The 3 Biggest NBA PR Blunders of the Last Decade

By Mark Linsdell Published: 23 October, 2019 Last updated: February 17th, 2022 at 4:40 pm

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This post was written by Mark Linsdell of the Publicize Newsroom.

Since Toronto Raptors playoff victory in June, we’ve been twiddling our thumbs waiting for the new NBA season to begin.

Well, the wait is finally over. The season returns to our screens and the courts tonight. In addition, so do the PR teams trying to keep fans on side and put a positive spin on a player’s poor form. 

Yes, there are many ways teams sports teams benefit positively from PR. However, from time to time, NBA teams and its players’ PR efforts shoot spectacularly wide of the mark. 

With that in mind, we’ve compiled these three biggest NBA PR blunders of the last decade:

The Decision: LeBron James

LeBron James is arguably one of the league’s most decorated and recognizable players. The 34-year-old now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. However, this PR fail takes us back to his first move from the Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat.

Let’s set the scene. LeBron James is from Cleveland and is beloved in his hometown. He came through as a rookie in 2003 and in his final two seasons he won back-to-back MVP awards. However, one thing was missing. A championship. 

At the end of the 2009/2010 season, James was a free agent. His future was the biggest talking point of the NBA off-season. He decided to announce his new deal on an ESPN special called ‘The Decision’.

Firstly, it was a poor move on his part for not telling his current team beforehand of his decision. However, it reflected extremely poorly on player reputations. While James certainly took the most criticism, it heightened the general perception that players’ egos and personal brands were becoming bigger than their teams. 

While The Decision did make around $6 million for charity, it was a blunder. Or, as NBA writer Chris Sheridan, delicately puts it, “it was a shit show then and it remains a shit show.”

Desperate Billboards: LA Lakers

The LA Lakers are a big team. Wherever they stand in the conference, they have a huge pulling power when it comes to signing players. Furthermore, they usually have a couple of megastars in their ranks. 

In 2013, one of these megastars was Dwight Howard. He signed on a one-year-deal the previous off season and was a great success for the Lakers. However, he grew frustrated with their early playoff exit and playing alongside Kobe Bryant. As a result, he decided to consider his future.

The LA Lakers responded by posted billboards throughout the city with the words: ‘Stay’.

This was deemed to be particularly damaging of the Laker’s brand. It made them look weak and, honestly, a little bit desperate. The result? Howard left for Orlando Magic two weeks later. 

However, it must have made some impact on him because he rejoined the Lakers last summer. 

The China Disaster: Houston Rockets 

We’re now going to touch on one of the more recent items on the list. It all started with a deleted tweet.

This summer, Darel Morley, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, posted a tweet voicing his support for the Hong Kong protests. The protestors were demanding civil-liberty protections from the Chinese and Hong Kong governments. The tweet was deleted almost immediately.

Unfortunately for Morley, the damage was already done. Chinese businesses and partners to the NBA were furious. They started threatening to pull sponsorship and blacklist Houston Rockets games from being broadcast. 

The NBA condemned Morey’s comments and discouraged players from commented on the Chinese government.

This dealt a blow to the NBA’s reputation. The sport has always spoken of its progressive nature and its support of US political movements. However, this was seen by some as putting money over the First Amendment.

There you have it. Let’s hope that teammates LeBron James and Dwight Howard are able to steer the LA Lakers away from making such a hash of their PR. Furthermore, it’ll be interesting to see how the powers that be in the NBA continue to react to their handling of Morely’s tweets. 

In the meantime, let’s hope this season is as enjoyable and as shocking as the first. And let’s also hope for some more courtside magic from Canadian-rapper, Drake: