As we approach the 10-year anniversary of LeBron James’ infamous decision, we’re doing a series of articles 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.
To this point, we’ve covered Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4 and Day 5, Day 6 and Day 7 pre-Decision, when James had already met with the New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks Knicks, Los Angeles Clippers, Chicago Bulls and Heat, and the day had finally arrived for James’ league-altering announcement.
Now, it’s time to break down Day 8, also known as Decision Day.
REPORTS FLOOD IN TYING LEBRON TO MIAMI
Before the sun had even risen on the east coast, reports were already starting to come out saying that James was likely headed to Miami.
The most important one, published at 5:08 am EST on July 8, came courtesy of Adrian Wojnarowski and Marc J. Spears, both then with Yahoo! Sports, who reported:
“LeBron James’ inner circle told multiple NBA officials and players Wednesday night that the two-time MVP is leaning toward joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat, league sources told Yahoo! Sports. James’ representatives spent part of Wednesday calling free agents to assess their interest in helping strengthen the Heat roster. […] In those conversations, the representatives spoke only of Miami as the destination for James. […] ‘They are operating as though they are getting LeBron,’ one prominent agent told Yahoo! Sports.”
Alan Hahn, ESPN beat reporter for the Knicks, reiterated the same, except he reported what he was hearing even earlier than Woj:
James’ family was reportedly torn about his decision to head to Miami, not loving the idea that he’d be joining Wade’s team or the fact that his brand could suffer for it – even if he won multiple championships – because he had to form a superteam to do so.
James, however, was worried about signing a six-year max deal in Cleveland only to end up 31 years old with “bad knees and no title”. (Crazy that James was concerned about that considering he’s currently 35 and still one of the very best basketball players in the world.)
For what it’s worth, some of the NBA’s top reporters, including Brian Windhorst, were still being cautious early in the day, refusing to fully commit to James-to-Miami being a done deal:
“Fans of the Miami Heat are not waiting to see if LeBron James joins Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach. The Miami Herald reported that “no tickets were available for the 2010-2011 season on the team’s website as of 11:15 a.m. Thursday.” The report said that just hours earlier there were a few season tickets in the lower bowl for $6,000 a piece, but those were gobbled up in anticipation of the formation of a megateam. The team has held back a few single-game tickets for the public, though it’s likely those will be gone quickly as well, the report said.”
One super-famous person who reportedly bought up two courtside season tickets? Rap mogul Jay-Z himself:
As reports trickled out about James potentially headed to Miami, things in Cleveland began to take a dark turn, as local sports radio callers began to plan a “LeBronFire” where Cleveland Cavaliers fans could burn their favorite James memorabilia:
OTHER JAMES FINALISTS THROW IN THE TOWEL
The Nets, who had a strong meeting with James, one that reportedly impressed the superstar forward, seemed to admit defeat in the sweepstakes, agreeing to a five-year, $25 million deal with Travis Outlaw.
So much for the Nets not wasting money on panic signings after missing out on their top targets.
Meanwhile, despite some optimism on Day 7, by Day 8, Decision Day, the Knicks also finally gave up hope – and did so pretty publicly.
“Knicks officials conceded Thursday that they are likely out of the James sweepstakes with Mike D’Antoni going as far as to say he is ‘stunned’ by James’ apparent decision to leave Cleveland and join the Miami Heat along with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and of course Riley, the former Knicks coach who led the Lakers and Heat to titles. […] ‘I’ve lived here two years and I know this is the best place to be,’ D’Antoni said. ‘It’s exciting. The resources are here and we’re ready to roll. Obviously, I’m a little stunned.'”
Chicago was even pettier while waving the white flag, with Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf telling the media that his team would still be better than the Heat, even with James in the fold:
“‘I respect his decision, but as I’ve said before, I believe we’ll be better than Miami. Miami will have three great players, but no center, no point guard and no cap room. I think we’ll be better if he comes to us, but I think we’ll be a great team without him.'”
It’s rare to see a front-office member be that blunt after losing a free agent to another team, but emotions were running quite high in the chase for James’ signature.
JAMES’ TEAM TRIES TO THROW THE SCENT OFF
With it becoming a borderline foregone conclusion that James was headed to Miami before The Decision even began, both James’ team and the Heat seemed to try and throw everyone off again by pulling newspaper ads that had been planned for the following day welcoming the superstar forward to south Florida.
They did it with the Miami Herald…
…as well as with the Sun-Sentinel…
…two of Florida’s biggest newspapers.
Nevertheless, not everyone was thrown off, and many reporters were still saying James would be announcing for the Heat that evening:
‘THE DECISION’ ARRIVES
The Decision itself was an awkward, clunky spectacle of a program, which makes sense considering James’ team demanded ESPN allow them to run the show themselves despite not having prior experience with live television.
ESPN’s Jim Gray stalled for time, asking James question after question, none of which James really gave a great answer to, before he finally asked the big one nearly 30 minutes into the show: “LeBron, what’s your decision?”
To which James famously replied that he’d be taking his talents to South Beach to join the Miami Heat.
James said he came to the final decision that morning, on July 8, after talking to his mother about it over the phone, though who knows if that was true since reports were leaking that he was Miami-bound late the night before.
James told the media afterwards that he felt “awful” about leaving Cleveland, saying: “I feel even worse that I wasn’t able to bring an NBA championship to that city. To my real fans out there, I hope you continue to support me.”
The four-time MVP surprised media members who knew him well by referencing God for the first time maybe ever in his career during The Decision:
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was reportedly informed of James’ decision just before the show started via a phone call from Rich Paul. He didn’t take it all that well, either, releasing a now-infamous, pretty out there letter to Cleveland fans where he promised the Cavs would win a championship “before the self-titled former king” did.
Gilbert wasn’t done there either, unleashing on James with the Associated Press, calling him a quitter and saying it was time that his free pass be over:
“He has gotten a free pass. People have covered up for (James) for way too long. Tonight we saw who he really is. He quit. Not just in Game 5, but in Games 2, 4 and 6. Watch the tape. The Boston series was unlike anything in the history of sports for a superstar. […] It’s not about him leaving. It’s the disrespect. It’s time for people to hold these athletes accountable for their actions. Is this the way you raise your children? I’ve been holding this all in for a long time.”
NBA players took notice of what Gilbert said and didn’t exactly side with his manner of dealing with James’ departure:
Meanwhile, in Miami, Wade watched James’ special at one of the city’s most exclusive restaurants, Prime 112, and celebrated boisterously when James said he’d be joining him with the Heat. Wade took to Twitter afterwards to welcome James to his new team:
Bosh did the same:
Players elsewhere share their reactions to the groundbreaking news as well.
One of them was a close friend of James’ and Wade’s, Chris Paul, who tweeted:
(Paul would also join James’ agency that day; July 8 was a solid day for James’ team overall.)
And another was a former James teammate with the Cavs, Mo Williams, who shared a long string of tweets about what he was feeling:
“I can’t believe this is really real. This is surreal. So many emotions on one man decision. I wonder what is our next move. The only thing, and I mean the only thing I disagree with is…. If he knew somewhere else was the destination he should have spared cle on national tv. But this was history so we might not understand the magnitude today. But when we look back on this, we might not never see this again. Love u bron and always will. I knowu made your decision for the rt reason but we could have got it done here and u would have enjoyed.”
Gilbert wasn’t the only one in his feelings that night, apparently.
The city of Cleveland didn’t take the news all that well, with a lot of people burning their former favorite player’s jersey and police needing to protect a James billboard that was prominently featured in the city.
A fan told the media that James could never return to the Cavs after what he did.
Well, he did, and he won a championship there, bringing to an end the city’s long title drought.
That was still in the distant future, though.
For that night, on Day 8 of the LeBron free-agency bonanza, Miami was the winner. And the basketball world was about to change forever.
You can follow Frank Urbina on Twitter: @FrankUrbina_.