The mark of a truly historic moment in the NBA is that it only needs to be referred to by one phrase. LeBron holds a few of those moments, namely The Block, which will conjure memories of him chasing down Andre Iguodala during the 2016 NBA Finals to pin his layup off the backboard, with the soundtrack of Mike Breen yelling “blocked by James!” seared into the memories of every NBA fan.
On a more dubious note, James also holds one of the rare off-court moments that lives in infamy with The Decision. It’s been more than a decade since James sat in front of Jim Gray and kids from the Boys & Girls Club to announce he would be leaving Cleveland and “taking my talents to South Beach,” representing the brief shift into a villain role for LeBron. It was one of the few PR missteps of James’ career, and a benign one at that when you look back on it a decade later.
In the moment, it created a massive uproar and launched a thousand columns, few more aggressive than that of Bill Simmons, then at ESPN. In that column, Simmons blamed “the lack of a father figure” in LeBron’s life, an incredibly gross assessment of how James dared to announce his free agency choice in a made for TV special that benefitted a local charity. That line is still why James’ agent Rich Paul, who left CAA and launched Klutch Sports shortly after The Decision, won’t speak with Simmons as he explained in a recent New Yorker profile on the super agent.
“I blame the people around him. I blame the lack of a father figure in his life,” Bill Simmons, then a leading columnist at ESPN, wrote. “I blame us for feeding his narcissism to the point that he referred to himself in the third person five times in forty-five minutes. I blame local and national writers (including myself) for apparently not doing a good enough job explaining to athletes like LeBron what sports mean to us, and how it IS a marriage, for better and worse, and that we’re much more attached to these players and teams than they realize.”
Paul saw this as condescension and worse. “That’s why I don’t speak to Bill Simmons,” he said. “A lot of that has to do with race, too. He wouldn’t have said that about Larry Bird. He wouldn’t have said that about J. J. Redick. You get what I am saying? ‘The Decision’ ten years ago is the norm today. It’s what everyone wants to do. Kids won’t even decide where they go to college without it being a big production, and Bill Simmons says some shit like that.”
For how derided it is, there’s no doubt of the impact of The Decision, both in the process and in the event itself, across the sports landscape. It opened the player empowerment era of the NBA in full, one that has frustrated GMs and team owners, but opened doors for stars to have more say in where they play and how teams are run to ensure they’re putting full investment into winning. On top of that, James joining Paul at Klutch shortly after led to only more hand-wringing and racist commentary, as the word “posse” was regularly used to describe James’ circle that he had created and many posited that he was setting himself up to fail — with the opposite ending up becoming true as James’ business venture’s and Paul’s agency have both taken off in the decade since.
The full piece offers interesting insight into everything from Paul’s role in Anthony Davis’ departure from New Orleans to the frustration of GMs with how Paul has helped expand the player empowerment movement. Through it all, Paul is unapologetic about doing what he must to get his clients what they want and where they want, calling out the differences in how he (and his clients) are discussed for doing so compared to others.