There are longstanding rules for recruiting in collegiate athletics that universities follow. Well, at least that they're supposed to follow -- but that's another topic for another day. Those rules, for the most part, don't exist in professional sports. When free agency begins, teams will do just about anything to woo the players they want to sign. With NBA free agency set to begin Wednesday, here's a look back at five of the most interesting recruiting pitches in NBA history.
1. LeBron James, 2010
Before James was able to make "The Decision" five years ago, he first sat down with representatives from the Nets, Knicks, Heat, Bulls, Clippers and Cavaliers. Each team sent a group to pitch James and his management team inside the offices of James' LRMR marketing company on third floor of the IMG building in downtown Cleveland. The Nets' contingent was led by Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov and part-owner Jay Z. The Clippers wisely left then-owner Donald Sterling at home as general manager Neil Olshey led what would be the shortest and most thankless pitch meeting.
Each meeting lasted about 1-3 hours. The Cavaliers tried to play to their relationship with James by making a "Family Guy"-themed cartoon filled with inside jokes. The Heat, however, cut to the chase as team president Pat Riley lined up his seven championship rings on the table across from James and told him he could build a collection of his own in Miami. Along with the opportunity to join forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, it was simply too much for James to pass up as he infamously took his talents to South Beach. He would lead the Heat to four straight Finals, winning two, before returning to Cleveland and taking the Cavs back to the NBA Finals this past season.
2. Dwight Howard, 2013
Three years after James essentially introduced the concept of teams scheduling and planning elaborate in-person pitch meetings, Howard followed suit after his one season as a Laker. The Rockets, Mavericks, Hawks, Warriors and Lakers all made presentations to Howard at the Beverly Hills offices of his representatives, Dan Fegan and Happy Walters.
The Lakers bought up billboards around Los Angeles and Hollywood that included the hashtag #STAYD12. The Lakers also plastered the message on the side of Staples Center before Jim Buss, Mitch Kupchak, Mike D'Antoni, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and representatives from Time Warner Cable and AEG met with him for two hours. It was a meeting that was seemingly always doomed to fail given Howard's strained relationship with Bryant and Bryant's insistence on playing at least 3-4 more years.
Mavs owner Mark Cuban tried to woo Howard with a superhero cartoon, while Rockets general manager Daryl Morey leaned heavily on the recruiting skills of Chandler Parsons, who shares the same agent and called Howard several times a day. In the end, Parsons sold Howard on Houston. Parsons would bolt for Dallas the following year. He is now helping Cuban recruit another free-agent big man -- DeAndre Jordan -- to the Mavericks.
3. Tim Duncan, 2000
Back in 2000, Duncan was coming off his third season in San Antonio and hadn't yet become as synonymous with the city as the Alamo and River Walk. He was 24 and had already won a title, and he was intrigued by the possibility of starting a new chapter of his career in Orlando with Doc Rivers as his head coach and Grant Hill as his teammate.
Rivers and the Magic put the full-court press on Duncan. They flew Duncan in on a private jet, and he was welcomed by a billboard of himself and Hill in Magic uniforms with the tagline of "Imagine" and a banner that read: "Grant Us Tim." Tiger Woods, who lives in Orlando, and NBA legend Julius Erving, who was working for the Magic at the time, were surprise recruiters and wooed Duncan while Rivers and Duncan played a round of golf at Woods' course.
It looked as if Duncan would join the Magic until Spurs center David Robinson cut short his vacation in Hawaii to come back to San Antonio and, along with coach Gregg Popovich, persuaded Duncan to stay. Hill would spend seven injury-riddled seasons in Orlando while Rivers would be fired 11 games into the 2003-04 season. Meanwhile, Duncan and Popovich have won four more championships in San Antonio.
4. Shaquille O'Neal, 1996
The Lakers were eight years removed from their last championship when general manager Jerry West set out to totally reconstruct a team that was destined for second-round exits. The big prize that summer was Shaq, who had led the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals in 1995. West viewed him as the next great center in franchise history, following in the footsteps of George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But it was going to take more than nostalgia to sell O'Neal. It was going to take a lot of money that they Lakers didn't have, so they traded veteran center Vlade Divac for a rookie named Kobe Bryant and dealt former first-round picks Anthony Peeler and George Lynch to Vancouver to free up the necessary cap room to offer O'Neal a seven-year, $120 million deal.
Orlando could have offered more but didn't go above $115 million. More than 90 percent of fans polled by the Orlando Sentinel at the time said O'Neal wasn't worth the money. He would go on to help the Lakers win three straight titles before being dealt back to Florida in 2004, this time to the Miami Heat.
5. Karl Malone and Gary Payton, 2003
After failing to win a fourth straight title in 2003, the Lakers knew they had to upgrade in the backcourt and the frontcourt if they wanted to get back to the NBA Finals. Not exactly an easy thing to do for a cap-strapped team with Bryant and O'Neal on the roster. All they really had at their disposal was the veteran's exception of $1.5 million and the mid-level exception of nearly $5 million. That turned out to be all they needed to lure Karl Malone and Gary Payton, who both agreed to take massive pay cuts to join the Lakers and make a run at their first titles.
Malone, who earned $18 million in his final season with the Jazz, signed for $1.5 million, while Payton, who made $12 million in his final season with Milwaukee, made $4.9 million. The Lakers would go on to lose to the Detroit Pistons in the 2004 NBA Finals before the team was split up.