LeBron James doesn’t need to endorse any more brands. Over the course of his career, the King has built his business and brand portfolio off the court to such a place that there’s really no need for him to add more commercial partners to the equation.
So when he does, he wants to make it count. Which is why his new ad for luxury luggage brand Rimowa isn’t about craft, design, quality, and durability but rather a monologue on the road of life experiences.
The spot is part of Rimowa’s ongoing “Never Still” campaign, which launched last year to celebrate the brand’s 120th anniversary. The 2018 edition, created with agency Anomaly, featured shorts following such artists, athletes, and designers as Roger Federer, Virgil Abloh, and chef Nobu Matsuhisa. This year’s lineup includes James, fashion designer Kim Jones, and Chinese pianist Yuja Wang.
Last year, James told me that his strategy in picking brand partners has evolved significantly over his career. “Athletes used to just take the endorsement deals to grab the cash. A drink deal, a fast-food deal, a shoe deal, whatever other category or thing came your way,” he said. “Now, you have to really think about the company. What do they stand for? What’s their marketing strategy? If I’m going to partner with someone, I need to be comfortable with taking you directly to my fans through my channels. It’s a totally different perspective from when I started.”
With Rimowa, James says it just felt natural for a pretty simple reason: he’s already been a loyal customer for years. “The biggest thing for me when deciding to partner with Rimowa is that it’s super organic, because I actually carried and used the brand’s products and have traveled with their luggage for a long time,” James says. “So when the opportunity to work with them came up, it was a no-brainer for me.”
Rimowa CEO Alexandre Arnault says that’s a big part of the company’s strategy with celebrity ambassadors. “Whether it be for a collaboration or in this case, brand campaign, our number-one priority is to select those who are authentic users and advocates of the product,” says Arnault. “LeBron has long been a Rimowa fan since stumbling into our Toronto store a few years ago, and we’ve since forged an organic relationship with him.”
For the spot, James said obviously the brand and product play a role, but when it comes to creating content, that should be subtly in the background, while bigger issues—whether it’s his I Promise School in Akron, or speaking out about police brutality—get more of the spotlight. The themes of being more than an athlete, which is also the tagline of James and Maverick Carter’s media startup Uninterrupted, runs throughout.
“When you watch this, you see me walking down the hotel hall with the travel luggage, you see me packing my bags for a road trip, but the spot is about so much more than me being around a bunch of luggage,” says James. “It’s beautiful luggage! But it’s about more than that — I’m more than an athlete, and I always want people to understand that.”