July 8th, 2010, was one of the more notorious days in the history of the NBA. It was the day that the league’s biggest free agent ever, LeBron James, would choose which team he decided to play for.
Everyone hyped up this moment for a few years (especially ESPN) because of the short-term contract that LeBron would sign once his rookie scale contract was complete. It brought him to free agency earlier instead of signing a 5 year, max contract to stay in Cleveland.
Most people, like myself, thought there was no way he could leave Cleveland. It was only about 45 minutes from Akron, Ohio, his hometown, where he burst onto the national stage as a high school basketball prodigy over a decade ago. LeBron was well-known before he was even a junior, when he was placed on the cover of SLAM Magazine and called “the best high school basketball player in America right now.” He even petitioned the NBA to have the draft eligibility rule adjusted, which was that once you graduated high school, you were allowed to place your name in the upcoming league draft.
The 2003 draft lottery came, otherwise known as the “Who Will Pick LeBron James in One Month” sweepstakes. The Cleveland Cavaliers and Denver Nuggets were tied for the worst record in the league in the 2002-03 season at 17-65. Then, as fellow readers know, the Cavaliers won the lottery/sweepstakes. LeBron would be staying home in Cleveland.
It would go onto be made official on June 26th, 2003.
LeBron was instantly deemed the savior of Cleveland sports and he lived up to the hype in most people’s minds. Let’s take a look at what he accomplished as a Cavalier:
- 2003-04 NBA Rookie of the Year
- 6-time All-Star (2005-2010)
- 2-time All-Star Game MVP (2006, 2008)
- 4-time All-NBA First Team (2006, 2008-2010)
- 2-time All-NBA Second Team (2005, 2007)
- 2-time NBA All-Defensive First Team (2009-2010)
- NBA All-Rookie First Team (2004)
- NBA Scoring Champion (2008)
- 2007 NBA Finals Appearance
- No Championships
No championships is what defined LeBron James’ 7-year career when he hit free agency. Don’t forget that he was only a 25 year old at that point in time. LeBron and the Cavs could not get past Dwight Howard‘s Orlando Magic the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals when everyone thought they would. The same thing happened in 2010 against the Boston Celtics, except it was in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Game 6 of that series turned out to be the final time we would see LeBron James as a Cavalier. The speculation on his future escalated further than you could imagine the second that game ended.
Then came July 1st when teams lined up to make their sales pitches to him. The Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets, and Cavaliers all attempted to sign him with their ample amount of cap space. The favorite seemed to be Cleveland because of loyalty to the franchise, being close to his hometown, and the fact that the Cavs were so close to reaching the Finals almost every year. Second in the running seemed to be the Bulls. The sleeper of the race seemed to be the Miami Heat with the cap space they had available. They had re-signed shooting guard Dwyane Wade and signed former Toronto Raptors power forward Chris Bosh, so no one really thought they would have the room to add a 3rd big piece. Everyone assumed the rest of their money would go to filling out the rest of the roster with a quality starter or two, and role players.
Then came the announcement that both LeBron had come to the decision of what team he would play for next. What made it so notorious, however, was that LeBron and ESPN partnered to air his decision on live TV. This was an unprecedented move that no professional athlete has ever done and still has not done. Both parties faced very harsh criticism before the announcement was even made. “The Decision,” as it was titled, was set to air on July 8th, 2010.
No matter how unprecedented it was or the amount of criticism it received, millions were going to tune-in (13 million people did so to see the announcement 30 minutes in). So, like most NBA fans did, I sat down with a few of my friends to watch this. We thought that LeBron would stay in Cleveland. We were naive enough to think there could be no other possibility of him going anywhere else. We couldn’t be any more wrong and to put it simply, our reaction was pure shock to the words said by James.
The decision to go to the Miami Heat did not only shock me, but it shocked us all. Cleveland was more furious than shocked. You can see how furious they were with the burning of LeBron jerseys on YouTube. In a matter of minutes, he went from being one of the league’s most beloved players to being the league’s ultimate villain. It’s something that I do not think we’ll see ever again.
However, looking back on “The Decision” nearly four years later, we should have gave LeBron more credit for his decision.
Miami is one of the hot spots of our country. The beaches, warm weather, palm trees, and fun lifestyle highlight the city. It’s arguably our party capital. The allure of it all definitely could not have hindered his decision in a negative way. Cleveland is nice and close to his hometown, but Cleveland is simply just Cleveland.
It did not hurt that Pat Riley was (and still is) a credible force at the top of the Heat’s basketball operations that led the process. No other competing team at the time had someone like that. However, it was the best supporting cast is what lured LeBron in. Chicago only had Derrick Rose (Joakim Noah was not was he is today). The Knicks had almost no one on their roster except for the then recently signed Amar’e Stoudemire, who was not enough to lure a big name player alone. The Nets were still in New Jersey and were not an attractive franchise to join at the time. The Clippers were coming off a miserable season with Eric Gordon as the only quality, young piece of a supporting cast. The Heat had Wade and Bosh, two of the bigger stars of the game. Bosh was a double-double machine in Toronto and Wade was one of the best players in the league and had won a title already in 2006. Those two, alone, topped every other team’s supporting cast that was after LeBron.
The focus here is Cleveland. The supporting cast (or attempts at creating one by then GM Danny Ferry) was never quality. Take a look at the 2007 Eastern Conference champions’ roster. The starting lineup with LeBron James featured Larry Hughes, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Drew Gooden, and Eric Snow, who only averaged 4.2 PPG, 4.2 APG, and shot just 41%. People are still perplexed today that this lineup made it to the finals. LeBron had to carry that team and he did rise to the occasion (see game 5 of the ’07 ECF). In the end, he just could not do it all on his own when the Cavaliers were swept by the Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs. That was everyone’s initial sign that he needed help around him.
It did not happen until the middle of the 2007-08 season, but Ferry went out and acquired Ben Wallace from the Bulls in a multi-player trade to improve their front-line and improve the players around LeBron. Wallace provided decent support from the defensive end, but was always known to and still did provide next to no offense. Wally Szczerbiak was acquired in that same deal from the Seattle Super Sonics, too, to provide support, but he failed to make an impact, shooting just 35% through 25 games. They finished 45-37 and could not get out of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
The 2008 off-season gave LeBron arguably the best player he ever played with in Cleveland; Mo Williams. They acquired him in a 3 team deal that sent out Joe Smith and Damon Jones. It was a huge upgrade at point guard. Williams immediately put in a career high in PPG with 17.8 that season. Him and LeBron helped the Cavaliers to a league best 66-16 record, just 6 wins shy of the Bulls’ 1996 single-season win record of 72. The fun stopped at the Eastern Conference Finals, when they would lose to the Orlando Magic in 6 games. The panic level in the Cavaliers’ organization was higher than ever because LeBron was one year away from free agency and still without a title. He refused to accept an extension in the off-season of 2009, said he probably would exercise his opt-out option, and become a free agent in the summer of 2010. It made the 09-10 season more stressful than ever on Cleveland’s franchise.
The season would arrive and the Cavaliers would go onto dominate the regular season again, finishing 61-21. The addition of an aging Shaquille O’Neal and another power forward, who will be mentioned shortly, helped them get to the top of the East. No one cared, though. Everyone wanted to see how deep LeBron could take this team and shed the ring-less comments.
Even with the great regular season record by the time the season ended, Danny Ferry was desperately looking to upgrade the supporting cast during the season in order to keep LeBron around. If he did not do that, he would likely be fired.
The big fish of the 2010 trade deadline was a healthy and highly productive power forward named Amar’e Stoudemire. To get the then-Sun, Ferry would have had to give up Zydrunas Ilgauskas and his expiring contract along with up-and-coming power forward J.J. Hickson. If you want to cringe even more, Stoudemire was averaging 23.1 PPG along with 8.9 RPG. The deal-breaker in this ended up being Hickson who, back then, had promise, but was just a role player, averaging 8.5 PPG, 4.9 RBP, and just 20.9 MPG. For a team in title contention that needed to find a way to put their roster, on paper, over-the-top, they failed. They ended up trading for Antawn Jamison from the Wizards for Ilgauskas, a 2010 1st round pick, and the rights to a player overseas who is not worth noting. Jamison never fit it well. He was a better shooter, but was not efficient at all. He put up a ton of shots and would be someone that needed an average of 13 shots per game to average 15 PPG while Stoudemire needed just 15 shots to get to 23.8 PPG. That was also aided by getting to the free throw line, which Amar’e could do often while Jamison was never the aggressive one to do so. In the end, the Jamison addition just did not work out. He was not good enough to be the second man to LeBron. They ended up losing in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals to the Boston Celtics with LeBron arguably putting up his worst playoff series ever. The last moment we saw of him in a Cavs uniform was him and his teammates getting booed off the court by their owns fans. It was rock bottom for the franchise.
It was LeBron’s attempt to do it all and it ultimately failed because he simply he could not do it. That sentence was the definition of his time in Cleveland. Danny Ferry was successful in bringing players in, but they were never the right ones to take the load off of LeBron, or just were not good enough. It led to him and coach Mike Brown being fired.
The Cavs could have had Chris Bosh. Both he and LeBron wanted to play on the same team, but Bosh did not want to go to Cleveland. He only wanted to go to New Jersey, Miami, or Chicago. If Bosh was willing to go to Cleveland, who knows if LeBron would have been a Cavalier today. Most people would say yes, but you never know. Bosh would have been LeBron’s best supporting cast by far. Them two and Mo Williams would not have been a bad trio.
Once LeBron arrived to Miami, he arrived with a bang with the famous ceremony where he announced that the Heat would win “Not 1, not 2, not 3…” championships. He would go up to 8.
The first year in Miami saw his stats take a very slight dip, but he kept his superstar numbers, which you can see here.
He took an absolute beating from the road crowds. The boos and expletives shouted at him was something that we have never seen before done so harshly to a player. You can re-live the moment when he returned to Cleveland for the first time. He fought through the adversity for one of the first times in his career and made himself an even more polarizing figure in the sports world than he was before.
With the cast of Wade, Bosh, Udonis Haslem, Mike Miller, and others, the Heat made it to the NBA Finals. However, LeBron and crew laid an egg against the Dallas Mavericks, losing in 6 games. The ring-less jokes and choking jokes were aimed at LeBron more than ever. He came to Miami to win a title, but failed to achieve it and failed to elude the pressure of the big game moment. It was a rough off-season for him.
The 2011 off-season saw the arrival of Shane Battier, who provided a great spark with his leadership, 3 point shooting, and defensive ability. He helped turn this team into one of the more deadly offenses and defenses in the league. The Heat could stretch the floor and create open space with LeBron running the show. If you double-teamed him, you could have Dwyane Wade or Bosh open. If you double-teamed Wade, you could have LeBron and Bosh open. You get the picture. It also took the focus off of the role players, who were consistently open because they were never the focal point of opposing teams’ defenses. All of this led to LeBron’s first NBA title with a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder in 5 games.
Even coming off a Finals victory, Pat Riley still wanted to make the team better, adding Ray Allen, eventually Chris “Birdman” Andersen during the season, and drafting Norris Cole to the team. The improved cast led to another Miami Heat title with a 7 game series win over the San Antonio Spurs.
LeBron’s decision could not have been any better.
The 2013-14 season saw the Heat take a slight step back. Ray Allen and Shane Battier were aging. Mario Chalmers was providing sub-par production from the starting PG spot. Dwyane Wade was also showing increasing signs of breaking down. The team defense was not as good. They would still go onto finish second in the Eastern Conference at 54-28, but it did not feel the same as other years. Ultimately, as everyone saw recently, they would make it to the NBA Finals, getting past the Charlotte Bobcats, Brooklyn Nets, and Indiana Pacers easily.
The Finals couldn’t have been any worse for the Heat. They sometimes looked like the 2010 Cavs out there with LeBron looking around the court for his teammates and seeing that no one could do anything to help him. The San Antonio Spurs blew them out in each of their four wins to win their 5th title under head coach Gregg Popovich.
So, with no win, the questions of LeBron’s future have intensified with the opt-out clause that he has for this off-season. Will he stay? Will he go back to Cleveland?
Quite frankly, if he somehow leaves 4 consecutive NBA Finals and 2 championships behind, it will be more stunning than his decision to leave Cleveland.
Teams will court him. He’ll make his visits and give teams some false hope. What it comes down to is that Miami offers him his best chance of winning as well as being able to offer him the most years and money in free agency. Plus, Miami got “LeBron’s guy” in the draft in UConn point guard, Shabazz Napier, who will be an immediate upgrade over Norris Cole and Chalmers.
LeBron James became the league’s ultimate villain when he signed with the Miami Heat in July of 2010. His decision to have “The Decision” on live TV is unprecedented and something we will probably never see again from a professional athlete.
The fact is this: LeBron made the unpopular choice to go to South Beach, but it was the correct one. It was his best destination to win a championship (Which came true). With what he has accomplished, when will we see him make his second decision?