Bill Simmons ‘wallet inspired LeBron James’ ‘Decision’ that David Stern never wanted

It is a journey down memory lane. A look back at the time when LeBron James became a sports villain. The circumstances that led him to follow his own program to announce his choice of free agency and the impact it had on his life and career.

ESPN’s latest Docuseries issue “Backstory” is a look back at “The Decision,” the controversial television special on July 8, 2010 when James, 25, told everyone he was bringing his talents to South Beach. to play for the Miami Heat and broke the collective hearts of Cavaliers fans. Narrated by ESPN writer Don Van Natta, Jr., the show features interviews with former ESPN President John Skipper, authors Buzz Bissinger and Scott Raab, “Pardon the Interruption” presenter Michael Wilbon, and NBA insider. Chris Broussard. It doesn’t necessarily cover a lot of new ground, though the hour-long show reveals some interesting details from “The Decision,” such as opposition from the late NBA Commissioner David Stern, and who exactly came up with the idea for the show. At the Boys & Girls Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, James declined to be interviewed, as did business partner Maverick Carter and agent Rich Paul.

Perhaps most importantly, “Backstory” delves into the impact the highly-criticized show had on James. It covers his two titles with the Heat, the decision to return to the Cavaliers and then depart for the Lakers. It shows how with each of his three free-agent decisions, he toned down his ads, from the television show to his first-person trial on Sports Illustrated, and finally made a call to go to Los Angeles with a press release. Meanwhile, he details how James expanded his brand, establishing a trend of elite athletes using his star power to create his own media and production companies, and part of that was the realization through “The Decision” that he could control your own narrative, even if it was counterproductive the first time. It was also James who started the idea of ​​the super team, allowing players to control where they play and who they play with.

“It is knowing that you can do it, knowing that you don’t have to relax,” Wilbon said. “It doesn’t matter how you feel about LeBron the player, if you’re an opponent. You can’t miss it, it’s as bright as the sun, what its influence has done to your industry. “

The idea for the show, according to “Backstory,” did not come from James or anyone tied to it. It actually originated in a Bill Simmons mail bag from a reader named Drew from Columbus, Ohio. Simmons released it to ESPN in February 2010, suggesting they call it “LeBron’s Decision.” He suggested it to Leon Rose, James’s agent at the time who recently became president of the Knicks, and Carter, James’s childhood friend and business partner. They loved it, Simmons wrote in an email to ESPN. But it didn’t take off until June of that year, after the Cavaliers were eliminated from the playoffs by the Celtics. Announcer Jim Gray suggested it to Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel and Carter, who sold James.

LeBron James David Stern ESPN The Decision
LeBron James with Jim Gray; David SternGetty Images (2)

Skipper was approached by the idea. Initially, James was going to pay for an hour of television. But ESPN ended up giving him in exchange for ads that his team would sell with the proceeds going to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. Rose had doubts about it and Stern wanted ESPN to cancel it.

“David didn’t love ‘The Decision,'” Skipper said. “I think probably because the player was in charge.”

LeBron and his team were in control. Gray, who was not working for ESPN at the time, would be the host. Vince Doria, ESPN news director, thought the members of the media should have been invited. They were not. James showed up at the Boys & Girls Club 15 minutes before the after-dinner show with Kanye West and was clearly nervous and edgy.

The reception of the show, in which James did not announce his decision until he was halfway there, was very negative. The docuseries covered Cavaliers fans by burning T-shirts, the nationwide backlash, and the letter from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert to fans of the team in which he called James “selfish,” “cruel,” and He called the decision an act of “cowardly treason.” On the flight that night to Miami, the tone was grim, Broussard said. It was not happy. But it was a ratings bonanza, drawing 13.1 million viewers at the exact time of the announcement and an average of 9.95 viewers. It also elevated James further as a megastar, although he now had large fan segments encouraging him to fail.

“It worked for everyone. LeBron was smart enough to realize that he would get a platform. He did it, ”said Skipper. “ESPN, I think, was smart enough to understand that we would get an audience, we would be the center of the universe. And despite all the media criticism, 10 million people watched. Many of them looked indignant. But that’s okay.”