As we approach the 10-year anniversary of LeBron James’ infamous decision, we have started a series remembering the occasion in which we break down everything that happened each day of 2010 free agency leading up to James’ momentous announcement that he’d be joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh as a member of the Miami Heat.
So far, we’ve covered July 1, the day free agency opened up and James was officially free to meet with potential suitors.
That day, James and his team met with the then-New Jersey Nets and New York Knicks in Cleveland. His agent at the time, Leon Rose, also had a late-night meeting with a contingent from the Heat, including Pat Riley and team owner Micky Arison, that went on for 45 minutes and didn’t end until nearly 12:30 am.
James’ actual meeting with the Heat, though, was set for July 2, the day we’re covering today. Let’s get into what went on that day for James.
LEBRON MEETS WITH MIAMI
James’ meeting with the Heat started at 10:30 am and went on until James left at 1:50 pm, making it the longest meeting the superstar forward had had to that point in free agency.
To take part in the hugely important event, the Heat brought a group that featured Riley, Arison, Nick Arison (Micky’s son and the Heat’s vice president of basketball operations at the time), general manager Andy Elisburg, vice president of player programs Alonzo Mourning and head coach Erik Spoelstra – pretty much all the heavy hitters involved in Miami’s organization at the time.
Riley called the meeting ‘relaxed’ and reportedly felt cautiously optimistic about how it went. (Mike D’Antoni, then with the Knicks, said the same thing the day before following his meeting with the eventual four-time league MVP, so clearly, James has an excellent poker face.) It would later be reported that part of Riley’s pitch to James included him pulling out a bag that had all nine rings he’d won as a player, coach and executive and dumped them all out on the table.
Simple but effective.
Something else we just recently found out that happened during that fateful meeting was Mourning, known for always being a person who wears his emotions on his sleeve, actually shed tears during the team’s presentation to James while discussing having to retire due to a kidney condition only to return and win a ring with Miami in 2006.
Anyway, to that point, it seemed like the Heat were in the driver’s seat for James’ signature based on all the reporting, and their meeting going well only further solidified that.
However, Riley’s master plan appeared to hit choppy waters later on July 2, and things on the free-agent market began to get more interesting.
In spite of all the positive press for the Heat and James, a report from Yahoo! Sports at the time, pumped the brakes on James-to-Miami being a done deal.
According to that report, Wade and LeBron did, in fact, want to play together, but both were hesitant to fully commit to each other with which team that might be. Wade, in particular, was concerned about what kind of roster the Heat would be able to put around him and either James or Bosh, considering Miami would be left with very little money to full out their squad if they had to sign multiple players to max contracts.
Yahoo! Sports went even further, reporting the following:
“Chicago has a strong nucleus of young players, including Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, who with Wade and James would instantly turn the Bulls into a championship contender. Without Wade leaving Miami to join James elsewhere, league sources believe that the two players are most likely to re-sign with their respective teams, Miami and Cleveland.”
July 2 was a full day into 2010 free agency and no one had any idea what the likes of James, Wade or Bosh were going to do.
That type of thinking apparently was in line with what a lot of other agents and league execs believed at the time as well. One agent was a lot less coy about his feelings about 2010’s free-agency bonanza, though he did reach the same conclusion about James and Wade re-signing with their own teams:
“One powerful agent, speaking to CBSSports.com on condition of anonymity Friday night, ridiculed the LeBron-Wade-Bosh recruiting mania as ‘a bunch of egomaniacs starved for attention who think the world revolves them. They can’t get enough of themselves.’ The agent, who is involved in numerous free-agent and trade scenarios, said of a LeBron-Wade pairing, ‘I don’t see that happening.’ The most likely outcome, the agent said, was for Bosh to land in Chicago by himself – forming an impressive trio with Derrick Rose, Noah and Deng – while Wade re-signed in Miami and James in Cleveland. Boring, but more realistic, the agent said.”
Nevertheless, it appears the Chicago Bulls did make a strong pitch to Wade when he met with the team, which put a momentary speedbump on Riley’s plans. Makes sense, too, considering the Bulls were Wade’s home team and they did have an excellent young core including Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to entice top superstars with.
The Bulls would get their chance to give their pitch to James’ team the next day, July 3.
UNCERTAINTY SURROUNDING JAMES’ DECISION
After multiple meetings for James and Co., a familiar pattern was starting to arise: the meetings were reported to go well but James was hesitant to give a full commitment to any team quite yet.
That left people around the league, both those who worked within it and those who covered it journalistically for a living, completely in the dark about what was going on behind the scenes.
ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith, who was the first to report that James, Wade and Bosh were headed to Miami on June 28, even went so far as to walk back that report a bit, blaming Bosh wanting a max contract at all costs as the culprit for Big Three talks falling apart (momentarily, at least):
“At the moment, that is still very possible, but there’s been a potentially huge monkey wrench thrown into the equation – with (understandable) greed on the part of Bosh being the main culprit. So listen up. Here’s the breakdown: All along, Pat Riley’s plan as President of the Heat was to convince Wade to take a paycut and offer all three (Wade, LeBron and Bosh) deals averaging approximately $15.7 mil….with opt-outs after three years. But since Bosh wants the max at all cost (and he’s trying to get it in a sign-and-trade deal with Houston), it changed the game for everyone. Especially Miami and New York.”
Bosh would wind up signing a contract with Miami that was just under the max (all three members of the Heat’s Big Three gave up some money to help the team fill out the rest of the roster), that paid him on average $16.8 million through 2013-14.
That means if Bosh was asking for more money as Smith reported, the Heat agreed to it.
Regardless, July 2 involved a bit more pessimism about Miami’s chances with James than July 1 did.
ELSEWHERE IN THE NBA THAT DAY
Another report from that Friday suggested that the Knicks were falling behind the Nets in the James sweepstakes after their oddly planned pitch from the Thursday prior, the one that featured cameos from Tony and Carmela Soprano, fell flat.
That report aligns with the one from Yahoo! Sports that same day, where Woj wrote:
“Sources say one team that all but eliminated itself with James in the presentation process was the New York Knicks. James met with the organization on Friday and his inner circle has described New York’s presentation as lacking preparedness and organization. James’ camp also found it to be redundant to much of the New Jersey Nets’ far sharper, edgier presentation on James’ earning power.”
As a way to entice James (or maybe as their fallback plan), New York began to turn their attention towards an aggressive recruitment of Amare Stoudemire on Friday. Stoudemire, at that point, was coming off of four straight All-Star campaigns, so whether it was to show James what kind of star talent he’d be able to play with in New York or to make a splash signing regardless of the superstar forward, Stoudemire was not a bad consolation prize whatsoever.
In New Jersey, the Nets were patient that Friday, scheduling no meetings for the weekend as they waited for James’ decision.
“One team official, who requested anonymity because he isn’t authorized to speak for the Nets, put it bluntly: ‘All the chips have been pushed to the middle of the table,’ he said. ‘Let’s see how it plays out. If (James or Bosh) do not come, I don’t see us getting desperate.’ […] Essentially, the Nets don’t believe they have to make rash judgments or spend their cap space on players they don’t really want – especially B-list players – before The King has spoken.”
The Nets, after striking out with their top targets, would end up signing Travis Outlaw, a career 9.5 point per game scorer to that point in his career, to a five-year, $35 million deal. So much for not making rash judgments there.
Finally, in Cleveland that Friday, stars of the TV Land sitcom Hot in Cleveland sent a message to James, begging him to re-sign with the Cavs. Somehow, it was even more cringeworthy than it sounds:
To think, things were already getting that weird on the free-agent market in the summer of 2010, and yet, we were still six days away from James’ big decision going public.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.