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  • One Year Later: What I learned from Lebron’s “Decision”

    It was a big opportunity missed: one that I don’t know if he knew – he ever had.

    The biggest mistake Lebron James made was “not knowing, what he didn’t know.” I write this piece for Upstart: Business and Management for 20-40 Year Old Professionals members to understand that our decisions impact many primary and peripheral things, but as important is how we make those decisions – why we make them and the complete context of the decision might be just as important.

    In case you forgot, it’s been almost one year since Lebron James made the “Decision.” Sports Illustrated writer Zach Lowe recounts the planning of it all in, “ Behind-the-scenes details of ‘The Decision.

    The article stated, “On July 8, 2010, after a season of speculation, LeBron James announced his free-agency destination in a one-hour special on ESPN called The Decision. The concept for the prime-time show was hatched in Los Angeles during the 2010 NBA Finals, but it was executed in the tony suburb of Greenwich, Conn. A year later, four key behind-the-scenes operatives speak about their roles in creating the controversial event — the semi-secretive logistics, the intended misdirections, the surprise celebrity participants, and who knew what and when about how their grand production unfolded.”

    Know what you don’t know

    First, from all appearances: Lebron James seems like a young man on the way to distinguishing himself, both as a world-class athlete and person. Let’s not forget this is a young man, who grew-up without many of the basic resources and networks, which allow so many other young adults to make strong decisions.

    Lebron James didn’t know the totality of not only the effect of him leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, but also the effect of his presentation, when he announced that he was indeed leaving. I think this was a young man that got lost somewhat in the year-long conversation of whether he would stay in Cleveland or go elsewhere, and somewhere within the process, Lebron started to like and seek the lusty attention – not the attention of his play, but of where he would play: his focus and perspective were flawed, which definitely influenced his decision.

    Lebron didn’t know, what he didn’t know: it seemed like he did not understand that there would be losers in this drama, and again, somehow the man with all the chips – became the biggest loser  — for the time being anyway. Lebron has money, he is an all time great already, but he lost much of his fan base – he lost that connection to the causal fan – and now he is more rooted against than for.

    Surround yourself with wise men/women

    I admire Lebron’s loyalty to his friends that he grew-up with: he seems dutiful to them. Yet, with negotiations of this kind: one where every detail means something — where his decision permeated so many things, especially financially – he chose to let his childhood friend Maverick Carter represent him. I’m sure Mr. Carter is smart and always looks to leverage ways that are within Lebron’s interests, yet they needed some wise men/women to act as consigliere. They needed some wise men/women, who knew about all the pieces within a deal of this kind, the flaws and risks –  those people, who could look around the corner and forecast future events, and it seems this was missing from Lebron’s team — from his decision.

    Lebron never tied his next move to a city and state licensing deal: to how Nike would be involved – to all the peripheral interests that would have not only bolstered his personal remuneration, but would have sealed his identity as a twenty-first century icon. It was a big opportunity missed: one that I don’t know if he knew – he ever had.


    Whatever the relationship he had with Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Lebron had to know that there would be some backlash: for not only leaving, but leaving to form a super team with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Lebron seemed surprised by the level of anathema, and if he had revisited the context of Cleveland sports history, he would have used a more subtle measure to announce his departure: and he could have found ways to do so through good-will. Lebron didn’t really consider the overall context of his decision and that the presentation looked like a slap-in-the-face to his native Ohioans: I think it was more naivete than disrespect.


    After reading  Behind-the-scenes details of ‘The Decision, it seemed as if Lebron had let the situation get away from him. He had too many controllers and no control. He looked for something invoking grandeur, where a light touch would have been most appropriate. I believe he went to the Boys and Girls Club to do the right thing, but most people were so in shock, by the spectacle and the actual decision – the philanthropy never resonated: it actually seemed phony, while I believe he was authentic in his intent.

    Graciousness and Humility

    After the initial tornado caused by the decision: act two of mismanaged public relations. Fans and players alike were excoriating Lebron for his decision, for a multitude of both plausible and ridiculous reasons, but he, Wade and Bosh made themselves boogeymen, by staging a Las Vegas-oriented production to introduce the new team. It was so over the top, that many people on the fence,  those people trying to find something positive out of all this to stay with Lebron – decided that was the last straw.


    Lastly, after a yearlong sojourn about one-man’s seeming influence on all things from a basketball court; his financial prowess to put a city on his back – the Miami Heat with their big three stumbled early and often. The cardinal sin of Lebron’s decision: not winning what he and his cohorts set out to win – an NBA championship. The Heat deserve credit, because they were impressive in the playoffs, but really displayed some flaws in the championship series against the Dallas Mavericks. If he would have won, much would have been forgotten or at least reasoned: but now, he has made those invested toward his demise – a little more invested.

    Good Luck.

    Calvin Wilson
    Founder and CEO
    Upstart: Business and Management for 20-40 Year Old Professionals

    Filed Under: Gamechangers


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