The final buzzer is nearing for 2019 and with that, the decade is coming to a close as well. Before the 2010s turns over into the 2020s, take a look back at the best basketball moments of the decade for the SLAM PH Team.
In a decade that’s seen the Cavs upset a 73-win Warriors team, and both Ray Allen and Kawhi Leonard nail two all-time playoff shots, I’m choosing bring us all the way back to the beginning for what I believe is the most impactful moment of the last ten years.
It was July 8, 2010, a week into NBA Free Agency season, when two-time MVP and consensus best player in the league, LeBron James (Yes, Lakers fans, LeBron was already the best player in the league back then.) took his talents from Cleveland to South Beach.
LeBron had gone through seven seasons with the franchise in his home state, which lucked into him with the first pick in 2003. He doubled his team’s win total of 17 in his rookie season, led them to 50 wins and the Eastern Semis in 2005-2006, and a pair of 60-win seasons from 2008-2010. He even led the Cavaliers to a premature NBA Finals appearance — their first in franchise history — in 2007.
Yet LeBron had still yet to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. He had yet to even win a Finals game.
LeBron was hardly to blame for his team’s playoff struggles. While LeBron may have tuned out of what was once a 2-1 Cavs series lead against the Celtics in 2010, I personally find it difficult to criticize The King especially after his historic performance in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2007.
On top of that, during his seven years in The Land, his best teammate was… Mo Williams? Big Z? 37 year-old Shaq? The success of plenty of the players around him (see: Mo Williams, NBA All-Star) was almost purely due to the ease of playing with LeBron.
So as LeBron sat in the makeshift studio at the Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich, Connecticut, there was a sense of uncertainty that lay in the air as to whether he would stay with Cleveland. The aforementioned successes meant that a title with his home team could still be the best option for a title, but his litany of big market suitors provided their own forms of solace.
But LeBron was just a couple of months removed from getting knocked out of the Eastern Conference Semis by the Boston Celtics’ Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. He witnessed them win a title in 2008, and nearly take another one just that past season from an LA Lakers team whose superstar was also surrounded by supreme talent.
He needed help to finally win a ring, so he made it happen with the Miami Heat in what would become the biggest off-season player move in NBA history.
The Miami Heat roster was a ways away from its 2006 championship run. They still had Dwyane Wade, but the rest of the team was mediocre at best. By the time LeBron was set to make a decision, the Heat’s off-season seemed to be set with the acquisition of Chris Bosh creating the perfect one-two punch to rekindle the Heat’s title chances. With the remaining cap space they created, as well as the luxury of the tax structure in the state of Florida, the Heat were able to sign LeBron James as well.
No other Big Three in NBA history was built this way. Stars didn’t use to leave their teams to band together in a specific destination. Even the Big Three Celtics were created by trade and internal development.
LeBron and Bosh were also in the primes of their careers during the move. These weren’t 30-plus year-olds searching for itching for a last ditch effort at a ring. These were two fresh stars teaming up with another one from a single loaded draft class.
In the four year lifespan of that Miami Heat team, they would go on to win two-titles in four finals appearances. LeBron would win two MVPs and two Finals MVPs, cementing his place as a winner and one of the greatest players in history. Similarly, the careers of Wade, Bosh and even Eric Spoelstra were immortalized from that successful run from 2011 to 2014.
More than just that impact that LeBron created to build his legacy, The Decision was a move that changed the landscape of the league into one that empowered superstars to link together, and to do so anywhere they would like.
Here are just some of the insane player moves that happened in this decade:
- Dwight Howard and Steve Nash to the Lakers in 2012
- LeBron James and Kevin Love to the Cavaliers in 2014
- Kevin Durant to the Warriors in 2016
- Paul George to the Thunder in 2017
- DeMarcus Cousins to the Warriors in 2018
- Anthony Davis to the Lakers in 2019
- Kawhi Leonard and Paul George to the Clippers in 2019
- Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to the Nets in 2019
Within each of those headlines is a different story — an unhappy superstar stuck on a non-playoff team, a free agent leaving for a bigger market, or, in PG’s case, a star forcing his way out via trade.
The first mover to all of those was 2010 LeBron James.
LeBron’s Decision sparked such a drastic realization unto the power NBA players could have over teams that the league has tried and continues to try to mediate this with CBA tweaks. The most recent, a Supermax Contract, allows All-NBA Caliber players to resign massive five-year extensions worth up to 35% of the team’s cap, and with 8% escalations year-on-year.
It hasn’t worked in keeping Top 10 talents around, and has even significantly crippled the financial flexibility of the teams whose players have signed those deals, like my favorite team, the Wizards and John Wall.
It wasn’t just the decision of these players that mattered to fans. How these players would announce their decisions also mattered.
The Decision was a one-hour special on ESPN that felt extremely gimmicky at the time, and still does to this day. The event was able to raise millions for charity, but no other player has since done anything similar for a basic free agency announcement.
The ratings were incredible — with an average of 9.9 million viewers in the U.S., only a few million shy of what some NBA Finals would games garner.
The Decision ultimately laid the groundwork for the hype that surrounded several major off-court events throughout the decade. June was not just a time for The Finals, but a prelude to the Free Agency bonanza in July. And supplementing these massive player moves coincided was the rise of social media, which created buzz never before seen #NBATwitter turned into a legitimately important piece
I mean, how many of us were constantly on our phones checking when Kevin Durant was going to announce where he was going in 2016? Or KD, Kyrie and Kawhi in 2019?
ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and the Athletic’s Shams Charania became media superstars because of their ability to break free agency news before anyone. Notifications were 100% on, and our Twitter timelines were refreshed every two minutes. Everyone pounced on every shred of free agency news they could get their hands on.
That frenzy was all kickstarted by LeBron. Before LeBron, fans never fully understood just how much the NBA’s world could shift by one player’s Decision to take his talents elsewhere.
Remember how much you hated on The King after he announced his Decision in 2010. Reflect on it. I sure have — I’m one of the many who’ve changed their tune on LeBron in the past ten years. It was after The Decision, after he won three titles, made one of the three greatest plays in NBA Finals history, and secured his case as a Top 5 player at worst, when I learned to admire him.
None of that would have happened had he not made The Decision.