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Are billboard ads effective in attracting LeBron James to play for their team?

The LeBron James recruitment pitches have begun and it’s not by any of the NBA teams. The league, through a tampering rule, prohibits teams from recruiting James or any other upcoming free agent until July when players’ contracts expire. In their place, the fans have taken it upon themselves to make the pitch to the Cavaliers’ star.

One way they have elicited James’ attention, and the entire world’s eye at the same time is to make their pitch through billboard ads.

The first to be put up were three billboards installed along the Interstate-480 south of Cleveland encouraging James to play for the Philadelphia 76ers next season. The idea for the billboard signs was inspired by the Academy Award-nominated movie, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

The signs say “Complete The Process,” “#PhillyWantsLeBron,” and a playboard-type illustration showing James’ number 23 complete with a crown together with the numbers of the Sixers’ starting lineup.

According to Tom Withers via NBA.com, “ESPN.com reported the billboards were leased by Power Home Remodeling, a company based in Chester, Pennsylvania. The company’s CEO says the goal is to bring James, a three-time NBA champion, to Philadelphia because ‘we think the best athletes should want to play here.’

‘We’re passionate about Philadelphia,’ Asher Raphael, the company’s co-CEO, told ESPN. ‘We have an amazing city, it’s the best sports town and it’s an awesome place to live. … LeBron is in the conversation of being the best player of all time. We think if he comes to Philly, he gets a couple more championships.’

The Sixers have the kind of young and talented players in Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid that James is looking for to help him win more championships. They are one of the few teams that will have the salary-cap space to sign James to a contract this offseason when he is expected to opt out of his current deal with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Ben Simmons, LeBron James

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James’ response to the billboards from a rival city?

“It’s dope,” he said.

But the billboard battle didn’t end with Philadelphia. It just started a war.

Cavs fans responded with a sign of their own in downtown Cleveland, saying “Hey, Philly” with a huge image of a crown representing LeBron as King James and #LANDOFTHEKING.

Cleveland owns the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick which is expected to be in the top four at least. Coupled with All-Star forward Kevin Love and a number of complementary players, James could opt to stay in Cleveland and continue to build his legacy in his home state.

Jason Miller/Getty Images
By Sam Blum

Los Angeles will be the site of the Cavaliers’ next two games as they face the Clippers and the Lakers.

The Lakers have the cap space to sign James this summer. The team features some of the NBA’s up-and-comers with Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Lonzo Ball, and Kyle Kuzma. They also have the cap space to add another max-contract player which they hope will be the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Paul George. James could have a superstar alongside him plus rising stars to grow under him.

Not to be outdone by Philadelphia and Cleveland, one Lakers fan decided to take on the challenge of recruiting James through billboard signs that each have #LABron on them.

ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk reports that die-hard Lakers fan Jacob Emrani was responsible for the billboards in L.A. He is “a personal injury attorney and longtime Lakers season-ticket holder.”

The billboards include “Cleveland & Philly, You Can’t Compete with L.A.,” one that says “FORGET THE PROCESS, WE WIN BANNERS!,” and yet another one featured retired Lakers jersey numbers of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant together with James’ No. 23 and the hashtag “#NextRetiredJersey.”

LeBron James, Lonzo Ball

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These are fans who want James to come play for their team. Rich ones, yes, but still fans of the game and the team that represents their cities.

Will they work?

If flattering James and getting his attention is an indication, it works in the sense that it tells the 14-time All-Star that he is wanted in their city. If he were to pack his bags and leave Cleveland, their city will embrace him as their own. In terms of attraction? Just the fact that James responded to the Philly billboards positively is a good sign that he appreciates the effort.

Fans will do the craziest things just to get arguably the best player in the game to play for their team and the billboard wars is just the latest.

Perhaps the best recruitment pitch that came from a fan may have been the stunt that was pulled back in March 2013 when James was still playing for Miami Heat.

During a game between the Cavaliers and the Heat that was played at the Quicken Loans Arena, a fan by the name of James Blair ran onto the court toward James. He was wearing a shirt with the words “We miss you” on the front and “2014 come back” at the back.

Security came rushing to the floor almost immediately but not until he was able to get a word in to James.

“We miss you here, LeBron,” Blair said. “Come back home. If you wanna come back we’ll support you.”

James reached out to him and tapped him on the head.

“He said he missed me and come back please,” James said in the postgame interview. “I didn’t have time to say much to him because security got to him but I just patted him on the head.”

James still remembers Blair even after that incident, how he looked and what his name was.

“Yeah, that’s James Blair, he’s my guy,” James told Sports Illustrated later.

What many may not realize is that Blair’s saga did not end there. Though he was banned for life from entering the arena, James’ homecoming absolved him of his crime.

More than any of the pitches that James ever received, showing that he was loved and forgiven by a fan meant that the city was ready to embrace him back. Despite the hatred he received after leaving Cleveland, James felt, through that single act of adoration, that he could come home.

And he did.

For the many admirers that James has across the country, getting him to play for your team requires a personal touch. Billboards are good and they tell the King that he’s welcome to start his kingdom with them.

LeBron James

Geoff Burke / USA TODAY Sports / Reuters

But more than anything, James responds to a personal appeal to his emotions with a face to latch on to the message, one that will resonate with him and make him feel like he was coming home. The billboard pitches could work but he needs to see someone behind it, perhaps the fan himself who put it up in place or an emotional plea to get him to respond.

Regardless of where the billboard wars end up, he won’t be making a decision on his free agency based on who had the best recruitment message. James will make that decision this summer on his own terms with the ball in his hands and in his court. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

One thing’s for certain, though—fans, not just the teams, will be going all out in recruiting James to play for their city by any means possible.