Inequivalent Out-Groups in “The Decision III”: The Free Agency of LeBron James and the Power of Sport Rivalry

in International Journal of Sport Communication
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This study investigated how LeBron James’s free-agency decision in 2018 influences sport fans’ image impressions of him with in-groups (Cleveland Cavaliers) and out-groups (all other NBA teams) compared. In the months preceding James’s free-agency decision, an experimental design was employed to ask self-ascribed fans of LeBron James how they felt about 4 possible free-agency destinations: the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Houston Rockets, the Golden State Warriors, and his eventual selection, the Los Angeles Lakers. A total of 189 U.S. fans of LeBron James were recruited for the study. Results indicate that James’s image became worse (in terms of mean scores) for every out-group condition, while being slightly improved if opting to remain in the in-group; however, images were significantly different from other out-groups in the scenario in which LeBron James opted to join the Golden State Warriors—the Cavaliers most immediate rival at the time.

Guo is with the College of Communication and Information Sciences, and Billings, the Alabama Program in Sports Communication, the Dept. of Journalism & Mass Media, and the Dept. of Gender & Race Studies, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL. Abdallah is with the Dept. of Communication, Media, & Culture, Coastal Carolina University, Conway, SC.

Guo (sguo15@crimson.ua.edu), a graduate student, is corresponding author.
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