It’s been a full decade since LeBron James shook up the NBA by announcing his plans to “take my talents to South Beach” and form the Big 3 in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, officially ushering in the superstar team era.
“The Decision,” the hour-long special aired on ESPN in which James announced his intentions of leaving Cleveland to Jim Gray, made LeBron a villain for the first time in his career. Him joining forces with two other All-Stars might have done that anyways, but for many it was the way he announced that decision in a primetime TV spectacle that turned people against him — even though “The Decision” resulted in millions of dollars going to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.
It remains fairly incredible that the greatest misstep in LeBron James’ career was this misguided TV special for charity, but for many, questions have remained about how this all came to be. Who was responsible for this concept? Was it ESPN or LeBron’s team that pitched it to the other? Why did LeBron’s team think this would work in their favor, particularly if he was considering leaving the Cavs?
On Sunday night, those questions will be answered in a new “Backstory” episode on ESPN that looks at “The Decision,” and will confirm that a 38-year-old Pistons fan was the initial spark for the idea thanks to a mailbag question he sent to then ESPN columnist Bill Simmons, who pushed the idea aggressively to his ESPN bosses, per ESPN’s Don Van Natta.
“What if LeBron announces he will pick his 2010-11 team live on ABC on a certain date for a show called ‘LeBron’s Choice?'” Drew wrote, with no last name published. “What type of crazy ratings would that get?”
Drew Wagner never knew for sure if his mailbag question led to “The Decision,” but now has confirmation that it, indeed, was the spark that sent Simmons to John Skipper with the idea and also to bring it up in a meeting with LeBron’s then agent, Leon Rose, and William “World Wide Wes” Wesley. While Simmons provided the initial push, he says he was not involved in the show actually coming to life.
Reached for comment by ESPN on Saturday, Simmons said in an email, “I never thought LeBron would do the show if he was planning on actually leaving Cleveland. They were the favorites to win the title that year and it just seemed like he was staying there. Even when I met with Wes and Leon in May, they were playing Boston and were the favorites, i think they even won that night. But after those 3 Boston losses and how badly it went, I gave up on pushing the idea, it seemed like there was no way. I thought it was dead. I wasn’t involved after that.”
Jim Gray was the one that eventually got it done, working with Maverick Carter and Hollywood agent Ari Emmanuel to pitch ESPN on the special, per Van Natta. Unsurprisingly, many of the people involved have worked to distance themselves from the show given the PR disaster it caused. It remains the biggest public misstep of James’ career and took years for him to shake the reputation it brought him, and might’ve all been avoided had Drew from Columbus, Ohio never given the idea to Simmons.