'The Decision' is still perfect, 10 years later

If you can't appreciate the importance and style of the T.V. special, can you really appreciate LeBron?

Good morning. Let’s basketball.

Skull of a Skeleton With Burning Cigarette, Vincent van Gogh

I have believed this since 2010 and I will believe it for the rest of my life: The Decision was a great idea.

It’s the 10-year anniversary of the T.V. special in which LeBron James announced he’d be joining the Heat. ESPN ran a mini-doc on it Sunday, and Brian Windhorst has a tick-tock of sorts on the days surrounding it. (Wow Bulls, wow.) In Monday’s newsletter, I wrote about Bill Simmons’ odd appearance in the history. I’ll reproduce it here for non-subscribers:

ESPN ran a mini-doc on The Decision on Sunday night. One of the stories told is that the initial idea for The Decision as a televised event came from Bill Simmons via one of his readers. Simmons met with LeBron’s team and top ESPN executives to discuss it during the season but wasn’t involved in its eventual production. Notably, after The Decision, Simmons killed LeBron and his team for doing it, even blaming LeBron’s lack of a father figure in a column. He had never disclosed that he had been involved in the early stages of presenting the idea to Maverick Carter and Leon Rose. Sketchy! On Sunday’s podcast, Simmons basically said they shouldn’t have done it if LeBron was leaving Cleveland, and he assumed it was off after the Boston series that spring. He did not address the fact that he harshly criticized LeBron for doing something that he himself pitched. Sketchy!

This is a journalistic crime of some degree, even as a “critic” or columnist, as Simmons has always fashioned himself. But that 10 years later Simmons remains critical of The Decision and unapologetic about his initial reaction to it is perhaps a bigger indictment. Unlike some centrist LeBron critics who quibble with the tone of the production, the presence of Jim Gray, the painful lollygagging of an hour-long special and the over-the-top celebration the following day in Miami, Simmons straight up says to this day that LeBron should not have done the special at all if he wasn’t planning to remain in Cleveland.

That belies any understanding of what LeBron and his team were trying to do, and it ignores what the media reception to LeBron was at that time, and it ignores what LeBron and his team have built since then.

The Decision was an opening salvo in a seizing of the reins of his own mythology. Instead of leaking his decision to reporters who plainly didn’t like or respect him beyond the four lines of a basketball court, he told the world himself. Instead of letting a team — even Pat Riley’s team — control the narrative, he took it by the horns. His free agency had been multiple NBA teams’ entire existence for years. Respectable, wealthy franchises destroyed themselves for a chance at him. The basketball world hung on every hint. And he leveraged that to tell his own story, and pulled off a relatively enormous shock (despite a couple reporters getting scoops few truly believed).

LeBron is, these days, the ultimate NBA power broker via Klutch, Nike, SpringHill and the Lakers. He wasn’t then. He wasn’t until he took power. And a huge step in taking power was choosing the Heat and choosing how to announce he’d be joining the Heat. You don’t get LeBron’s current status without critical building blocks like The Decision.

Now if you still don’t like LeBron … well, okay, I’ve got nothing for you. But if you like him now and can’t respect how necessary The Decision was to what LeBron has become, I’m not sure you really understand what you like about this guy. And if you still hate The Decision despite coming up with and pitching the idea to LeBron’s inner circle — something publicly unacknowledged until now, 10 years later! — I’m really, really confused about how you view the LeBron mythos.

Without The Decision, the LeBron you know and presumably love does not exist. If you love LeBron in spite of the T.V. special, are you sure you love LeBron at all?



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Jonathan Tjarks on the Rockets as a sleeper.

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Interesting New York Times video on the NBA’s income inequality solution.

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Be excellent to each other.