July 8th, 2010. LeBron James held an hour-long television special dubbed “The Decision” at the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, CT where he would announce his next basketball endeavor, as the 25-year-old entered his prime. And these very words vaulted LeBron into his role as the NBA villain and temporarily broke the hearts of Cleveland fans (and fans of the other 4 teams he met with) to form the unfathomable Big 3 in Miami.
In this fall… this is very tough… in this fall I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.
Joining good friends and ’03 draft classmates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh brought James over the mountaintop known as the original “superteam” in the Boston Celtics. Bron’s decision has to be deemed a success as he took home a pair of MVP awards and captured back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013 while on his way to 4 straight NBA Finals appearances.
With the backlash LeBron received from “The Decision” in 2010, some of it warranted, James has taken a way more subdued approach to changing teams in free agency. Back in 2014, he announced he would be coming home through a heartfelt Lee Jenkins piece with Sports Illustrated (Sorry Windhorst). 4 years later, James took his talents to Los Angeles via a Klutch Sports press release on the opening night of free agency (July 1) before embarking on a relaxing trip to Europe with his wife.
Let’s look back and examine the repercussions of the biggest free agent move in NBA history, which forever altered the landscape of the association with some more context, eight years later. The 2010 free agency class was absolutely stacked with stars across the board. After LeBron took a 3-year extension instead of five from Cleveland in 2006, he began giving himself the opportunity for maximum flexibility but keeping the pressure on the organization to win.
The digital world was just in its infancy as apps like Twitter/Instagram feeding us breaking news through a smartphone was just beginning to kickstart the digital revolution. Cable television was also still at its peak. NBA free agency wasn’t nearly sensationalized and only a handful of star players had a premier brand. Becoming that level of star in a small market was thought of as a nearly impossible feat.
The writing was on the wall for LeBron to leave Cleveland once Boston put him out in six games in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals of the 2010 playoffs. The last visual left on Cavs’ fans brains was Bron taking off his jersey walking into the Boston Garden tunnel. This already came after Celtic fans mockingly chanting “New York Knicks” at LeBron while he was at the foul line.
Few outlets covered the rumblings out of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, where the United States took home the gold, that LeBron, D-Wade, and Bosh all agreed to a pact that they would team up during the summer of 2010, but it was just a matter of where that would happen. Bill Simmons mentioned the possible theory during a state of the NBA article for ESPN around Thanksgiving of 2008.
Fast forward to just days before free agency begins and Steph A. Smith breaks the news that LeBron was headed for Miami (June 28) on Twitter. His follow up statements/Tweets later somewhat recounted his original report, giving him a loophole in case he was to be proved wrong.
James seemed to be okay with making his final decision by July 6, when his team of reps revealed that their client’s decision would be announced through a one-hour television special on July 8, which had never been seen before. We are officially in uncharted waters by this point.
The following night, Alan Hahn of Newsday “officially” broke the news that the King was indeed headed for South Beach, taking some edge off “The Decision.” My Facebook memories reminded me of my quality analysis as a pissed off Knicks fan at the time, “This fuckin’ sucks.”
Obviously, nobody from James’ camp commented on the reports to keep viewership up and just about everyone tuned into the 9 PM special, which went on for about 75 minutes. LeBron unveiled his decision to leave Cleveland at the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, CT. with a bunch of the club’s kids behind him to Showtime’s Jim Gray, who, admittedly, hit the Ohio native with some soft scripted questions.
The special went on to raise $6 million in total ($2.5 to the Boys & Girls Club with $3.5 million going to various charities from ad sponsors such as Vitamin Water) and averaged just about 10 million viewers throughout. There was one special guest in the house, legendary artist and friend of the DMR, Kanye West. Yeezy, who is always ahead of his time when it comes to his actions, knew the moment would go down in NBA history books.
West’s stay didn’t last long. Maybe he was looking for some publicity after the release of his radio-friendly “Power” single days prior. The song’s release kicked off Kanye’s redemption tour leading into his magnum opus, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. According to an ESPN Studio Manager, a motionless Kanye West looked to fall asleep during the beginning of the show and woke up from his stupor and made his way out of the Boys & Girls Club well before the special ended.
Looking back on “The Decision,” there is a lot to be learned. He faced a lot of unfair criticism for having the special, as most seemed to gloss over the $6 million raised just to be mad an athlete didn’t choose their team (Hey, I was one of them too). I thought the NBA was over once the “Big 3” formed, and thinking about it, you won’t find any of those Miami Heat teams on anyone’s top 10 list in NBA history.
The “super team” era is officially on steroids with TWO TOP 12 PLAYERS joining a 73-win team to turn the Golden State Warriors into a bona fide dynasty. I get it that parity is the biggest myth in sports, but come on, 26 teams legitimately have no chance to win anything next year, and that’s being generous.
One criticism I don’t think is up for debate, LeBron needed to notify the Cleveland Cavaliers organization of his decision prior to his announcement, and I believe he realized his grave mistake soon after. At the time, I’m thinking 25-year-old LeBron has everything figured out and as I got older, you soon understand at 25 you are just scratching the surface of this thing called life.
James had some questionable people in his ear earlier in his career, most notably, William “World Wide Wes” Wesley, who had illegally “consulted” LeBron since he began attending his games as a 15-year-old. LeBron has had his every move magnified and debated ad nauseam since he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 17-year-old to the point he has birthed the career of numerous prominent media members (Brian Windhorst, Nick Wright, Skip Bayless).
I love that LeBron ultimately took his free agency into his own hands and used his influence for the good of the masses. Now, was it executed the best way? Probably not. In a world of Woj bombs fighting against Shams and other insiders, I’d like to see players take Bron’s model and get in control of their free agency journey.
Obviously, 99% of players’ decisions won’t have the impact of a LeBron, but players should capitalize on the opportunity of announcing their decision from a branding perspective before corporations like ESPN do. We’re not far off from ESPN holding a special event for free agency when its start time is inevitably moved into primetime to capitalize on those advertising dollars. This would continue to keep the NBA in the news cycle 11 months out of the year.
It’s interesting to think about how a KD decision special in 2016 or LeBron again this year would be received. LeBron coming home in 2014 comes to mind as a possible missed opportunity at an epic moment.
Paul George gave us a glimpse into his decision to return to OKC with a 3-part special broadcasted through ESPN. The authenticity of the series is still up for debate. Did PG know he was going back to OKC? Why didn’t he take any meetings? Regardless, it was cool to see his thought process, interactions with his agent and Thunder GM Sam Presti. The best part was probably the candid conversation where PG13 received some advice from Dwyane Wade.
“The Decision” is sure to go down in NBA immortality, but will history eventually repeat itself? Only time will tell. Happy 8th anniversary to “The Decision.”