9 Jul 2015 — Five years and a day ago, NBA superstar LeBron James (in)famously declared, "I'm going to take my talents to South Beach."
LeBron’s declaration happened at the climax of The Decision, which had been set up for the sole purpose of promoting said declaration. The decision led to vitriol from fans in Cleveland and the surrounding region, whereas The Decision led to ridicule from observers everywhere else. I didn’t actually watch the one-time event, which aired in primetime on ESPN; I saw a clip of the announcement for the first time yesterday.
The decision was intriguing because it gave LeBron a serious opportunity to finally win a championship. He joined fellow stars Dwayne Wade, MVP of the 2006 NBA Finals, and Chris Bosh. The maneuvering that let LeBron and Bosh join Miami as free agents was the result of conspiring among themselves and with the team’s management. It was also the result of stars having maybe too much influence in shaping team rosters.
The self-proclaimed Heatles and their possible dominance were must-see TV, in any case. I’d been following LeBron since he was a much-hyped, high-school prospect, and I wanted him to win a championship, so I supported the decision. I didn’t support The Decision, though. LeBron’s free agency was a big deal for the NBA because of his game-changing talents, but 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 someone else’s idea 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 (Ad Age).
LeBron predictably became a villain for it anyway. To jersey-burning Cavs fans, he abandoned the city where he’d established himself as a pro superstar and, to a lesser extent, the region where he’d been a high-school phenom. The Decision has joined The Drive, The Shot, and The Move as memorable events that have put a Cleveland sports 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. 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 had two consectutive championship-winning seasons with Miami, even though they were sandwiched between runner-up seasons.
Last year, LeBron was praised 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.