LeBron James might not be the greatest basketball player of all-time — most fans grant that honor to Michael Jordan — but he still reigns supreme as the best player in the world today. That status gives James an incredible amount of leverage when it comes to his NBA career. 10 years ago, James shocked the league by leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Miami Heat in free agency.
Most fans can still remember the infamous televised special, known as “The Decision,” where James announced his choice. What fewer people realize is that James almost ended up playing for the New York Knicks instead.
LeBron James’ 2010 free agency
James spent the first seven seasons of his career with the Cavaliers, wasting no time in establishing himself as the most dominant force in the league, and one of the greatest players of all time. Yet he failed to achieve the one thing that a truly great player must do: win a championship. James was hungry to find himself on a team that could make it all the way to a Finals victory.
The moment James became a free agent on July 1, 2010, he was inundated with offers by teams. According to reports, the Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers, New Jersey Nets, Miami Heat, and New York Knicks were among James’ most ardent suitors — as were the Cavs themselves. Yet James had already basically decided that the Knicks were the team for him.
Basically all the Knicks had to do was go through the motions of putting together a solid pitch, and James was as good as sure to join them. Yet according to sports media mogul Bill Simmons, the Knicks failed to achieve that seemingly simple goal. In a recent episode of his podcast, Simmons reported on apparently good intel that the Knicks “didn’t have anything prepared.”
Simmons ascribed a lot of that failure to current Knicks owner James Dolan, whose mismanagement of the Knicks has caused problems on numerous occasions. Not only is Dolan one of the most incompetent and belligerent owners in the league, but he’s also one of the vainest. During those 2010 free agency meetings, he apparently even handed out copies of his band’s CD.
Although nobody really knew it at the time, the Knicks botched pitch cost them their chance at LeBron James. Most analysts assumed that James would end up either staying in Cleveland or going to Miami. The latter, of course, is what ended up happening, with James revealing the dramatic decision during an hour-long ESPN special.
Cavaliers fans were shocked and dismayed by the gesture, which they felt was unnecessarily cruel. Even James himself admitted a few months later that he wasn’t entirely happy with how “The Decision” played out, saying that he “probably would do it a little bit different” if given a second chance.
What if LeBron James had gone to New York?
Sports fans love to speculate about how things might have gone if James had ended up choosing the Knicks. At the time, the Knicks had only one All-Star level player on their roster: power forward David Lee. Yet they had enough roster space to potentially sign another max-level free agent to play alongside James.
Many analysts feel like Chris Bosh — who ultimately ended up in Miami alongside James — would have made an excellent pairing in New York as well. Alternately, Dwyane Wade who was also a free agent that summer could have ended up in New York. Trades could have then brought another high-caliber player like Carmelo Anthony.
If the Knicks had been able to assemble a big three like that, it seems fair to assume that they would have won at least one — and possibly two or three — championships over the course of the next few years. Instead, James racked up two titles in his four years with Miami, before choosing to take his talents back home to Cleveland.