Your Brand is Your Past
The NBA Finals are over, and now the attention of the basketball world is turned to free agency and LeBron James. And with it, a lesson to be learned about brands.
James, a two-time MVP and considered by some (not me) as the best basketball player in the world, is a free agent able to sign with any team in the NBA that can fit his salary into their league-mandated salary cap. A number of teams have been clearing cap space over the last couple of years in hopes of signing James. Chicago and Miami have just cleared an incredible amount of space allowing them to lure James and other top free agents.
One team vying for James is the Los Angeles Clippers. The club has a starting five that should be very attractive to him. The Clippers with LeBron James could go deep in the playoffs. It is said that the Clippers are one of the teams James will be meeting with after the free agency signing period begins on July 1.
Los Angeles must be an attractive option for James. The Staples Center is the biggest basketball stage in the world–when the Lakers play. James could make the Clippers such an attraction.
Recently, I heard Colin Cowherd on ESPN say that if James signed with the Clippers, it would be a “jaw-dropping story.” He said it would be in the same realm for him as OJ and the White Bronco, Magic coming down with HIV, Andre Agassi doing crystal meth.
I couldn’t agree more. Why in the world would LeBron do that?
Even the Clippers announcer, Ralph Lawler, admitted weeks ago on local talk radio that the Clippers past is not in their favor, but maintained their future is so bright.
This is the cold hard reality for the Clippers and other organizations: your brand is largely determined by your past, because your brand is what your consumers have experienced it to be.
For the Clippers, their brand is losing, ineptness, bad luck (injuries), and an owner who has shown himself to be untrustworthy, in that he has not been committed to winning in terms of paying for talent, nor willing to pay the contractual salary owed Clipper head coaches after they’re fired (former Clipper coaches typically have to go to court to get the team to pay the remainder of their contract).
There are Clipper fans in So Cal. But for many here, the Clippers organization is an embarrassment.
So, you tell me. If you were LeBron James, would you commit your limited future as an NBA star to a brand like that?
While James has been silent, fellow free agent superstar, Dwayne Wade, has gone on record about the possibility of playing for the Chicago Bulls. It appears that their past behavior with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen makes them untrustworthy too.
It’s not just the Clippers and Bulls. Every brand is judged by its track record. And there’s nothing that can change those perceptions except changed behavior supported by a branding program that deftly communicates the authentic transition to better behavior. I’ll talk about such a program in a later post.
Warren Buffet once said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”
It’s wise counsel for all organizations. Be careful how you do business now so that you’ll be positioned later to leverage your good brand reputation for an opportunity to improve your product and market position.
I’m sure the Clippers wish now that they had behaved differently in the past.
UPDATE (June 29, 2010): ESPN: Ownership, organizations to play big role in LeBron James’ decision in free agency