On July 8th 2010, aired live on ESPN from a Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich Connecticut, Lebron James made the decision.
“In the Fall and this was a very tough decision, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat”
With this single announcement the NBA landscape changed forever. The Heat instantly became the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, and James instantly became the villain of the league over night.
Sitting here today we know how this villain story plays out. James made 4 straight NBA Finals, winning 2 titles and 2 league MVP awards. I would argue that the Big 3 in Miami underachieved only winning 2 titles, but the experience was necessary for James to elevate his name into rarified air.
But with the 10 year anniversary of the decision, lets rewind the tape back to 2010 and change Lebron James’ mind.
What if James decided to keep his talents in Cleveland Ohio, his home state? Would he have reached the levels he did in Miami under Dwayne Wade and Pat Riley’s leadership? Could he have brought a championship to Cleveland prior to his 2016 title with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love? Does James reach his full potential and become apart of the GOAT conversation by staying in Cleveland his entire career?
July 8th, 2010- Keeping My Talents in Cleveland
James announces he is staying in Cleveland and makes it his mission to bring the city its first championship since 1964. Rather than having the decision aired live from a Boys and Girls Club in Connecticut, it is aired from a Boys and Girls Club in Ohio. After saying that he will be donating proceeds to the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland, local kids join James on the stage dawning his 23 Cavs jersey. The entire evening becomes a celebration for the city, painting Cleveland in a good light. It is labeled a uniquely humanitarian move, that showcases James loyalty and humility.
James is celebrated for being loyal and committed to his city, rather than becoming the single most hated player in league history. But does being liked translate to being a champion? It doesn’t, so Cleveland would have to get James better help than an old Shaquille O’Neal.
Cleveland Continues to Struggles in Free Agency
With Wade and Bosh already inked to deals in Miami, the free agency market is quickly drying up. James and the Cavs front office push heavy to acquire second tier talent in Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver. Both players would be great fits alongside James, but they decide to join rising star Derrick Rose in Chicago. The Cavs strikeout on recruiting any big name players to join James.
But the Cavs are able to salvage the offseason by retaining Danny Green instead of letting him sign with the Spurs like he did. The remaining Cavs team stays in tact as they bring back an even older Shaq to man the front court.
2010-11 NBA Season
Mo Williams and Antwan Jameson, the 2nd and 3rd options, are inconsistent all season long. Both players battle injuries and when healthy are not playing at the level needed. Two bright spots from the season are Anderson Varejo and Danny Green. In their limited playing time off the bench, both players show signs that they can be apart of a championship rotation. So with a very limited and old roster, James goes on a rampage in the regular season. James runs away with the scoring title averaging 35 points per game. But that is just the bringing of his accolades.
Named MVP and Defensive Player of the Year
In what many believe is his most compete season to date, James secures the MVP award and Defensive Player of the Year award as he carries the Cavs to 52 wins, good enough for the 3rd seed in the Eastern Conference. But what James and the city of Cleveland really want is the Larry O’Brien trophy.
2010-11 NBA Playoffs
James and the Cavs blow through the first round of the playoffs and are greeted by a familiar foe. James once again has to go through the Boston Celtics without much help. It is in this series that Danny Green begins to make a name for himself as he matches Ray Allen 3 for 3. James is his usual dominant self averaging 30-8-8, but the Celtics man power of Garnett and Pierce is too much to overcome as the Celtics win in 7.
Another year in the books and James is still ringless. It bares the question, when will James get his Scottie Pippen?
2011 NBA Draft
As we know, this is the year the Cavs drafted Kyrie Irving with the first overall pick which they acquired from the Clippers. However that trade does not go down with James still in Cleveland, so forget about the Kyrie-LeBron tandem.
Instead Irving is drafted by the Clippers, forming an entraining duo with Blake Griffin. The Cavs snag Jimmy Butler at the end of the first round, giving James a promising lockdown wing to run with.
2011 Offseason: Lebron Gets His “Pippen”
The ramifications of the Clippers drafting Kyrie Irving are immense. It takes the Clippers out of the running for Chris Paul who is disgruntled in New Orleans. For the Cleveland Cavaliers, this is an opportunity they need to take advantage of. Free agency never works because like the wise words of Jokim Noah “nobody goes to Cleveland.” So executing a trade for a star player appears the only way to get a star alongside James.
The Cavs trade Mo Williams, multiple first round picks and second round picks to the Hornets in exchange for Chris Paul.
2011-12 NBA Season
Now that James finally has an elite running mate, the Cavs are deemed true threats to win the Eastern Conference. With Paul at point guard, James is able to take a back seat at playmaking and settle in as a dominant scorer. He dials in on his offensive abilities, developing a much needed 3 point shot, as well as a post game. His game no longer has any holes.
The starting 5 is exponentially better as the Cavs roll out a Paul-Green-James-Jameson-Varejo lineup, with rookie Jimmy Butler off the bench. The Cavs surge to the top of the Eastern Conference winning 60 games and locking down the top seed.
2012 NBA Playoffs
The Cavs once again blow past the first round, and finally overcome the Boston Celtics in the Semifinals. But the Conference Finals will not be an easy road to get through. The Chicago Bulls led by a healthy Derrick Rose and Jokim Noah are waiting and hungry for a finals appearance. The bad blood between Noah and the city of Cleveland makes for great bulletin board material, but the true conversation is the MVP matchup of Rose and James.
The series becomes an instant classic going 7 games. The pressure of a game 7 in Cleveland with the chance to head to the NBA Finals weighs heavy on James and the Cavs. Things start out slow for the Cavs but they make an improbable second half comeback to send the team on to face the OKC Thunder in the NBA Finals.
2012 NBA Finals- Delivers on His Promise to Cleveland
This series goes very similar to the one we actually seen between the Heat and Thunder in 2012. The young Thunder team is not quite ready for the stage and James dominates the series, picking up the Finals MVP.
Collapsing to the floor, in tears for finally lifting the burden of an entire city off his shoulders, James takes in the moment of winning his first NBA Championship.
James can finally take the claim as the unquestionable best player in the league. But his legacy is just beginning.
After finally proving to the rest of the league that you can win in Cleveland, players; elite and veteran role players, are attracted to the Cavs.
But one in particular sees an opportunity that will further his playing career and add to his legacy. Ray Allen leaves the Celtics high and dry to join the enemy, Lebron James. This obviously happened in reality, but this one hurts more. He left for the sole reason that the Cavs are just better than the Celtics. He can’t play the “oh its Miami, its South Beach,” card. Allen left for cold, boring Cleveland and Garnett Pierce and Rondo won’t ever get over it.
But Allen isn’t the only veteran to join the Cavs. To bolster the weak bench, the Cavs sign the 6th man of the year, Jamal Crawford. Crawford gives the Cavs a much needed spark plug off the bench for when Paul and James rest.
2012-13 NBA Season
For the first time ever, the Cavaliers have belt a compete team around James. James, who is now fully developed into his 6’8 250lbs frame, slides to the power forward position making way for Jimmy Butler to enter the staring lineup.
Ahead of the time, the Cavs play small ball, rolling out a Paul-Green-Butler-James-Varejo starting five. The rotation gives the entire league nightmares all season long.
Jimmy Butler ascends and showcases that he is more than just a defensive player. In the elevated playing time, Butler is able to become a double digit scorer and a reliable scoring threat.
Danny Green in the mean time has solidified himself as one of the best marksmen in the league and quite the defensive player himself.
The Cavs finish the season with the best record in the league, thanks to their league leading defense and 3 point percentage.
2013 NBA Playoffs
By taking out the rising Pacers, old Celtics and rival Bulls, the Cavaliers once again coast to the NBA Finals. Paul and James led the way as usual, but the development of Butler has been on full display. Locking down Paul George, Paul Pierce, and eventually slowing down Derrick Rose, Butler has made a name for himself in the playoffs.
2013 NBA Finals
This is the single hardest series James and the Cavs have had since Paul made it to Cleveland. Facing off with Gregg Popovich’s veteran Spurs proves to be a challenge for the young energetic Cavs team. Tim Duncan dominates Anderson Varejo and the Cavs small ball rotation, and forces a Game 7.
This Game 7 is where the legend of Lebron James grows to a whole new level. Backs against the wall in a do or die game for the title, James post his best stat line if his career. Going for 45-15-10, James closes out the Spurs and repeats as NBA Champion and Finals MVP.
2013-14 NBA Season
Blowing through the regular season with a 60 win season the Cavs have their sights on making history. Coming off of back to back NBA Finals wins, the James and the Cavs are looking to be the first team to three peat since Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers.
The Cavs dominate the regular season accolades. In his 3rd NBA season, Jimmy Butler wins most improved player. Jamal Crawford once again wins 6th man of the year. James takes home yet another MVP award, strengthening his case in the GOAT conversation.
2014 NBA Finals
The Cavs limp into the Finals as the wear and tear of 3 straight Finals appearances takes its toll. It is a rematch of the previous finals and the San Antonio Spurs are hungry for redemption. Clicking on all cylinders, the Spurs take the first two games at home. LeBron and company win game three, but the rejuvenated Spurs are too much for the worn down Cavs to stop. The Spurs close out the Cavs in 5, preventing the three peat.
Lebron James’ Legacy
Fast forward to the final years of James career, and it is nothing but love from NBA fans. There is no black cloud hovering 4 years of his career where he played the villain role of the NBA. Praised for spending his entire career with one team, James is placed among Kobe, Duncan and Dirk as the definition of loyal. While he never reaches the 6 ring total of Michael Jordan, James’ argument for GOAT remains strong. Bringing 3 rings to Cleveland by the time his career is over, he cements himself as a top 3 player of all time and an even better person off the court. His impact on Cleveland is immense. He opens schools, sends kids to college, and the cities economy flourishes.