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  • LeBron James – The Man with the Billion Dollar Personal Branding Plan

    I don’t know if you had the chance to see the 60 Minutes piece on LeBron James last week? I did and I was extremely impressed with what I heard. I love sports and I love business. And while the creation of sports icons is not new, taking on the role of Chief Brand Manager for one’s own brand is something LeBron James seems to be doing with ease. This is a billion dollar powerhouse in the making – and by his own design.

    Man on a mission

    He is 24 years old and a man on a mission: He plans to be the first billion dollar sports brand. The operative word here is not billion dollar (although that’s very impressive….). The operative word is PLAN. This man has a plan to become the first billion dollar sports brand. And my bet is that he’ll do it.

    If you assume LeBron James is one of the richest celebrities in the world, you’re correct. Even before LeBron played his first NBA game, Nike inked him to a ninety million dollar contract. And way back, at the tender(and often naïve) age of 19, LeBron was reportedly quoted saying that he wanted to be the first billionaire athlete in the entire world and become a global icon. Fast forward to April, 2009, and most would agree that LeBron is already a global icon and is well on his way to becoming the first billionaire athlete.

    After all, here’s a man who in 2007 single handedly led the Cleveland Cavaliers to their first sports championship game in years!

    In a class of his own


    “Michael Jordan had a 15- to 20-year run with Nike and developed a huge business that is probably worth $500 [million] to $600 million,” said Lynn Merritt, senior director of basketball sports marketing at Nike, and the guy who tracked LeBron from his earliest years in high school in an Ad Age report. “The state that LeBron comes in with now, with the internet and all kinds of technological advancements that weren’t around when Michael was at his peak, well, LeBron could be the first billion-dollar athlete in all aspects.”

    Learn from LeBron

    Anyone interested in the how or why of personal branding should study this story with great interest. Here are just a few elements of his personal branding story you might be able to incorporate to your plans:

    1. Self-Awareness. This is a critical success factor to all personal branding – you’ve got to know who you are and where you’re going. Just watching the video from 60 Minutes is enough to convince most people that this is a man who is totally self aware.

    –Are you self-aware? Do you have a clear understanding of your strengths and weaknesses? Does your personal brand statement reflect that?

    2. Plan the Work and Work the Plan. LeBron has seen himself in the driver’s seat both on the bball court and off. According to interviews, he’s had a plan since before high school. Now he’s working that plan.

    –What’s your plan? Have you written out your personal branding goals for the next 6 months, 1 year, 5 years?

    3. Be Bold. LeBron stunned the advertising world when he announced that his three friends: Maverick Carter, Randy Mims and Rich Paul would run his marketing operations. His express goal? Driving the business of LeBron James into the stratosphere, where James would one day become sports first billion dollar athlete.

    –What bold move could you make in the next few weeks that would make an unforgettable statement to those you’re seeking to reach? Think it through, write it out, and take action. Results happen for those who make them happen.


    Beverly Macy is the Managing Partner of Y&M Partners and teaches a social media class at the UCLA Extension.  She also co-hosts Gravity Summit events.


    Beverly is an instructor at the UCLA Business and Management Extension Program. She is one of the few educators who has a class offered by a university on Social Media Marketing. She’s also the Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Y&M Partners and before that she spent 14 years at Xerox Corporation in a series of increasingly demanding sales and marketing management positions where she was awarded eight consecutive President’s Club honors. Macy began her career at Wang Laboratories in software development.

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    12 comments on “LeBron James – The Man with the Billion Dollar Personal Branding Plan
    1. avatar
      Vince P says:

      Lebron truly did really live all over Akron. My friend living on Woodward ave (far from downtown Akron) said Lebron came by trick or treating on year and was nice as can be. He came from a great school St. Vincent- St. Mary! Success Express

    2. avatar
      David Heiser says:

      Not to be picky, but as a Cleveland fan I have to tell you that LeBron didn’t lead us to an NBA championship…we still have never won one. We went to the finals, but lost to the Spurs.

      Cleveland’s last title was when the Browns won in 1964. Indians last won in 1948. There are 45 year old men from Cleveland who have never seen a team win a title. How sad is that.

    3. avatar
      @JoshHurlock says:

      LeBron is awesome for the NBA. He is true to himself, has a vision and goals, plans toward them respectively, and is willing to be bold. LeBron understands that he is one of the kings of the NBA, and this gives him a great platform. Well, his nickname is “King James”. LeBron is a great role model for people to follow and young entrepreneurs should check this post out. Thanks for the tremendous writeup.

    4. avatar
      yinka olaito says:

      Your precise steps are absolutely correct. How can one communicate what he does not know?-the need for self-awareness. There is no free lunch anymore-the need to work a plan and have a plan. How will you represent what you are afraid of or not sure of?- that is the need for boldness. Thanks for the step by step description of personal branding journey again.

    5. avatar

      Lebron truly is a great role mode for all businessmen and entrepreneurs. This was a brilliant post!

    6. avatar
      @tedbarbeau says:

      I’m so confused by this article. The Cavs have yet to win a championship with Mr. James at the helm and Tiger Woods is on pace to become the first billionaire athlete within the next couple years. I appreciate the effort, but this needs to be revised.

    7. avatar
      Joel Libava says:

      LeBron is very exciting to watch, especially in a great sports town like Cleveland. However, as strong as his presence is, he has made some branding mistakes;

      1. He has 2 kids, and is not married to the mother of his kids. Brand & Role Model should go hand in hand, in my opinion. In Lebron’s case, lots of kids look up to him. We have enough problems with low income single mom’s trying to make ends meet. Cmon..step up Lebron!

      2. His Cleveland brand has been hurt by his insistence on wearing a Yankees hat to every Cleveland Indians game he attends. He has even said that he likes the Yankees better than the Indians. Hello!!!

      He is wealthy enough to not have to worry about the things that I mentioned. Or is he?

      The Franchise King
      Joel Libava

    8. avatar
      kessler says:

      Have to disagree, brand and role model absolutely do not go hand in hand, if they did almost every corporation in this country would be screwed. Also, times have changed, I know lots of successful couples who have been together a long time and have children and are not married, unlike plenty of couples who marry traditionally and are soon divorced…

    9. avatar
      Vickie Smith says:

      Thank you for this thought-provoking post and discussion.

      I agree that Lebron is a man with a plan, and feel he is someone who kids can be proud to look up to, as he approaches the MVP title, alongside Kobe Bryant.

      I don’t feel that he needs to marry the mother of his children for the sake of pleasing his more conservative fans, but that he be a standup father to his child. Who knows for what reasons they are not together – it might be better off that they are not.

      He is taking responsibility for his actions and roles as both an athlete and father, and feel is has a long successful career ahead of him.

      Unlike Kobe, who chooses to correct his actions in carats!

    10. avatar
      David Heiser says:

      It doesn’t seem like a lot of you are informed enough about LeBron’s actual situation to be discussing it.

      LeBron IS still together with the mother of his girlfriend. They have been together since high school and they live together in his giant mansion in the Akron suburbs.

      The guy is only 24 years old. As long as he is serving as a loving father and providing for his family, I don’t see any reason why he should feel pressured to get married when he’s barely entered his mid-20s. LeBron IS serving as a role model by being a good father. The fact that they aren’t YET married doesn’t mean that he’s going to run out on his responsibilities.

      We should applaud LeBron, not only for his tremendous, team first attitude on the court, but for his behavior off it. LeBron has never got into trouble with the law and is a caring, attentive (as much as he can be as a professional athlete) father and boyfriend.

    11. avatar
      Joel Libava says:

      My thoughts on this have nothing to do with being a conservative. {I’m not}

      I think it all boils down to doing the right thing, especially while being looked upon as not only a great star, but more importantly as a role model.

      As a parent, I would certainly want my adult child to marry, if he or she was the father or a mother of a child. I’ll bet you would to.

      Just how do you know that Lebron is a stand up father? {How do i know that he isn’t?}

      I am not saying he is or he isn’t. I don’t hang with him.

      He seems to be going down a pretty good path, and had a lot of support from some caring adults as he was growing up.

      As for not getting in trouble with the law, i’m not nit-picking here, but there was the 100+ MPH speeding ticket he got. His reply, when asked about it, I believe went something like “No big deal.”

      No big deal, unless he had rammed someone from behind, because at 100+ MPH, no one can react fast enough to stop.


    12. avatar
      jackson says:

      great article. LeBron is a truly amazing basketball player, but I’m surprised the 60 minutes segment didn’t mention his feature film, or rather, the documentary about his rise to basketball superstar.

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