One of LeBron James’ most controversial moments of his career came in 2010 when he made “The Decision” on live TV.
If you don’t remember, James was arguably the greatest free agent in NBA history. After playing seven seasons in Cleveland, he became an unrestricted free agent and was weighing his options on where he’d play next. But instead of a simple announcement, he hosted a 75-minute show that aired on ESPN, where he announced his NBA future and answered questions about his move.
But it turns out the idea wasn’t entirely his.
An ESPN documentary series titled “Backstory” focused on “The Decision” revealed the idea actually came from a fan who thought of it and sent the idea to ESPN’s Bill Simmons. The idea was posted in a mailbag column on Thanksgiving day in 2009. At the time, the fan was simply known as Drew from Columbus, Ohio. But ESPN’s documentary identified him as Drew Wagner.
Here’s Wagner’s full pitch to Simmons:
You know how when top recruits in basketball or football make their college decision, they often call a press conference and put the three hats of the schools that made the final three in front of them … then pick up the hat of the school of choice and put it on? What if LeBron announces he will pick his 2010-11 team live on ABC on a certain date for a show called “LeBron’s Choice?” What type of crazy ratings would that get?
Simmons’ response showed he clearly loved the idea as he responded, “Regardless, you’re right — this should be a televised event. If LeBron were smart, he would market the event through his company, sell the rights to a network and reveal his choice on that show. … If people were willing to pay $44.99 for a UFC 106 card headlined by Jenna Jameson’s washed-up husband fighting a guy who hadn’t won in two years, I’m pretty sure they’ll pony up $44.99 for ‘Decision 2010: LeBron’s Verdict.'”
According to Don Van Natta Jr., who worked on “Backstory,” Simmons pitched the mailbag column idea to James’ inner circle and ESPN executives in February 2010.
From Van Natta Jr.:
At the All-Star Game weekend in Dallas in February 2010, Simmons pitched the “LeBron’s Decision” idea to James’ business partner, Maverick Carter; James’ agent at the time, Leon Rose; and James’ advisor, William “World Wide Wes” Wesley. Simmons met with Rose and Wesley. “They both loved it,” Simmons later wrote in an email. “I mean, LOVED IT.” He also had a separate meeting with Carter. That weekend, Simmons enthusiastically pitched the idea to several senior ESPN executives.
Natta has more details on the how the event eventually came together.
As for Wagner, he didn’t know for sure if his letter to Simmons made an impact or not. Simmons did all of his work behind the scenes, so there was really no way of knowing for sure. But he told ESPN he had an idea all along.
“I always had in the back of mind that maybe I did kick this into some kind of gear,” Wagner said. “I don’t think I deserve anything from it or any credit. I’m sure plenty of people could have come up with that kind of idea and got the ball rolling. I’m also pretty sure some people would want to shoot the guy who came up with the idea.”
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