By Drew Stevens (@hismindonpaper)
A plummeting perception of time and the presence of a seemingly unlimited supply of intoxicating liquid refreshment worked in tandem to severe the ties that bound me to the world I previously knew before embarking on my Caribbean honeymoon midway through the Summer of 2010.
But neither my boozy circumstances, surroundings that were captivating to say the least, nor the notion of impending marital bliss could even remotely redirect my attention from the live production of “The Decision” on ESPN and the extraordinary announcement that would eventually trigger widespread hysteria and a radical change in the fashioning of NBA rosters both then and for the full decade that’s unfolded since.
Just as soon as LeBron James peeled off his Cleveland Cavaliers jersey in the bowels of TD Garden moments after yet another early dismissal from championship contention — this time at the hands of the Boston Celtics — myself and likely every other basketball fan from sea to shining sea promptly began to wonder — or, more precisely, wishfully thought — about the likelihood that our respective team’s jersey would be the next one he’d pull onto those shoulders that already carried the weight of seven years worth of unfulfilled expectations.
For James’ most intense suitors (the then-New Jersey Nets, Miami Heat, Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, and Los Angeles Clippers) the “King” represented salvation from basketball purgatory or, better yet, near-certain arrival at the promised land. And, as the most highly sought after free agent in the days of Anno Domini, he was coveted as such.
But once James infamously revealed “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach” and, two days later pledged upwards of seven titles to Heat fans, James had inadvertently wedged himself into countless punchlines and essentially set in motion the thinning of the line that separated his supporters from his detractors.
Expectedly, Cleveland erupted in public displays of antipathy that manifested in the destruction of an assortment of James’ jerseys either by fire or the bare hands of enraged Cavs fans. Majority-owner Dan Gilbert even threw a temper tantrum — his in the form of an open letter, that bordered on tyrannical, to the city of Cleveland, Northeast Ohio and Cavs fans everywhere.
Elsewhere, in the minds of some people devoid of any rooting interest in the team with a flaming ball as its logo, “The Decision” was a poorly executed, drawn-out demonstration overseen by an attention-seeking prima donna. Some people have yet to completely cleanse their palate of the manner in which James brazenly articulated himself to Jim Gray and millions of television viewers. Other people, who look fondly on the days when an athlete remained with a single team for the duration of his career, still find his decision to pursue championships with Wade and Bosh at the expense of the team that drafted him utterly outrageous altogether.
All of that in the name of James exercising his collectively-bargained right to steer his career in the direction he saw fit.
It took me awhile to truly appreciate the impact that “The Decision” — both the production and execution — had on player empowerment. Honestly, I probably spent the better half of this decade just coming to grips with the fact that the Bulls were unable to secure some combination of James, Wade and Bosh. Then again, as a Chicago native and staunch supporter of Derrick Rose, I hate to imagine how much the hometown prodigy would have had to personally sacrifice in either of those scenarios.
James’ legacy isn’t so much marred by “The Decision” as it is uniquely molded by it, and no more worse for wear as a result than what is owed to his subpar Finals record, which many argue belie both his nickname and the “Chosen One” tattoo engulfing his upper back.
While things didn’t quite go as spectacularly as James envisioned, he, like I — now a divorced father of a five-year-old son — has learned life rarely does.
Drew Stevens is a writer based in Chicago