LeBron James’ career has been full of defining moments, but perhaps none had a bigger effect on his public perception than “The Decision.”
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer has earned near-universal respect throughout his 20-plus-year career. It hasn’t always been that way, however. In 2010, James found himself as public enemy No. 1 for the stunt he pulled in announcing his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The words, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach,” capped off an extremely cruel and poorly executed ESPN special that sparked James’ villain era with the Miami Heat.
You can watch the debacle here, courtesy of ESPN:
There was quite a bit that led to that moment, however. Not just seven successful seasons with his hometown team that ultimately ended with one MVP and zero championships, but a rivalry with the Boston Celtics that essentially forced his hand into building something more powerful.
James did in fact have success during his first run in Cleveland. The eventual four-time NBA champion led the Cavaliers to their first NBA Finals appearance in 2007, and finished 8-5 in the playoff series. He was undefeated (3-0) in playoff matchups with the Washington Wizards. He overcame an early exit at the hands of the Detroit Pistons to finish 2-1 against them across three seasons.
His record against the Celtics? 0-2. Sure, he pushed them to seven games in 2008, but was never able to get over the hump in his first Cavaliers run.
The Celtics weren’t always equipped to have success in the Eastern Conference, but just days after James fell to the San Antonio Spurs in his first finals appearance they loaded up. Boston swung trades for Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, building one of the NBA’s first “Big 3” trios that were primarily made up of outside stars.
The success was immediate, as they won the 2008 NBA Finals and made another appearance two years later. In the three seasons between their construction and James’ decision, the Celtics had a .723 winning percentage.
Why did James decide to team up with two other superstars, one who was also joining a new team in Chris Bosh and another who was the destination’s established superstar in Dwyane Wade?
Well, he learned it from the Celtics.