Nike Censors LeBron James Dunk Incident; Creates Needless PR Fiasco

Last Updated Jul 9, 2009 11:47 AM EDT

Nike confiscated a video of LeBron James being dunked on at a pickup game he organized. The censorship has turned into a negative publicity tidal wave from which Nike cannot escape.

Brand managers and PR folk take note. This is a lesson about transparency in the digital age. In failing to understand that, Nike Basketball senior director Lynn Merritt (pictured) has done the dumbest thing a brand manager could possibly do: Create a needless controversy that makes his brand look hypocritical, his endorser look lame, and himself look stupid.

The incident occured at the the LeBron James Skills Academy, a Nike-sponsored event in which a team composed of James and his pals took on all-comers. A couple of photographers had been filming the games all day when Xavier University's Jordan Crawford confronted James, playing defense. They both jumped but Crawford pulled off an awesome two-handed dunk that went over James. The photographer, Ryan Miller, said:

[The dunk] was good. I haven't looked online to read too much about it. It was as good as it could've been hyped up to be.
Within minutes, Merritt confiscated the tape, telling two photographers they did not have permission to film. Merritt's logic at this point seems to have been that a video of James getting beat by an amateur would have made its way to YouTube and embarrassed their star. But inevitably, the censorship caught fire online -- with Nike taking most of the heat -- and drawing an audience far larger than the basketball enthusiasts who may have viewed the video and shrugged at a kid who got lucky. Now anyone with a passing interest is hooting at Nike's club-footed image control. A selection from the coverage:
  • Deadspin: if King James really sent a Swoosh drone to go all FBI-in-Dealey-Plaza on the cameramen -- then that's surpassingly lame.
  • Deadspin: Ryan Miller, the would-be Zapruder whose video of LeBron getting Tom Chambered was commandeered by a Nike goon, has offered a few more details about the incident. Namely: The dunk was awesome, and Bron-Bron was kind of a prick.
  • CBS: You want to see video of Xavier's Jordan Crawford dunking on LeBron James? If so, too bad. Because you're not going to see it. Thanks to Nike.
  • Bloomberg: Nike urges athletes to just do it but it turns out the company doesn't want to know if you did it if it embarrasses one of its highly paid endorsers.
As a consolation, here's some non-James video of Crawford's dunking skills.