Watching ‘The Decision’ As Television on Its Four-Year Anniversary

Four years ago today, ESPN, LeBron James, and Jim Gray put on a 75-minute special called “The Decision” in which LeBron announced where he would play for the next four years. The show drew huge numbers — 9.948 million viewers in the U.S., jumping up to 13.1 million when he actually announced his choice. The show also raised roughly $6 million for charity ($2.5 million raised, $3.5 million in ad revenue).

The program brought more than just viewers to ESPN and LeBron — it brought the hate. But we never stopped to ask ourselves how the show actually holds up.

It’s been four years. I think it’s about time to turn back the clock and review this thing with some clear eyes and full hearts.

Let’s dive in.

♦♦♦

Decision One

So far, so heartwarming.

If you came into the program hoping to snark your way through, I hope you were prepared to do so in the face of dozens of children. Very well played.

Jim Gray: Thank you very much. Everybody is on pins and needles across the country, particularly those teams who are in the running for LeBron James. Are you ready to go, LeBron? Where is the powder?

Decision GIF 1

And … we’re down.

LeBron’s response to Gray’s attempt at humor…

Decision Two

LeBron James: Left it at home. I left it.

This show isn’t off to the best start.

Jim Gray: What’s new? What’s been going on with you this summer?

That’s 0-for-2 on good questions thus far.

LeBron: Man, this whole free-agent experience, looking forward to it. 

“Looking forward to it,” has me thinking free agency hasn’t even begun for LeBron. This, in turn, leads the viewers at home to wonder if we’re about to watch several lightning-round pitches by various teams, only to see them eliminated one by one … with a rose. WAIT, CAN WE GO BACK IN TIME AND DO IT THIS WAY?

Jim Gray: What have you thought about this process?

Not a great question, but it’s relevant. Count it as a W.

LeBron: This process has been everything I’ve thought and more. And that’s what I did a few years ago; I put myself in a position to have this process where I can hear teams’ pitches and figure out what was the best possible chance for me to ultimately win and to ultimately be happy.

OK. A little backstory as to how he got here. Nicely done, although, as he’ll soon come to find in the summer of 2014, nothing is “ultimate.”

Jim Gray: You weren’t able to be recruited because you went straight to the NBA from high school. Have you enjoyed this recruiting process now?

YOU’RE DOING IT, JIM.

LeBron: I have enjoyed it. And I want to thank all six teams that I had an opportunity to sit down with and hear what they had to say. And my team, they hear what we had to say also.

LeBron drops the THANKSBOMB on everyone involved in the process. He has clearly been trained in the art of humility, which makes him much more relatable as a character. He forgot to thank the children in the background, but we can’t hate on that. Lots of good happened in that response.

LeBron: It’s been an unbelievable experience, a real humbling experience even to be in this position.

KING JAMES.

Jim Gray: What did you expect? Because we’ve seen 30-foot billboards. We’ve seen teams clear out all kinds of cap space. We’ve seen cartoons made about you and for you in part of their pitch. President Obama, for crying out loud, seven times has commented that he’d like to see you go to Chicago.

Decision Three

And?

Jim Gray: What did you expect from this process?

LeBron: Well, certain things like that is one thing you can’t control. But I expected to be able to go through this process and be able to sit down with my team and sit across from other teams and hear how they feel with me being a part of their team, [how I] could help them win and could ultimately help others win.

Despite the overall self-centered nature of the show, LeBron is actually crazy selfless in these responses. It’s like he’s running for president. I’m starting to really get the Magic (not Jordan) comparisons with LeBron. The likability meter is at like 92 percent at this point. 

LeBron: And the process was everything I expected and more. And like I said before, I just thank all those teams that have come to Cleveland and us to have those interviews and have that process. It was everything that I’ve ever expected and more.

ALL HAIL POPE LEBRON.

Jim Gray: How many people know your decision right now?

If these are the questions that made the cut, I’d love to see the questions that didn’t.

LeBron: Not many. It’s a very, very small number. And I probably could count them on my fingers. 

Who cares?

Jim Gray: One hand or two hands?

I’m not sure about this Jim Gray character. He is slowly turning into that one story line that nobody really cares about. He’s Theon Greyjoy, Santiago Herrera, and Angelica Pickles all wrapped up into one.

Decision Bad

LeBron: Let’s say one.

Pandering on live television is a joy to witness.

Jim Gray: When did you decide?

Valid question.

LeBron: I think I decided this morning. I mean, I decided this morning. I went day to day. I wake up one morning, it’s this team. I wake up another morning, it’s this team. And it’s a process that I felt it was — I may feel like this is the best opportunity for me or not the best opportunity for me.

A little confusing, but all the best shows do this at some point or another. 

LeBron: But this morning I woke up, had a great conversation with my mom. Once I had that conversation with her, I think I was set.

INCREDIBLE. KING JAMES OVER EVERYTHING. 

Jim Gray: So the last time you changed your mind was yesterday? 

What time yesterday? Morning? What time during the morning? Was The Price Is Right on? Was it during the Showcase Showdown? Who won? TELL ME.

LeBron: The last time I changed my mind was probably in my dreams. And when I woke up this morning I knew it was the right decision.

Sucks for you, Knicks. Dream LeBron was totally picking you.

Untitled

Jim Gray: So does the team that you’re going to, that you’ll announce in a few minutes, do they know your decision?

Suspense rising!

LeBron: They just found out.

Suspense falling.

Jim Gray: They just found out?

Suspense buries its head.

LeBron: Yeah.

Jim Gray: So the other five, on pins and needles, they don’t know; they’ll be listening to this?

Suspense is risen!

LeBron: Right.

STOMACH UPSIDE-DOWN EXCITED WITH A BLANKET WRAPPED AROUND ME EATING POPCORN UNDER A TENT MADE OF SHEETS AND COUCH CUSHIONS. I CAN HARDLY TAKE IT.

Jim Gray: Who in this process, LeBron, have you taken advice from and who has had the biggest influence?

Take five, people. We aren’t finding out anytime soon. Good question, though. I’m looking forward to the response.

LeBron: I’ve taken a lot of advice from my friends and family. My agent, Leon Rose, has been great. [There are] a lot of people that I look toward in a time of need or for advice, and ultimately they looked at me and said, “You ultimately have to live with your decision that you’re going to make, and you have to do what’s best for you, for your family, and for you to ultimately be happy.”

Solid. Composed. Diplomatic.

Until the very end.

You can’t talk about doing what’s best for you and your family and then follow that up with this being about your ultimate happiness. You’re a family man, LBJ. Gotta put the family’s happiness above your own. Check …

DECISION FAMILY

Jim Gray: What was the major factor, the major reason in your decision?

This Jim Gray character is picking it up with the double emphasis on important words. Way to go.

LeBron: I think the major factor and the major reason in my decision was the best opportunity for me to win and to win now and to win into the future also. 

This is just like Walter White’s final conversation with Skyler. The truth finally comes out. Riveting television.

LeBron: And winning is a huge thing for me. Jim, you know ever since I was a rookie or even in high school, we always talked, that was the no. 1 thing for me: help my teammates get better and just wanting to win. And I’ve done some great things in my seven years, and I want to continue to do that.

Nice little insertion of a flashback by LeBron to show that his desires are a deeply rooted thing. We’re learning a lot about our main character right now.

Jim Gray: How deep of an evaluation do you have to do to go through that to figure out tomorrow, next year and beyond, that equation, that winning?

Damn. This show is getting deep.

LeBron: One thing that you can’t control is you never know.

Go on.

LeBron: You never know. You want to put yourself in the position where you feel that it’s the best opportunity. But saying I can win a championship next year or saying I can win it a year after, those are things that you don’t know until you go out there and actually play the game.

EMMY REEL.

This quote doesn’t get enough credit. Lots of attention was paid to the silly “Not one … not two … not three” line, and rightfully so, but let’s not forget that LeBron actually believes that these things aren’t easy and nothing is guaranteed.

LeBron: But you have to put yourself in the right position to be able to compete and also accomplish the goals that you set out for.

[Tears.]

Jim Gray: Do you have any doubts about your decision?

God, I hope not.

LeBron: No. I don’t have any doubts at all.

Here it comes 

Jim Gray: Would you like to sleep on it a little longer, or are you ready to make this decision?

Damn it, Jim.

LeBron: I’ve slept enough. Or the lack of sleep.

Sometimes other characters set you up for failure. That’s not on you, LBJ.

LET’S GET ON WITH IT.

Jim Gray: Are you still a nail-biter?

Decision Three (1)

FOR.

FUCK’S.

SAKE.

LeBron: I have a little bit. Not of late.

Jim Gray: You’ve had everybody else biting their nails. So I guess it’s time for them to stop chewing. The answer to the question everybody wants to know: LeBron, what’s your decision?

This is TV. What will he do? Does East Dillon make the catch? Does Rachel get off the plane? Will Walt save Jessie? Who is the Yellow King?!

LeBron: In this fall, this is very tough …

I can’t …

LeBron: … in this fall I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT?!

(Side note: No way “taking my talents to South Beach” sticks.)

Jim Gray: The Miami Heat? That was the conclusion you woke up with this morning?

Again: Sorry, New York. You were just one sleep cycle away …

LeBron: That was the conclusion I woke up with this morning.

Wow. That’s up there with some of television’s finest moments. The suspense had me forgetting what it meant to breathe. Bloody well done.

Jim Gray: Why?

One-word questions are your bread and butter, Jim.

LeBron: Like I said before, I feel like it’s going to give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years, and not only just to win in the regular season or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row.

God, I hope he’s looking to win more than “three games in a row.”

LeBron: I want to be able to win championships. And I feel like I can compete down there.

Amazing. It was there all along — like for Sherlock, the evidence was right before our eyes  all we had to do was pay attention.

Jim Gray: Was it always in your plan to go and play with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh?

Oooooh. Jim wasting no time getting to the juice. I like it.

LeBron: Well, I mean, I’m looking forward to it. To say it was always in my plans, I can’t say it was always in my plans because I never thought it was possible.

Come on.

teamusa

LeBron: But the things that the Miami Heat franchise have done to be able to free up cap space and to be able to put themselves in a position this summer to have all three of us, it was hard to turn down. Those are two great players, two of the greatest players we have in this game today. 

You cannot argue with that logic.

LeBron: And, you know, you add me, we’re going to be a really good team.

LBJ is a little too modest here. I like humility in a character, but let’s be real with ourselves.

This would be like Superman saying, “You got Batman with the belt and stuff. Then like, Aquaman doing his thing with the fish. Then you add little ol’ me and I guess we could save some people. Who knows, though?”

Jim Gray: The three of you will share now the spotlight and the limelight.

Both?

Jim Gray: And in many ways you’re going to Dwyane Wade’s team. He’s been in Miami. He’s won a championship. How do you think you’ll be able to fit in and possibly not be the headliner all the time?

Decision Three (1)

That noise you just heard was the 2014 version of LBJ’s head exploding.

LeBron: For me, it’s not about sharing. You know, it’s about everybody having their own spotlight and then just doing what’s best for the team.

I can conclusively say that made zero sense. But I don’t care. This is A-plus television. Is there a reaction video anywhere?

LeBron: You know, at this point D-Wade, he’s the unselfish guy here. To be able to have Chris Bosh and then LeBron James …

THIRD-PERSON ALERT!

LeBron: … to welcome us to his team, it’s not about an individual here. Because if that was the case, D-Wade wouldn’t have asked us to join him, or we wouldn’t have asked him if it was OK to come down there. It’s not about individuals. It’s about a team, and that’s what this game is about.

“Is it OK to come down there? Because, if not, that’s cool. I’ll catch a movie up here or whatever.”

Jim Gray: How do you explain this to the people in Cleveland?

Decision GIF 5

[Grabs tissues.]

LeBron: I mean, it’s heartfelt for me. You know, it’s hard to explain, but at the same time my heart, in the seven years I gave to that franchise, to that city, it was everything. 

I’m not sure they’re going to buy this performance, LBJ.

LeBron: I mean, those 20,000-plus fans that came out every night we played, and they seen me grow from an 18-year-old kid to a 25-year-old man. And I never wanted to leave Cleveland. And my heart will always be around that area. But I also felt like this is the greatest challenge for me is to move on.

Jim Gray: What was the major reason for leaving the Cavaliers?

Kudos to the Jim Gray character for getting his shit together.

Also? Buckle up.

LeBron: I don’t even see it like leaving Cleveland …

I’m sure they feel the same.

LeBron: It’s about joining forces with the other two guys that I feel like I respect their game the most. And I feel like we have a great chance of winning and winning for multiple years.

“Winning and winning for multiple years” was a line LeBron rehearsed A LOT before this show.

LeBron: Like I said before, this is a very emotional time for me. I know it’s emotional for the fans and also for the area. And if it was a perfect world, I would have loved to stay, because I’ve done so many great things for that team, they’ve done so many great things for me. But I feel like it’s time to change.

As an outsider, this is all very heavy. On the one hand, there’s the climactic moment of the decision, followed by an uneasy explanation that’s layered with reminders of why his home wasn’t good enough.

Great television leaves you conflicted and torn up on the inside — like you’ve swallowed a bucket of acid. This one’s holding up.

Jim Gray: What do you think will be the fans’ reaction back there?

LeBron Decision Ohio Basketball

Jim Gray: … and will you still live in Akron?

LeBron: I’m not sure. You know, they can have mixed emotions, of course, but it’s going to be a lot of emotions not understanding why. And then you’re going to have the real friends who love me for who I am. For me being from Akron, Ohio, and loving Akron, Ohio, it’s always home for me. I’m still going to live there, always be home. And Akron, Ohio, is always home for me and that area.

And no Comic Sans–obsessed billionaire could ever change that!

Jim Gray: Erik Spoelstra is the coach. Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh said he will be the coach. Have you been told he will be your coach, or has Pat Riley, in your meetings, indicated he might come back to the bench?

Yeesh, Jim. First Cleveland and now Spo? Let’s not kill off too many characters now.

LeBron: No. Erik Spoelstra will be the coach. And Pat said that. And Erik is a great young coach. He has a great mentor in Pat.

I love it when shows inject an evil shadowy figure who’s been pulling the strings all along. Basically Pat is Tywin.

LeBron: If you need something to bounce off of, he has a great person to go through, because Pat has been through everything, been through the highest level to the lowest level. He knows everything about it. But I respect Erik and I respect the coaching staff. I respect Coach Spoelstra and everything he’s going to do to try to put us in the right position to win it all.

Shouts to Spo! I remember seeing this and thinking, No way this poor sap makes it past Season 1. Boy, was I ever wrong.

Jim Gray: Ever want to go through this again?

With you?

LeBron: This is tough. This is very tough, because you feel like you’ve let a lot of people down.

On live television.

LeBron: You’ve raised a lot of people’s expectations also. But it was a tough decision, because I know how loyal I am. 

Ah, the knife twist.

LeBron: And one thing my mother told me when I was going through this process, and what ultimately helped me make my decision, is you have to do what’s best for you and what’s going to make you happy at the end of the day, because no one can live with the consequences or anything that comes with your decision besides you. And once I heard that from my mother, the person that I always look to for guidance, it was easy.

EMMY REEL NO. 2.

Jim Gray: You told me she had a major influence when you called her this morning. You didn’t believe the reaction she had would be the one that you got. Could you share with us what she said to you this morning?

JIM IS KILLING IT DOWN THE STRETCH.

LeBron: Absolutely. Like I said, when I called my mother I thought I would hear a different reaction. Her reaction was it was a great move, because she felt it was going to ultimately make me happy. It wasn’t about being in Miami. It wasn’t about playing alongside Chris, playing alongside Dwyane, who she believes are two great basketball players, because she loves the game. But she felt it was going to make me happy.

[Tears.]

LeBron: When I heard that from my mother, it was like it was the relief that I was looking for throughout this whole process.

Despite the rough start, this was television at its finest. It reminded us that life isn’t fair and sometimes you have to hurt the ones you love. LeBron was strong throughout and only got better down the stretch. Jim Gray was hit-and-miss. But overall … I’d give this thing an A-plus-plus.

Filed Under: NBA, Lebron James, Miami Heat, Cleveland Cavaliers, Pat Riley, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Dan Gilbert, Jason Gallagher

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Jason Gallagher is the founder of Ballerball.com and the cowriter of The Lockout: A Musical.

Archive @ jga41agher