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‘The Decision’ revisited: how LeBron James used the free agency to allow players to control their own narratives



For most of the history of the NBA, a free agency for the best players in the league did not amount to the freedom to choose your destination. Even after players earned the right to an unrestricted free agency in 1988, the price they usually ended up paying for the individual agency was their reputation. Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf basically accused Horace Grant of simulating injuries after signing with Orlando Magic. Former Los Angeles Clippers manager Mike Dunleavy accused Elton Brand’s agent David Falk of using his influence “to poison him” against returning to the team in 2008.

The simple idea of ​​a free agency offended the sensitivity of fans accustomed to the unilateral idea of ​​loyalty in professional sports. It was expected that the players would devote their entire career to whatever team happened to enlist them, their interests would be damned. A famous Orlando Sentinel poll in 1

996 had over 91 percent of fans against Shaquille O’Neal who received a $ 115 million contract. Fans would have welcomed the players, but only on their own terms, and the players would have been considered selfish if they had found greener pastures elsewhere. He is saying that the second line of the Associated Press story about Shaq that he signs with the Los Angeles Lakers included the words “O’Neal refused to talk about the deal.” How often does Shaq refuse to express his opinion?

It was a condition of pre-decision world stars like occupied O’Neal. Free agent ads have not always been shows. Originally they came in the form of team press releases and later, in the days before the Internet, stories related to the websites of journalists. Stories broken through traditional means have led to traditional reactions. The teams, through direct citations or strategic losses by the media, controlled the messaging underlying the decisions made by the players. When a player had access to their traditional means of communication with fans through press conferences and access to the game, it was generally too late to influence public opinion.

Of course, old habits die hard. When LeBron James attempted to circumvent traditional media channels with “The Decision”, fans were practically wired to dismiss it. James drew perhaps the biggest kickback an athlete has ever received to change teams, starting with a notorious sans font letter from Knights owner Dan Gilbert who derides James’ choice. As unhappy as the people with the destination, most criticisms were based on the method he used to announce it. It was non-existent, the old guard declared, to broadcast a television special in which he downloaded his home team. To some extent, it could have been. The delivery was messy, but the method was a necessary change of course.

James opened the door for athletes to tell their stories rather than undergo a system designed to mistreat them. He used his stellar power on a platform that athletes have been using ever since. Fans were so desperate to hear his decision that they had no choice but to listen to him explain it in his own words.

The first draft came out insensibly enough to scare the players for the following several reasons, but James learned the form four years later with his now famous Sports Illustrated letter to the city of Cleveland. The tone changed and James rightly drew praise for his humility and kindness, but the broad strokes were the same. The best basketball player wasn’t going to let anyone else tell his story.

The trend spread like a fire in the following summers. Kevin Durant and Gordon Hayward used first person essays to announce their free-agent moves to the Golden State Warriors and Boston Celtics, respectively. Others who lacked the cache to attract that audience from their free agencies have adopted the smaller-scale module just to tell their sides of the story. No reportage will ever be able to better exemplify who Dion Waiters is than the incredible story he published in The Player’s Tribune in 2017. On a smaller scale, players do it every day on social media.

It is the quietest element of the player’s enhancement movement that James started. His decision to join the Miami Heat may have authorized players to take control of their careers and actively search for their favorite destinations, but “The Decision” authorized them to check their narratives. There will always be relapses when a player leaves his original team for something new, but a decade after the fact, the world in general has grown much more by accepting the “agency” element of free agency that players have in taking control. of their own stories. No owner in the right mind would accuse a player of false injuries after leaving in 2020. No manager would suggest that someone should have been poisoned in leaving their team.

Players, like anyone else, are human beings free to decide for themselves where they would like to work. He shouldn’t have taken a TV special to remind people of this, but it was a public relations war piled so much against the players for so long that someone had to take an active step if it would ever be changed. This is the enduring legacy of “The Decision”. LeBron has put himself on the line of fire and, in doing so, has empowered an entire generation of players to shape their own career stories.




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