Every once in a while a celebrity or an athlete does or says something that really catches you off guard, and makes you stop and think “wait… that was really good. Where did that come from?” Last Friday, July 11, 2014 was one of those times.
Regardless of whether you like basketball, or follow sports at all, the manner in which LeBron James announced he was leaving the Miami Heat and heading home to Cleveland was honest, humble, sincere, authentic, and remarkably well-handled. And in an era where we have come to expect our celebrities and our top athletes to do ridiculous things in the name of self-promotion, it was thoroughly unexpected.
It was one of the most remarkable public announcements I have ever seen from a public figure, and there are lessons in this for all of us, regardless of whether you even have an athletic fiber in your body.
The quick back story is that LeBron James is the indisputable best basketball player on the planet. And four years ago, in a move that was highly criticized and broadly mocked, he left his home town Cleveland Cavaliers, (he grew up in Akron), where he had played his entire career, and signed with The Miami Heat. The manner in which he did it was cold, self-absorbed, manipulative, and more than a few Cleveland fans have described it as “downright mean.”
He went to Miami, enjoyed great success there with two championships and two league MVP awards, but his success in an adopted home town did little to ease the sting of how he had hurt his actual home town a few years earlier.
After this season (in which Miami lost in the championship finals), LeBron’s contract was up and he was free to sign wherever he wished. He kept everything extremely quiet for two weeks, and the there was nothing but rumor surrounding his potential decision. Would he stay in Miami? Would he go back to Cleveland? Would he go somewhere else that might give him a chance to win? Not a word from him or his closest advisors.
And then last Friday, this was quietly posted on the Sports Illustrated website. I encourage you to take a moment and read it. It is remarkably well done, and surprisingly humble. He takes shots at no one. He promises that there will be no fanfare around this, no press conferences, no parties. Just hard work to make his new team successful. He admits mistakes with his departure from Cleveland four years ago. He heads off potential objections. He squashes potential urban myth about why he really left Miami. And he is very honest that he still feels strongly positive about his Miami teammates and that organization.
This piece of writing is honest, sincere, authentic. It is absolutely “pitch perfect.” I’ve never seen anything quite like it.
In our business world, very few of us ever reach the level of celebrity of LeBron James. But we can still learn from this announcement. He builds credibility by being humble, honest, direct. He doesn’t spin anything. He takes responsibility, for the past and the future. He is gracious to the organization he is departing. And he is gracious to the organization he is returning to.
Read it. Read it a second time. Read it carefully. This is a blueprint on how to announce big news, and how to treat tough situations.
I am a huge sports fan, and I love basketball. I hated the way LeBron James handled his jump from Cleveland to Miami in 2010. And I openly rooted against him because of it. But he won me back with this move. I’ll always be a New York Knicks fan, first and foremost. But I’m now also a Cleveland Cavaliers fan, because I respect class, authenticity, and honesty and this had all of those things, and more.
At The Latimer Group, we believe that successful teams are built on honesty, open communication, and collaboration. For more on team building and team communication, look for Dean Brenner’s book, Sharing the Sandbox: Building and Leading Great Teams in the 21st Century, on sale now.