The Decision: 10 Years Later

On July 8, 2010 ESPN handed LeBron an hour of prime time television. You don’t need a crystal ball to know where this is going…but it helps.

10 years later LeBron James’ Decision has been durably prophetic. He came into Jordan’s NBA house wearing 23 throwing chalk dust into the air and asked to be recognized as a king…in the absence of any significant championship achievements. Umm, yeah not gonna happen.

If an NBA player wants to leave one team for another team that’s great. Free agency has only been around since 1988; this isn’t some ABA afros era CBA clause. Free agency is a modern condition and fans and franchises are used to this turbulent process. And I mean it’s in the name agency means action or intervention, especially such as to produce a particular effect. Athlete empowerment via free agency is good for the NBA and for players and sometimes it’s good for the fans and franchises.

While a cozy narrative The Decision wasn’t athlete empowerment. This was narcissism and selfishness: a Twitter trailer of who we’d all become. Like the way, we justify douchebag Twitter behaviour in the name of justice or a taking moral stance. It’s never been about those things.

As a franchise player from Ohio LeBron could have overhauled the Cavs into a storied franchise on par with the Celtics, Lakers, and the Bulls. He could. He did not. The Last Dance opened and closed with young “hair Jordan” shortly after being drafted—expressing his vision to transform the moribund Bulls into a prime NBA destination. Six championships later Jordan succeeded; he fulfilled his goal and delivered on his destiny.

Michael Jordan did The Work. He could. He did.

Back then LeBron James overestimated his value and his contributions to the NBA and to pop culture. It’s the equivalent of Hanson thinking they’re on par with Prince or Bowie.

Currently, The Decision stands as an ancient media hieroglyph depicting unfulfilled promise; a rejection of potential; arrogance, and ultimately cowardice. It is a systematic failure on par with Apollo 13 (in spite of these failures like those undaunted astronauts LeBron was also able to “go home”).

Look when a president leaves the White House his reputation begins an earnest renovation and ultimately a restoration. He’s slowly classified as “he wasn’t that bad.” A lot of the bad is completely overlooked in favour of emphasizing the good. (W. Bush is currently going through this process and it’s so disturbing: dude started 2 endless wars. 2! There’s not a lot of good to rebut that.)

However no amount of time; no reputation renovation can salvage The Decision’s ongoing fallout. Universal criticism is warranted for LeBron James (and ESPN): past tense and present tense because that’s where we’re at and why we’re forced to acknowledge it 10 years later. We’ve seen what it has become.

The ultimate legacy of The Decision is that it helped LeBron perfect his infomercial executions cleverly deflecting away from his legion of failures on the basketball court. The Decision is LeBron’s version of Jordan’s “getting cut from his high school basketball team” mythology. The failure of that tv special made him better.

LeBron learned how to control his narrative; unable to win he instead learned how to spin. The primary problem with LeBron controlling the narrative is that he cannot (and should not) be trusted. The spectacle should solely be on the court not off the court: after all, it is called a court for a significant reason: you will be judged by how you play.

And leading up to The Decision LeBron James was found wanting; he was considered a failure. He had seven years in Cleveland yet he failed to deliver championships (plural) how could they be considered great years?

This isn’t even about being compared to Michael Jordan rather it is appreciating the one universal standard for all NBA franchise players. That standard is the same for Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, etc. the onus and pressure is completely on them to deliver consistent greatness.

It’s no different than when Brad Pitt or Tom Hanks is signed to a movie…are there other actors in the film: sure. If the film becomes a box office failure is it those other actors’ fault? No, it’s the responsibility of Tom Hanks or Brad Pitt to deliver a box office hit. LeBron James had no hits when he left Cleveland to go to Miami. We’re not handing out cookies for self-esteem encouragement or valuing participation awards. One simple wonderful NBA standard—deliver consistent greatness—and it does not deviate from era to era.

The Decision’s cataclysmic failures include shifting narrative production from the mainstream media to the player.

(In the old days the mainstream media shaped the American agenda. The editors and producers dictated the issues. Having grown up with that—recognizing the valid potential for control—I have to say that’s a far better system than social media where there is no accountability or trust of any kind.)

Anytime somebody parrots the benign talking points “LeBron has never been in a scandal” or “he opened up I Promise a school for at risk kids” they’ve bought into the narrative that he has craftily been able to sell. We’ve deviated from on court success which is what should be driving marketing and fashioning the ultimate player narrative. NBA mythology is based on what you’re done, not who you are.

That’d be like memorializing Curry as a great NBA player because post-Warriors championship he refused to go to the White House as long as Trump is President. That’s not a thing. It’s not even cool.

Because it was so poorly executed; clearly not well thought-out or well-organized The Decision remains a cautionary tale in this era of outspoken athletes and having a platform. Having a platform is good; what is not good is issuing a terrible product no matter the stance.

Mediocrity is not inspiring. You gotta be good if not great at the gig. The best narrative is winning. Winning is timeless.

And so here we are 10 years later.


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