Can King James Ever Live Up To Jordan’s Legacy?

I came across a collection of posts debating about whether LeBron James could ever surpass Michael Jordan in terms of his marketing strength. Being from Cleveland, I must set aside any personal bias I might have and look at it from a marketing standpoint.

LeBron does have potential to grow in marketing value, especially if he takes home a ring, but, I believe, given Jordan’s indisputable popularity, LeBron would need to do more to live up to Jordan’s legacy.

Jordan set the stage for NBA stars and their marketing potential, and even years after his basketball career ended, he continues to bring in millions of dollars in endorsements every year (nearly $60 million according to the Chicagoist—which is more than what he made playing). Some endorsements include ownership of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats, Hanes, Gatorade, and Upper Deck.  The Chicagoist also stated, as of 2011, Nike’s Jordan Brand shoes held 71% of the US basketball shoe market.

An interesting fact from Madame Noire shows the difference in likeability between Jordan and LeBron—something that may not be gained by winning a ring.  Jordan has 93% likeability by the public, with LeBron James sinking in at 51%.

Which brings me to my point—LeBron needs to do a lot more to gain the respect and likeability of the public in order to make a significant climb to Jordan’s status.

Keith Turco wrote at Forbes, “in order for LeBron (or anyone else … um, Kobe maybe?) to impact the marketing world and the economy the way Jordan did, he needs to deliver a first.” Unfortunately, for LeBron, “Jordan has a first in almost every category before his name when it comes to economic impact and endorsements.”

Career wise, LeBron does have some “firsts” worth noting (excuse me if I miss any): Forbes:

  1. He was the youngest player to win MVP honors
  2. He was the youngest player to win rookie of the year
  3. He took the Cleveland Cavs to the NBA Finals for the first time in its history

Despite his unpopularity among Cleveland fans, it is possible for LeBron to rise up, but it will take years and many rings to outshine Jordan in terms of marketing influence.

This debate can go several different routes—but, let’s put it on hold until the playoffs are over!


If LeBron wins his ring this year, how do you think it will affect his marketing value?


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About promotionalguru

A marketing communications professional helping other marketing professionals, business leaders and marketing students gain a better understanding of trends in advertising and public relations as well as tips for being a successful marketer.

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