In six days, LeBron James’ contract with the Cavs expires, opening a can of worms on the most explosive sports questionmark of the year: “Is King James leaving or staying?” Some 460 miles east of Cleavland, in New York City, this question is being phrased a little bit more aggressively: “What’s it going to take to get LeBron to New York?”
In May, Mayor Bloomberg chimed in with his pitch. The Carnegie Deli already has a sandwich named after him. Celebrities like Matt Lauer and Mario Batali have rallied their support for getting LeBron in a Knicks jersey with the city’s official “C’Mon On, LeBron” campaign. Despite all the high-profile wooing, simple, interactive buttons have popped-up around five boroughs, including the famed W. 4th St. street ball courts in Manhattan. The buttons are the brainchildren of Corey and Jason Grant, two twelve-year-old twins who have teamed up with Ryan Berger, founder of Berger Shop, and Cory Berger, a marketing consultant , to try courting LeBron to New York with an interactive campaign. Each time the button is pressed, a number is added to the total vote tally of New Yorkers who want LeBron to ditch Cleveland, give Chicago the cold shoulder, and settle down to play ball in NYC.
We caught up with Ryan Berger to discuss #NY<3LeBron.com and what it’s going to take to see King James in orange, white, and blue on the hardwood in Madison Square Garden. Check out the Q&A after the jump.
BroBible: How did NY <3 Lebron get started?
Ryan Berger: We launched the campaign with Jason and Cory, the two twins from Harlem, last Saturday. They’re huge Knick fans and huge LeBron fans and they wanted to help in bringing LeBron to New York. But, they really didn’t know how. So, they reached out to their Dad. Their Dad knew a couple of marketing people and through that we ended up creating a campaign that lives in several places.
There’s three ways you can vote for showing your support for LeBron coming to New York. There’s a button on the website (www.nyheartlebron.com) that says, “push me.” That’s a running tally of all the votes that have come in (about 1.7 million in the last few weeks). Second, you can actually send in a Tweet with the hash tag of #ny<3lebron. The third is an actual, physical button you can press. There are 10 set up now and there will be another five up this week. You can go to basketball-related venues like Riverside Church or the Gauchos Gym. You can also go to restaurants like Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse or Brother Jimmy’s and push the LeBron button. Each push is a vote for Lebron. The combination of everything, especially the physical buttons, have generated a lot of buzz around the city.
Is there a goal for votes before he announces he’s a free agent?
We haven’t come up with a number. We haven’t said we’re going to get “X” number of votes. We just want as many people to engage, vote, and get the word out there. We just thought, “Let’s see what happens.” The response has been overwhelming.
We want the people to have the say (in bringing LeBron to New York). It’s easy for Chris Rock or Donald Trump to recruit LeBron. It’s not so easy for the 12-year-old kid in Harlem to recruit him. It’s a way for everyone — including the kids — to get their voice out there.
How did Jason and Corey (the twins from Harlem) get involved? Did they come to you and just say they want LeBron to come to NY?
Yeah, they’re really good basketball players. Their father runs one of the grassroots basketball tournaments out of the Bronx called the “Gun Hil Basketball Classic.” He mentioned that his kids are huge basketball fans and huge Knicks fans and said his kids would love to put something together to bring to LeBron.
At the same time, we are Knick fans ourselves. The campaign is very basic. It’s the website, it’s the Facebook page, it’s the buttons. That’s what makes it so great: It’s very simplistic. If you think about it, the website has only been up for a week and we have 1.4 million votes. The “C’Mon LeBron” site has something like 3900 Facebook fans. What Berger Shop has done is give the tools to the people of New York, so they can vote and have their voice heard, whereas the C’mon Lebron campaign was very much about using traditional media and NYC spokespeople to get the word out. Two very different ways to do it, but our way was designed to trigger participation and conversation. The reason NY <3′s LeBron caught on is because people are allowed to shape the conversation. The other campaign was only about celebrities or quasi-celebrities talking about LeBron.
Isn’t there a people-driven campaign in Cleveland rallying to keep LeBron there? Who are you competing against?
There was actually a rally of about 4,000 people in Cleveland and LeBron came and surprised them, talked for about 5 to 10 minutes, then left. I understand it was very abrupt and not very exciting. I haven’t seen anything as integrated as we’re doing. The idea is to show this ground-swell of support. We want to get as many kids and people in general there when he arrives.
You, personally, have nothing to do with the Knicks, correct? You’re just a fan…
That’s right. I’m a huge fan of the Knicks. I’ve been going to their games forever. I played basketball in college. My brother and I are just huge basketball guys. So are the twins. We’re just really working to make this a grass-roots movement by the people of New York.
What do you think his final decision will be?
We can’t control what Cleveland and Chicago will do for him, but we can show him why New York is the best place to play. Winning here is really something, it’s like nowhere else. Ask mark messier, who won five in edmonton. Ask Phil Simms. Ask Reggie Jackson, who won a few in Oakland and then won here. There is nothing like winning in NYC. He really has a chance to go down in history as one of the all-time great New Yorkers.
What if LeBron’s courted by the Nets?
He’s being courted by them since they are moving to Brooklyn in a few years. If they were in Brooklyn now, maybe they would have a chance, but all they have now is an owner with big pockets and a team franchise that doesnt have any of the cache that the Knicks franchise has, regardless of if they play in Brooklyn, New jersey, or Russia.