A look back at the fateful 'Decision'

MIAMI -- Within a few hours of LeBron James' now-infamous "Decision" show on July 8, 2010, it was clear that some public relations mistakes and cultural misjudgments had been made.

For James and several people around him, it was a shock that took them some time to come to terms with. Within a few months they had, mostly as a response to the backlash. For others in the thick of that unprecedented week, the general failure of the show wasn't a surprise. The breadth of the fallout might have been, but not the realization that something wasn't quite right about all this.

Even without the layers of hindsight and perspective, the events and moments leading up The Decision seem like they should have been a warning. The circumstances were so extreme, it's something we may never see again.

When I recall The Decision, I don't think about July 8. I think about July 7 and what a bizarre day of foreshadowing it was. There were dark clouds everywhere surrounding what James was about to do, and plenty of people pointing to them on the horizon. But James had walled himself off, which was probably a prudent thing to do at the time, and it prevented him from sensing the storm.

July 7, 2010, was a fiercely hot day in Akron, Ohio, where James was holding his annual Nike camp for the nation's top high school and college players. The focus, however, was not on the kids by this point. Everyone in the building -- even the teenagers -- was focused on James' mannerisms and movements, with so much hinging on what his choice would be.

The night before, the news had broken that James would hold a prime-time show on ESPN to announce where he'd sign in free agency. Already the promos had started running on "SportsCenter," with the name of the special, "The Decision," flashing across millions of screens. James had achieved one thing already: He'd totally grasped the attention of the sports world.

Even the series of recruiting pitches in Cleveland the week before hadn't had the feel of this day. James' going through a receiving line of some of the league's biggest movers and shakers in a nondescript office building over three days was like nothing the NBA had ever seen before, and fans across the country were hooked on the unfolding soap opera.

That plan had actually been a revision. For a while, James and his advisors had planned a high-profile free-agency tour around the country. That was scrapped for taste reasons, among other things. But that was about the last bit of restraint James was willing to show during his big off-court moment.

The intrigue started peaking on July 7. In the morning James announced that he had joined Twitter, an outlet he'd recently said he didn't plan to get involved with. Doing so seemed like a departure from his normal personality. Certainly he had always embraced the spotlight, but he was not generally a self-serving figure. Taking up social media at this point sent the opposite message, lining right up with the choice to have The Decision, and ultimately, the way he handled the announcement.

It was the opposite of the persona James had spent the entire summer before showcasing. Then he had been promoting a documentary about his high school team that was largely an exercise in telling the stories of his friends and sharing the credit for his career.
Yes, James was the star, but it was mostly a look into the lessons he had learned about being a good teammate. It was not a blockbuster production, but for that summer's work, James mostly got great reviews, and it only seemed to help his overall image. That, though, was then. This was now.

Within an hour, James was approaching 100,000 Twitter followers, as fans were desperate for some news. He also launched a redesigned website that planned a noon announcement of some sort. He was right: Lots of people really cared. He was certainly milking this for everything it was worth, a major sign of hubris.

The announcement turned out to be nothing of value, but James had already effectively stolen the spotlight from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who appeared together on ESPN shortly after noon to talk about their decision to sign with the Miami Heat. That news had emerged a day before and, as huge as it was, outside of Canada and South Florida it had largely been pushed off the front pages with James' choice grasping center stage.

James had already decided to join them in Miami. Bosh and Wade were in on the secret, or at least expecting that to be James' move, but there was no courtesy when it came to the public relations. James was in attention-grab mode, and it was working.

On the ground in Akron, there was an extreme nervous energy mostly among the Cavs and their fans. The site of James' announcement was secret for another few hours -- a New York newspaper broke the story in the afternoon that it was set for Greenwich, Conn. -- but it was already known that it would not be in Akron or Cleveland, where James had held major announcements in the past.

Cavs coach Byron Scott, hired just a few days before, showed up for the camp during the time when James was working out with some friends. He came with Chris Jent, a Cavs assistant who had a very close relationship with James and had even gone on vacation and overseas with him to work out in previous summers. James wouldn't have a conversation with either.

Daniel Gibson, James' closest friend on the Cavs, arrived in an SUV and hustled in to the gym. He was out of the loop and had come to James, apparently unable to reach him by phone or text, looking for a hint. He left without one as well. It didn't look good for the Cavs.

James' agents, at this point, were zipped up tightly. They were pleasant to those who were there, some reporters who had followed James for over 10 years. But the only clear signal coming out was that James wasn't headed to the Knicks, despite the choice to have the show in a New York suburb. But things didn't look very promising for the Cavs at this point, either.

Several people close to James were tossing up red flags by then, unsure of what he was doing. Because of where he might sign and how he was going about it. Was he really going to go on national television but not sign with the Cavs? Was this something he really wanted to do to his hometown and home state that he'd spent a decade bonding with? This seemed extremely out of character for someone who had said so many things to the contrary over the previous months. But with James staying insulated, even those who had been his advisors over the years were unable to reach him with their concerns. It was just his inner circle now, and even some of those friends weren't getting heard.

As James left his camp for the day in the middle of the afternoon heat with temperatures hitting 95 degrees, fans had started to collect. A group -- clearly funded by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert -- that was leading a campaign to influence James to stay with billboards and rallies had posted signs along his route to the highway from the University of Akron. In his convoy of SUVs, James zipped past them at a high rate of speed, never looking up.

The next afternoon, the day of The Decision, James drove to Cleveland to attend a tournament for many of the high school players who attended his camp. It was a pit stop on the way to the airport, where a jet was waiting to fly James to Greenwich and later that night to Miami. It was held at Cleveland State and James positioned himself in a chair at center court across from the stands. Nearby, big-name college coaches scouted major prospects and whispered about what was going to happen.

Among them was Tom Izzo, who couldn't get James on the phone to ask him about his intentions a few weeks earlier when the Cavs were trying to hire him as their head coach. And Mike Krzyzewski, James' trusted Team USA coach, was a bystander like everyone else. James was unusually subdued and even appeared to look a tad nervous, not an emotion anyone was used to seeing from him.

That night when James appeared in a purple plaid shirt and a thick beard with Jim Gray to say "I'm taking my talents to South Beach," some who knew him well felt he looked bloated and nervous. Not the laid-back and confident air he was used to showing on television, the guy who was at ease joking with Larry King in a long interview from his home a month before.

By then, the situation might have gotten to James. But it was too late to stop it. After several of the most trying months of his life -- a time he thought would be swept up in joining a new star-laden team -- James acknowledged the mistakes he made in handling his departure.

James has never been a man of regret. Perhaps that is something that's too much expect for someone in his 20s. He does not regret The Decision show or signing with the Heat. But James was used to making all the right choices and known for handling himself well under the public microscope. These qualities were important facets of his good reputation.

That all changed July 8, 2010, and he's still recovering from it a year later.