How LeBron went from villain to hero

How did LeBron James go from villain to hero? Maybe those are stark definitions, but I don’t sense the same nationwide satisfaction with the NBA championships won by LeBron with Miami as the one he claimed with Cleveland last night.

There’s a single reason why he is being more celebrated for this championship than any other: Because this one, from a brand message standpoint, was not about himself. It was about Cleveland.

LeBron
This one feels better because it wasn’t about LeBron. It was about Cleveland.

It is easy to be cynical about it because, of course, LeBron wanted another championship ring. Any competitor would – and judging by the extreme effort he showed in this series, he was supremely motivated.

We’ve all but forgotten how much many of us roared when Dallas upset Miami in LeBron’s first season there. He was coming off The Decision, a stunningly misguided TV event that left Cleveland fans burning his jerseys in the streets. That was because it was seen as a selfish move by a superstar who left his hometown to play with another superstar, Dwayne Wade. Losing to the Mavs in the Finals felt like karma biting him in the ass.

The next two seasons saw Miami win NBA titles and it was all but assured that James was seen as a selfish superstar. Only those in Miami were truly celebrating those victories.

But his return to Cleveland and winning the championship in spectacular fashion has changed the narrative.

This LeBron championship was more than about the player.

Brands are always most preferred when they are about the customers they serve. Brands are forgotten and treated as afterthoughts when they are about themselves. Nike’s Just Do It is about the customer. CitiBank’s Citi Never Sleeps is about CitiBank.

The Miami version of LeBron James was about James. The Cleveland version of LeBron was about Cleveland, the longtime laughingstock of the major sports leagues.

Certainly, there’s more to it than that. Down three games to one, James (and Kyrie Irving) brought the Cavaliers back from the brink of extinction with grit, confidence and getting into Steph Curry’s head. (I like Curry. But the mouth guard-throwing incident had the tone of a spoiled child to it.)

But once the championship of homegrown LeBron (who grew up in 40 minutes from Cleveland) developed, it overshadowed the mercenary LeBron we saw in Miami.

Now he is beloved.

Paula Deen will be back

Paula Deen is in trouble. She admitted to making racially charged comments during a court hearing and that admission got her fired from The Food Channel.

It was the right call because the brand of Paula Deen no longer has permission to be in that shiny of a spotlight.

paula-deen2_custom-0b30419dbbe077460d439775b6a773a8fdd8c906-s6-c30However, I do know she will eventually return. Tiger Woods was heckled on the course shortly after his martial scandal broke, but now he plays to nothing but cheers. Dog the Bounty Hunter was booted from his show for his racially charged comment, yet his show returned to the air and – even when it was eventually canceled – he’s getting a new show coming up on another network. Rush Limbaugh was Public Enemy Number One after his Sandra Fluke comments, but things seem to be back in order for him as well.

In each case, the brand permission of the celebrity was revoked. But as John Huston’s character, Noah Cross, says in the classic film, Chinatown: “Politicians, ugly buildings and whores all get respectable if they last long enough.”

There will be some rebranding in order for Paula Deen as there were for some of the others. (Tiger’s was about “redemption.”) But it seems we all forget at some point, so don’t be surprised to see Deen on the air once again.