What Lonzo Ball Can Teach Us About Self-Promotion

Lonzo Ball’s departure from UCLA for the NBA was a foregone conclusion long before his postgame comments following the Bruins’ 86-75 Sweet 16 loss to the Kentucky Wildcats.

Still, Ball, who is projected to be a top-five pick in this year’s Draft, affirmed that his college career was over when he announced to reporters crowded into the UCLA locker room, “That was my final game for UCLA.”

Ball’s comments were prime fodder for Monday’s mindless sports debate shows as talking heads argued about Ball’s maturity and preparedness for the NBA. However, as insignificant as such sports discussions can be (listen to my podcast for further proof), there is value to be extracted from this incident, especially for those trying to establish and increase brand awareness, including entrepreneurs and small businesses.

To highlight the utility of the Ball story, here are a few lessons I pulled from it along with their import for those with an entrepreneurial bent.

1. Be mindful of how others perceive you and keep that knowledge at the forefront during professional communication. 

I am not going to fault Lonzo Ball for his postgame comments because as talented as he is, he is still a 19-year-old college freshman. But for those who no longer have that excuse, effective communication must be grounded in an awareness of others’ perceptions of you, specifically within professional relationships.

Not establishing and strengthening your grasp on how your audience thinks and feels about you and your brand will cost you. One could argue this might be the case for Lonzo because while he will inevitably earn millions of dollars through an NBA contract, the callousness of his postgame comments may have cost him serious endorsement dollars, especially when considering the repair work he will need to do to put himself in the same marketable position as someone like Kyrie Irving who effectively established and leveraged his brand at nearly same point during his own college-to-NBA transition. 

To work on this awareness, create a list of five adjectives you think others with whom you have professional relationships (ex. colleagues, clients, supervisors) would use to describe you. Then provide three specific examples that support each adjective. If you cannot find examples or you are stretching to make an argument in support of your interpretation of others’ perceptions, you have found the starting point for self-reflection and professional growth.

2. Utilize the insight of those who don’t always agree with you.

Lonzo Ball’s father LaVar has leveraged his son’s success into multiple ESPN appearances and a merchandise company, and as Lonzo’s de facto publicist, he has effectively increased his son’s brand awareness to the point that most of the country’s population of casual sports fans knew of Ball before March Madness even began.

However, LaVar’s inability to inject humility into his son’s public persona certainly did not benefit the situation outlined above.

The point here is not to offer up a deep-reading of parents-who-enable, but rather to make clear the importance of having someone around who does not always agree with you. Accepting and building upon disagreement is what high-functioning organizations do. It’s what intelligent entrepreneurs and senior executives do. It is probably something those trying to enable their own success should do, too.

To make this happen, network with professional contacts who are intelligent, honest, and willing to disagree. Obviously, forming trust in these relationships is key, but once you have it, a productive and discerning contrarian can be the prod necessary to push you out of your tunnel vision.

3. Treat every public moment as a promotional opportunity.

Sports fans are unbelievably forgiving when it comes to the transgressions of revered athletes, especially when mistakes are countered with authentic apologies and earnest journeys down the straight-and-narrow. (And winning helps, too.)

Lonzo Ball has the chance to turn his public image around, but he’s going to want to take lessons from Mark McGwire, Kobe Bryant, and Marion Jones (rather than A-Rod or Lance Armstrong) and he’s going to want to recognize every relationship beyond his personal ones are opportunities for brand buy-in. For those trying to build professional relationships and brand loyalty, this applies to you as well.

Being able to take advantage of these moments begins with recognition. Something as simple as a brief 4-5 minute meditation prior to entering into the public space can make this possible. Clearing out the emotional baggage of interpersonal relationships or personal responsibilities will get your head right and prepare you to capitalize on the potential to build your professional image and brand.

Another exercise involves conceptualizing the ideal you (for example, as senior executive, business owner, or digital influencer) and talking yourself into this persona. In a sense, this allows you to put on your “game face” and more effectively promote yourself, your company, and your brand. If you want an example of this “switch” at work, consider how Peyton Manning was able to quickly transition from competitor to spokesperson after Super Bowl 50.

In sum, there is a lot to be learned from Lonzo Ball’s postgame comments from last weekend and from the commentary to which it gave rise. However, when we think about this value in terms of professional branding, it becomes clear that with some self-awareness, opposition, and business acumen, that interview goes down in a very different way.

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