LeBron’s declaration happened at the climax of The Decision, an hour-long TV special that had been set up for the sole purpose of promoting said declaration. The special caused a firestorm among fans in Cleveland and surrounding region; the context and conspirators were subject to ridicule among observers everywhere else.
I didn’t watch the one-time event, which aired in primetime on ESPN. I saw a clip of the actual declaration for the first time yesterday. LeBron’s decision was intriguing because it gave him a serious opportunity to finally win a league championship. He would be joining fellow stars Dwayne Wade, MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals, and Chris Bosh.
The maneuvering that let LeBron and Bosh join Wade as Miami Heat players showed long-term collaboration among themselves and with Miami leadership. It also showed that maybe stars had too much influence in shaping team rosters. Concerns about influence and power aside, the self-proclaimed Heatles and their possible dominance—as LeBron suggested—were must-see TV.
I had been casually following LeBron since he was a much-hyped, high-school prospect. I wanted him to win a championship, so I supported the decision, whereas I disapproved of The Decision. The latter was an example of self-importance. LeBron’s free agency was a big deal for the NBA because of his game-changing talents. Still, a 60-minute show for a 60-second statement was excessive.
On the other hand, The Decision reportedly generated $6 million in ad revenue that was donated to charity, including $2.5 million to Boys & Girls Clubs of America. I remember reading, about a year ago, that the announcement was the idea of someone else and that LeBron was convinced into going along. It was reportedly the brainchild of his manager, who worked with Jim Gray and Ari Emanuel aka the real-life Ari Gold to make it happen (Ad Age).
LeBron predictably became a villain for it anyway. To jersey-burning Cavs fans, he had abandoned the city where he had established himself as a pro superstar and, to a lesser extent, the region where had had been high-school phenom. The Decision has joined The Drive, The Shot, The Move, and others as memorable plays or sequences in pro sports that put a Cleveland team on the wrong side of history.
Despite the widespread disdain for it, The Decision accomplished its mission: it got people watching, talking, and writing about it. The sponsors got serious exposure and the charities got serious windfalls. LeBron had to deal with being vilified in the stands and in the media for the first year or so, but he ultimately won two championship-winning seasons with Miami, even though they were sandwiched between runner-up seasons.
Last year, LeBron was welcomed back when he announced his return to the Cavaliers; Bosh and Wade have since decided to stay with the Heat. LeBron has now lost two NBA Finals series in a row, and three in total, but his overall popularity and title hopes are arguably as high as ever. The Decision hasn’t proved to be The (Dumb) Decision, but thankfully, this type of spectacle will be as rare as a player with LeBron’s talents.