply

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