It was 10 years ago today that the most anticipated free-agency period in NBA history began, culminating on July 8, 2010, with The Decision and LeBron James announcing that he was taking his talents to South Beach.
We asked our NBA insiders to reflect on the show, the fallout and LeBron’s time with the Miami Heat — which produced four trips to the Finals and two titles before he returned to Cleveland — and what all of it meant for the NBA.
1. What do you remember most about watching ‘The Decision’ 10 years ago?
Kevin Arnovitz: The extent to which it was produced. James and his camp had already fashioned his free agency as a competition reality show, and the announcement was the culmination. In many respects, unbeknownst to anyone at the time, The Decision was a pilot for a decade of shows produced by and starring athletes. That night almost seems quaint now.
Chris Herring: I was working for The Wall Street Journal and was sent to a New York bar to cover local reaction to LeBron’s choice. It was a reaction that’s been somewhat fitting for the better part of the past 20 years: Knicks fans being disappointed. There was speculation that LeBron announcing the decision in nearby Connecticut would bode well for the Knicks’ chances. It didn’t.
Jackie MacMullan: I happened to be in Bristol doing SportsCenter in the days leading up to The Decision. Even though ESPN was going to broadcast it, most of us thought it was a horrible idea, and I recall saying on the air, “LeBron, it’s not too late. Don’t do this!” I called David Stern a day before The Decision, and he made it clear he would have no comment. But, when I asked him off the record, “Did you try to talk LeBron out of it?” he snapped back, “What do you think?”
Dave McMenamin: I was covering Kobe Bryant’s basketball camp in Santa Barbara the day before, and all anyone wanted to talk about was what LeBron was going to do. I went out to dinner that night with some of the camp coaches, and we watched Chris Broussard say on SportsCenter that Miami was going to be the destination. So, tuning in to the actual show the next day, it was more about looking to see LeBron say it and how he was going to say it. And as soon as he uttered the “take my talents” line, it immediately made me think of 17-year-old Kobe, with a pair of Oakleys on his head, announcing his decision to skip college and go straight to the NBA.
Royce Young: The anticipation. Once it was announced, the speculation machine cranked to hyperspeed. But even with reports surfacing of LeBron leaning elsewhere, the general feeling was no way he’d go on national TV and break his hometown’s heart. The whole thing was uncomfortable, especially the time fill that had to occur before LeBron actually got to announcing his choice. But the 24 hours leading into it was really the birth of the transactional fever era we live in now.
2. Looking back now, which was more surprising: LeBron’s TV special, Dan Gilbert’s letter or the Heat’s “We Did It” rally?
Young: The letter is the most shocking of the three, just because the potential consequences of that shouldn’t have required hindsight to see. It was an emotional reaction, sure, and in the end it didn’t prevent LeBron from returning, but it was certainly a hurdle. A Decision-like announcement is kind of the norm now, and hyping seismic transactions isn’t unusual. But an owner absolutely blasting a player publicly — a franchise icon at that — is a pretty unthinkable thing in 2020.
MacMullan: The Heat rally. The Decision was incredibly ill-advised and se