It has been 10 years since LeBron James granted six NBA teams the chance to venture to Cleveland, Ohio, and explain why he would be best served playing for them. He ultimately announced that he was "going to take [his] talents to South Beach" to play for the Miami Heat, along with Chris Bosh and incumbent Heat star Dwyane Wade.
In talking to key figures from the five teams who were spurned—the then-New Jersey Nets, New York Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Clippers and Cleveland Cavaliers—what stands out is how close they all thought they were at one point to landing him and, all this time later, how little they truly knew about what it would take to land him.
Thanks to what LeBron did and didn't tell them.
"It always cracks me up," says Rod Thorn, then-team president of the Nets. "All five teams think they came out second. I have no idea who came out second, but I think five teams thought they did."
No one from the other four teams is certain who finished second, either, but they all could make a case.
The Clippers boasted a largely unproven but talent-laden starting lineup—point guard Baron Davis, shooting guard Eric Gordon, power forward Blake Griffin and a center tandem of Chris Kaman and DeAndre Jordan—that only needed a playmaking small forward to be complete. The Bulls were equally young but more proven, having just been led to consecutive playoff appearances by second-year point guard Derrick Rose. The Nets were coming off a league-worst 12-70 record, but they had one of the richest men in the world as their new owner, Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, a pending move to a brand-new arena in Brooklyn and one of LeBron's closest associates, rap mogul Jay-Z, as a minority owner. The Knicks simply had the arena LeBron called his favorite place to play and a market that would best serve his professed desire to be the first billionaire athlete. The Cavs had both familiarity as the team that drafted him No. 1 in 2003 and proximity to his hometown, Akron.
Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf had as much reason as anyone to believe James intended to join his team after their meeting, which was scheduled to be two hours but went longer at the request of James and his advisers—agent Leon Rose, agent-in-training Rich Paul, business manager Maverick Carter and then-personal assistant Randy Mims.