LeBron James is often in the conversation with Michael Jordan as the GOAT in basketball. While the LA Lakers superstar understandably shies away from that specific debate, he recently revealed in an episode of the new Apple TV documentary series “Greatness Code,” the one game where he became the greatest player in the world and how it forever changed the trajectory of his career.
LeBron James and ‘The Decision’
Growing up in Akron, Ohio, LeBron James was the hometown hero with his unbelievable talent at such a young age. He was so good he skipped college and was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2003 NBA draft. He then became the hometown hero on a much grander scale.
In 2010, seven seasons and six All-Star appearances into his career, James had a decision to make. He could re-sign and stay in Cleveland with the hopes of bringing that elusive title to his hometown team, or he could pursue those same goals with a more realistic chance of achieving them elsewhere.
His decision played out in a huge public spectacle that aired on ESPN July 8, 2010. During the program, aptly named “The Decision,” the two-time league MVP at the time shunned and stunned Cleveland fans when he uttered the now famous line, “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”
At that moment, all the goodwill and positive things James had done for the Ohio community seemingly vanished. The blowback was immediate and immense. Cavaliers majority owner Dan Gilbert wrote an open letter on the team’s website, denouncing the decision as a “selfish, heartless, callous, and cowardly betrayal.”
News reports later that night showed angry fans burning his jerseys. Many around the league criticized James for chasing championships instead of working hard and bringing one to his hometown team. His image took a massive hit.
Celtics put James and Heat on ropes
That first season in Miami, LeBron James joined with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade and far exceeded the team’s performance of a year earlier when they lost in the first round of the playoffs. With James, the Heat cruised through the Eastern Conference only to lose in six games to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals.
The following season, the Heat weren’t as dominant during the regular season but still advanced to the playoffs with one goal in mind — win the NBA title. Anything less would be unacceptable. That mindset resulted in rampant speculation that another season in Miami without a championship would end in breaking up the Big Three of James, Bosh, and Wade after just two years.
After dispatching of the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers in the first two rounds, the Heat faced a tough Celtics squad in the Eastern Conference Finals. With the series tied 2-2, Paul Pierce drained a three with James right in his face and less than a minute to play. The Celtics held a four-point lead, which they would never relinquish, and the Miami Heat players and fans were stunned.
The game LeBron James became greatest player in the world
In one episode of “The Greatness Code” airing on Apple TV, LeBron James described the emptiness he felt after Pierce made that shot. But it wasn’t an emptiness of defeat. It was exactly the opposite. It was more a fearlessness that the season wasn’t over despite now trailing 3-2 and heading to Boston where they would face a hostile crown and elimination.
“I felt absolutely nothing. And for the first time, I played in Boston so many times — during the regular season, during the playoffs — I always felt like it was tough. It was Boston. It’s not really an African-American friendly place. You felt a certain way. But for this one time, I went to Boston for this Game 6, I felt absolutely nothing.
“The day before and the day of the game, I said absolutely nothing to nobody. Had my headphones on. Listening to some great music. When the game started, I felt nothing. And that was the result of feeling nothing. I wish I could bottle nothing up,” he laughed.
As a result of nothing, James went 19-of-26 from the field, scored 45 points, and hauled in 15 rebounds. The Heat won convincingly, 98-79, returned to Miami where they won Game 7, and then easily dispatched the Oklahoma City Thunder in five games. James had won his first NBA title.
He said that win over Boston in Game 6 was his career-defining moment.
“I just got away from I’m not that guy (who left Cleveland). I know who I am. This is who I am. I’m that guy. That’s an African-American badass from Akron, Ohio and he’s the best player in the world. That’s what I felt like.”
And the rest is history.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.