LeBron’s Image Was Good Enough To Sell A Boatload Of Nikes

In the aftermath of “The Decision,” Miami Heat’s LeBron James’ image took a bit of a hit.  To put it bluntly, people were pretty pissed off about how he handled himself this summer.  

Add to it his recent, mind-boggling disappearance in the NBA Finals, and it was looking like a marketing disaster for Team LeBron.  I mean, who would want to wear a sneaker for a self-absorbed turncoat who is constantly on the wrong side of a championship celebration?

About half a million people, apparently.

“Nike says it sold more than 500,000 pairs of LeBron shoes this year.”

So much for James’ tumultuous first year with the Miami Heat irreparably damaging his brand.

All those shoes Nike sold underscore the strength of James’ brand. Despite turning much of America against him after his controversial Decision to team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, James remains a endorsement titan.

In April, the NBA announced James’ Heat jersey was the top seller at NBAStore.com for the 2010-2011 season. A month later, James rose to the 10th spot in Forbes’ “Celebrity 100” ranking, the highest position on the list of any basketball player and second only to Tiger Woods among athletes.

James’ marketing might figures to only get stronger as Nike expands its position in China, the world’s fastest-growing consumer base.

The bottom line here is LeBron still sells.  As off-putting as his escapades were this past summer, they didn’t do any long-term damage to his reputation as a pitch-man.  

Maybe it’s because the people he put off by doing what he did aren’t the people buying his shoes in the first place.  Leaving Cleveland out of this, do we really think guys in their teens and early 20’s honestly give a damn about LeBron’s cockiness or lack of self-awareness?  Do you think they fully blame him for not having a ring?  Or do they just focus on how awesome he is on the court and blame people like Antawn Jamison and Chris Bosh for not stepping up? 

The point is, we (myself included) probably made too much about how LeBron’s image was taking hits and what it would mean to his ability to sell merchandise.  The people who are influence enough by LeBron to buy his products probably didn’t care too much about what the rest of us cared about.  And as much as Twitter might explode with anti-LeBron revelry when he fails, there are more than enough people out there who just don’t flippin’ care.  They’ve got $160 in their pockets and fresh kicks on their mind.  All they want to do is look good.  LeBron’s arrogance ain’t gonna stop that. 

There might be a product or two that will shy away from LeBron right now.  And maybe LeBron’s image will prevent him from having the staying power of a Michael Jordan.  But in the end, LeBron’s going to do just fine on and off the court, no matter what we think.

Photo via EastBay.com