Perhaps you’ve seen all of the excitement, hype, criticism, anger, dismay, hatred, joy, optimism, and other emotions surrounding the Miami Heat’s signing of uber basketball star, LeBron James, for the 2010-2011 NBA season. Was it a business decision, a personal decision, or a little of both? There’s a great story here, and some lessons to learned for all businesspeople.
LeBron was courted by several top franchises, including his home team the Cleveland Cavaliers who desperately wanted him to stay, as well as the New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, the Chicago Bulls, and of course, Miami. Top talent is always in demand whether it’s in sports or business. Of course professional sports is a HUGE business, and very much in the public eye, so the talent recruitment was big news, captivating the public’s interest for weeks in advance of the announced decision. The Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, made a commercial, politicians sang, financial analysts (from New York) claimed he could be the first “athlete billionaire,” if he would only sign with them.
Talk about high profile; a rap mogul (Jay-Z), the Governor of Ohio, the Mayor of New York, even the President of the United States tried to influence his decision.
The announcement was an event
The pressure, as you can imagine, must have been incredible. To make matters worse, or better, as the case may be, ESPN provided an entire “show” so that LeBron could tell, and explain, his decision to the public on on national cable TV. Coverage was also provided by CNN and other major networks. The stakeholders are many, and with the stakes so high, the interest so great, and the coverage so public, emotions ran high.
ESPN of course wanted the visibility, and to sell the advertising minutes. LeBron said he didn’t want the money, and declared he would donate his share from the broadcast to the “Boys and Girls” Club. ESPN is trying to raise their profile, and what better way than by pandering to the massive public interest. Over 10 million viewers tuned in (including me)!
With his announcement, and so many people disappointed, the reaction was immediate and powerful. Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cavaliers, wrote an open message, berating and disparaging, LeBron and his decision, calling him “heartless and callous” (and making some very unprofessional personal comments), and published it on the team’s website. Cleveland fans burned James’ jersey on the streets. Commentators said his decision was a mistake. Meanwhile, fans in Miami rejoiced. There were instant parties, a celebration at the American Airlines Arena, and loads of publicity, Season tickets immediately sold out, as did LeBron’s no. 6 jersey.
It isn’t about LeBron, it’s about winning!
LeBron James made a courageous decision; some might say an unselfish one (although I wouldn’t go that far). He wanted to win a championship. He wanted to play with teammates Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. He thought this would be the best chance to achieve his goals. So, when he saw this opportunity, he snatched it!
This is the most highly visible affirmation of the value of teamwork I’ve recently seen. Dwayne Wade is a superstar in his own right. So is Chris Bosh. So are many of the other team members in place, or still being recruited. Wade, James, and Bosh all took a pay-cut to make this happen. (Although when the numbers get that big I’m sure they’re not hurting, especially with endorsements and such.) Many of the other players also contributed by accepting reduced compensation. Their willingness to sacrifice personal ego and glory, for the sake of teamwork, excellence, and winning, is commendable.
There are always variables
Even with the best talent you sometimes don’t win. Even if the “chemistry” is good it’s never 100% certain. But without the best talent you’re doomed, especially in the sports business. It remains to be seen how this team will perform next season. Certainly the odds favor Miami.
Business lessons to be learned
You might say “it’s only a game!” Yes it is, but it’s a big business game, not dissimilar to other businesses. Risks must be taken. The right people need to be hired, and perform. The team must function effectively. The results must be achieved. Sometimes it requires sacrifice. People will be critical. It may mean going against popular opinion. It takes commitment and a lot of effort. Of course, in the end it’s worth it to win a CHAMPIONSHIP, whether in its in the business of sports, or any other business.