LeBron James and the LeBrand: Why Playing for the Miami Heat is about the Money

Chris PalmieriContributor IJuly 14, 2010

MIAMI - JULY 09:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat is introduced during a welcome party at American Airlines Arena on July 9, 2010 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

We are approaching the one week mark since the LeBron James "decision."

The contracts are signed ($14.5 million). The predictions have been made. The hype is extremely epic. LeBron took a pay cut, as did Bosh and Wade, to play for the Heat in order not only to win a championship but to become a dynasty.

LeBron James said money isn't the issue here. His decision to join the Heat is about winning. But when they say it's not about the money, it's always about the money.

Anybody following LeBron over these last few years has heard the word "brand" more times than they can remember—The LeBron Brand, LRMR, partnerships, etc.

Brand has become somewhat synonymous with legacy, but in more of a business aspect. It used to be Larry Legend but now it's LeBron the Brand.

A little crash course on what branding is. Think of literally branding a cow. It is done to label, or identify—to distinguish.

In the business world, many people define branding as trademarks, and logos; ways for companies to stand out. But a brand is really what you believe about a product or service.

Take Coca Cola for example.

The Coca Cola brand, which is argued to be the most valuable brand in the world, is worth $69 billion. That means if Coca Cola were to suddenly replace all of their bottles of Coke with bottles that simply said "Soda," the value of the company would degrade by $69 billion.

When you think of Coca Cola, what comes to mind? Refreshing, global, best-tasting. Now do the same for Michael Jordan? Champion, the greatest, clutch. When you think of him, memories of game-winning shot after game-winning shot come to mind, along with six NBA championships, and acrobatics which gave him the title "Air."

This is why the MJ brand has been so successful. Who wouldn't want to sport the MJ insignia? Some of the best athletes in the world are under the MJ banner. Even Carmelo Anthony is a Jordan athlete.

It's a brand that people believe in.

Now think of the Charles Barkley brand—The Charles Barkley brand? Hmm...Taco Bell, "that's terrible," and most importantly, zero rings. The same goes for what you believe about Patrick Ewing, the Mailman Karl Malone, and Reggie Miller—great players but they never won a ring.

Now at this moment, what do you believe about LeBron? It may be hard, but try to ignore the recent fall-out from the decision and focus on him as a player.

You will probably think of something along the lines of dominant, great scorer and defender, the player of this generation. Fast forward 10 years to a ringless LeBron, what is your opinion of him now?

This is the fear of LeBron James and why he is now playing for Miami.

LeBron, in announcing his decision to leave Cleveland, said he didn't want to be "31 years old, with bad knees and no title." 31 isn't so young. He'll still have some good years left in him, but the window of opportunity to win multiple championships will close if he is ringless at 31.

LeBron wants to be the biggest athlete in the world. He wants to be bigger than the global icon of MJ, and to be a billionaire.

At times, it seems that LeBron has transcended the court. We hear about partnerships with companies and organizations that are not even sports-related. LRMR, LeBron's marketing company, recently created a partnership with American Signature, a furniture company. If this doesn't make sense, don't worry. But imagine seeing a LeBron sofa, or a LeBron coffee table and now the partnership makes sense.

Similar to how Iron Man is on every conceivable piece of merchandise imaginable this summer because what kid doesn't want an Iron Man lunchbox? What person wouldn't want a LeBron lounge chair?

These partnerships are forged with the brand of LeBron, and with a brand comes value.

If LeBron doesn't win multiple titles, than the value of his brand will be diminished. Who would buy sneakers from a guy who never won a championship? It's the reason why you won't be able to walk into a Footlocker a buy a pair of Ewing Athletics, Patrick Ewing's signature sneaker line.

This is a quest for multiple championships because for LeBron, one, two, or even three is not enough. He's chasing Kobe and MJ. If he doesn't challenge those numbers, people will say "LeBron...yeah he was good, but he's wasn't a Kobe or MJ." This is damaging and exactly what LRMR doesn't want.

The LeBron brand doesn't end when he retires. This is a lifelong brand. Look at MJ. To this day, when MJ releases or re-releases sneakers, people line up in droves to get a piece of his legacy.

The man hasn't played in almost 10 years and he is still arguably the biggest athlete in the world. People are buying a piece of him when they purchase his shoes. They're buying a champion and it makes sense because everybody loves a winner.

This is what LeBron wants. A cemented legacy that will last for decades beyond his playing career. To be able to create partnerships and make business deals with companies that will bring him to all corners of the Earth. To be the biggest global sports icon in the world. To make money.

From his decision to play with Miami, we can surmise one thing—he needs multiple championships—and what better place to do it than with superstars like Wade and Bosh?

LeBron needs this not for his desire to win, but his desire to win in order cement his LeBrand.