BT Sport to show 'Backstory: The Decision' - The fascinating inside story behind LeBron James’ infamous TV show

Backstory is a documentary about The Decision – the title of the live TV show which saw LeBron James announce his NBA free agency decision to join the Miami Heat back in July 2010.

Published: 2 July 2020 - 5.19pm

BT Sport are thrilled to announce that we will broadcast Backstory: The Decision, a documentary deep dive into the controversial ESPN show that shocked America and changed the NBA forever.

Rewind a decade, to the summer of 2010, and LeBron James - the best player in the NBA - was an unrestricted free agent after seven seasons with his hometown team the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Every franchise was clamouring to sign the league's two-time Most Valuable Player – including the New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat and indeed the Cavaliers.

Backstory: The Decision airs at 5.30pm on BT Sport 1HD, Saturday 11 July, with Don Van Natta Jr exploring the wide-reaching consequences of the shell-shocking show.

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James spent the first seven years of his career at the Cleveland Cavaliers
James spent the first seven years of his career at the Cleveland Cavaliers

The show created a media frenzy around James' free agency in an era where NBA superstars switched teams far less frequently than today.

The idea to broadcast the announcement live on TV was believed to have originated from a Detroit Pistons fan named Drew Wagner, or as he was known until recently – Drew from Columbus, Ohio.

"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," Drew wrote.

"He could even make it pay-per-view... I'm pretty sure they'll pony up for $44.99 for 'Decision 2010: LeBron's Verdict'."

In came freelance broadcaster James Gray, who pitched the idea for an hour-long show with James' camp and ESPN.

James duly accepted, the concept became reality, and one of the most controversial moments in US sports history was scheduled to take place on 8 July 2010. 

A Cavaliers fan reacts to The Decision
A Cavaliers fan reacts to The Decision

“In this fall… this is very tough… in this fall, I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.”
- LeBron James

It wasn't until 30 minutes into the show that James, in front of a live audience at a gym in Greenwich, Connecticut, - as well as 10 million watching from their homes in America - uttered the fateful words.

"In this fall… this is very tough… in this fall, I'm going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.

"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, I want to be able to win championships. And I feel like I can compete down there."

James decided to join Chris Bosh in signing for the Heat, and alongisde Dwyane Wade they formed what instantly became the team to beat in the NBA. 

James teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at the Miami Heat
James teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh at the Miami Heat

Miami, and wider Florida, went immediately into wild celebration but in most of America the mood was of disappointment and fury. None more so than in Cleveland, who only found out about where his future lay just minutes before the show went to air.

James had ended up at the Cavaliers by a quirk of the NBA Draft Lottery that allowed Cleveland to select their hometown kid - and most anticipated high school prospect ever - first in the 2003 Draft.

But now they turned on their favourite son in ugly scenes.

Cavaliers fans burned James jerseys en masse in an almost-ritualistic showing of disgust at their former hero. Riots and arrests followed as fans threw bricks at the 10-storey billboard of James that adorned downtown Cleveland. 

The 10-storey billboard of James in downtown Cleveland
The 10-storey billboard of James in downtown Cleveland

Owner Dan Gilbert branded The Decision "selfish", "heartless", "callous", and called it a "cowardly betrayal", while guaranteeing that the Cavs would win an NBA title before the "self-declared former King”. 

They didn’t. And Gilbert’s comments were likened to that of a slave owner dealing with a runaway slave.

James won the first two championships of his career in Miami and the Cavaliers would not win until he returned – ending the 52-year Cleveland sports curse.

It was a watershed moment that set the precedent for NBA superstars to switch teams in order to pursue championships. And in a wider context, critics of The Decision suggested it heralded the start of the player power movement and a shift from the team to the individual in sports. 

Watch Backstory: The Decision from 5.30pm on Saturday 11 July, exclusively on BT Sport 1 HD.