LeBron James' return to Cleveland not only shook up the Eastern Conference and restored hope to the Cavaliers. The surprising free-agency move also gave the four-time MVP's many corporate partners some ripe new ground for their advertising campaigns.
In his July 11 letter with Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins explaining his decision to leave the Heat for the Cavaliers, James placed his Ohio roots front and center. That theme is the foundation for an extended advertisement for Beats by Dre headphones, released on Sunday in advance of the 2014-15 season.
The spot, which runs for 2:32, traces a number of locations throughout James' hometown of Akron that were key to his childhood and maturation with James and his mother, Gloria, providing voiceover narration. The viewer is introduced to Hawkins Court, where Gloria says her son learned to hold his own against older players. A childhood home at 439 Hickory St., since condemned, makes for an obvious symbol of James' turbulent youth, as does a nearly-empty refrigerator at his old Spring Hill building.
"Welcome Home LeBron" signs are seen at the school and throughout the city. As the spot cuts back and forth between James silently working out while wearing his Powerbeats2 Wireless headphones and the various locations in Akron, the camera often taking a low-angle view to present a child's view. The full circle journey is completed when James returns to the gym at his high school, St. Vincent - St. Mary, where he drew national attention as a prep star. James' jersey hangs in the rafters and, thanks to a $1 million donation in 2013, the entire gym now bears his name.
"Don't ever forget where you came from," Gloria offers as a reminder as the ad fades out with "LeBron James: Re-Established 2014."
The spot isn't risky. There's no straying, not even a little bit, from James' homecoming script, and many of the locations featured are well-known to those who have followed James' ascent since high school. Even Gloria's struggle to find stability and her tight bond with her son are familiar themes at this stage of James' career.
Although this is a repackaging, it's both authentic and successful. Hozier's "Take Me to Church" provides the right inspirational soundtrack for James' visit to the gym, which sees him gaze at the school's championship banners and "LeBron James Arena" placard as if he is in a house of worship.
"Sports were my escape, and they are still my escape to this day," James says in an accompanying video, and the viewer is left craving the relationship that James has with both his city and his building.
That takeaway sensation mirrors his new-found mission, as explained in his letter with Jenkins in July.
"I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up," James wrote. "Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile." James and Beats are selling both community and redemption alongside the headphones, and they are doing it well.
James, 29, averaged 27.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.6 steals for the Heat last season. The 2003 No. 1 overall pick spent the first seven years of his career with the Cavaliers before signing with the Heat in 2010. After winning two titles in Miami, the 10-time All-Star will team with Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving in hopes of leading Cleveland to the first NBA championship in franchise history. The Cavaliers will open the regular season on Oct. 30, at home against the Knicks.
ESPN.com reported in June that James made a profit of "more than $30 million" when Apple purchased Beats Electronics for $3 billion earlier this year.