A couple of days ago, I speculated on why LeBron is so hated by some sports fans.
I suggested that he’s become a target for our animosity for athletes who sell their talents to the highest bidder.
Here is James’ answer to the animosity. With the help of Nike, and Wieden and Kennedy, he gives us a brilliant video and asks,
"What should I do?"
Some of the answer he contemplates: admit that he’s made mistakes, give us a history lesson, tell us how much fun we’ve had, and "have my tattoos removed" (image).
Poignantly, we see James in an empty room for his Hall of Fame induction and he asks, "should I really believe that I’ve ruined my legacy?"
It’s an effective piece of advertising. It makes you feel his pain. At the penultimate moment of the ad, James looks into the camera and you can feel his sincerity.
What’s clever about the spot is that it drives us towards an answer for this question. We end up thinking, "Well, James has the right to do whatever he wants to do. Fans have the right to be unhappy. But finally, we don’t have the right to say where he plays or finally who he is."
And this means the ad turns, almost inaudibly, on the cry of individualism. This is one of the bedrock convictions of our culture: that the individual has the right of self-determination, of self definition. It’s not for elites to tell us who we are. It’s not for ethnic groups, local communities or corporations. It’s not for parents. Nor for teachers. And it’s not, James is pointing out, for fans.
We honor this individualism much more in fact than in theory. But once you see it as a cultural value, you see it everywhere. Just the other day I found it in Andy Grove’s Only the Paranoid Survive.
Your career is literally your business. You own it as a sole proprietor. You have one employee: yourself. You are in competition with millions of similar businesses: millions of other employees all over the world. You need to accept ownership of your career, your skills and the timing of your moves. It is your responsibility to protect this personal business of yours from harm and to position it to benefit from the changes in the environment. Nobody else can do that for you.
This is a compelling spot because it resorts to one of our foundational ideas. In the face of this value, we defer. Yes, we may resent James for having betrayed Cleveland. But we find this truth to be self-evident: the individual has the right of self determination.
Does Nike intend this message? I think they did. Davide Grasso, the VP of Global Brand Marketing, says the ad is meant to "amplify LeBron’s voice. We’re celebrating his courage to forge his own journey even when others may have disagreed with his decision. It’s this Just Do It spirt that defines LeBron and Nike as we strive to inspire all young athletes."
This is the hymn of individualism, note by note.
See the Rise video here http://bit.ly/cIlbuE
See the Nike Press Release (source of the Grasso quote) here http://counterkicks.com/2010/10/25/nike-lebron-rise-campaign-press-release/
Grove, Andrew S. 1999. Only the Paranoid Survive: How to Exploit the Crisis Points That Challenge Every Company. Crown Business. Location in Kindle text, 201.
Henri Weijo for remembering the post and sending me the clip.