LeBron James' career moves show growth as a businessman, case study says

Posted at 12:05 PM, Sep 13, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-13 14:06:07-04

LeBron James' announcement that he was departing from the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 and his return to the team in 2014 shows the differences in the basketball player's growth as a businessman, according to a case study by Case Western Reserve University.

In an ESPN video in 2010, James announced he would leave the Cavaliers after seven years and join the Miami Heat and play alongside Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

"In this fall, man, this is very tough," James said during the interview. "I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat."  

James won two NBA championships with the franchise. 

His decision to leave Cleveland sparked outrage from fans. Videos showed fans burning uniforms, cursing and crying upon James' departure. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote a scathing letter and posted it to the team's website criticizing the decision. 

In 2014, James, 31, penned an essay in Sports Illustrated about his decision to return to Cleveland in an effort to be uninterrupted and explain his choice. He addressed his departure in 2010 in the letter. 

"My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball," he wrote in the essay. "I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now."

At the conclusion of the letter, James wrote: "In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home."

The Cavaliers won a championship in June. It was the first championship for the city of Cleveland in 52 years. 

James signed with the Cavaliers for three more years for $100 million in August. 

In the case study, authored by Alperen Manisaligil and Diana Bilimoria, said James' approach to the decisions in 2010 and 2014 were completely opposite. 

The 2010 letter left a "bad feeling," Bilimoria said in a statement. 

“From a business point of view, what the original decision interview (2010) left behind was a lot of bad feeling,” Bilimoria said in the statement. “Of course, Cavaliers fans would not have been happy with it. Nevertheless, there are people who would say, ‘I understand why he decided that, I just didn't’t like how it was done.’”

The 2014 letter was much different. 

“The process of communicating that decision was more suitable, more appropriate and more measured, the way a business decision made by a manager, executive or a leader should be made,” Bilimoria said. “That is the point we were trying to establish. You must be thoughtful about media elements, and allow that to inform the method of communication.”

Bilimoria is a professor and Manisaligil is a doctoral candidate at CWRU. They are in the Weatherhead's Department of Organizational Behavior, and co-wrote the research report, "Taking Your Talents to Business Communications: Analyzing Effective Communication Through Lebron James’s Career Moves." The report will be punished in the Journal of Management Education.

Manisaligil designed the case study for his Contemporary Business and Communications course in 2014. Bilimoria brought the case study to her graduate Executive Leadership class.

“The reason why we chose this as a case study is that it was very timely,” Manisaligil said in the statement. “We could watch the video of the televised ESPN interview, or we could read the letter than had just been published. So it was a very contemporary issue of relevance from a business management standpoint. This was an exercise in how managers should, when faced with difficult communication decisions, share a message in a way that is best received.”

Their research concluded, "conducting effective communication is important for all managers and employees, but students often underestimate this. Through accessible content and an interesting case study, this activity helps students advance their skills in medium selection and use to communicate effectively in business settings.”