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LeBron James‘ 2010 announcement that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in free agency during a televised special entitled “The Decision” stands as one of the biggest stories in American sports this century.
Ten years later, word has emerged that a Detroit Pistons fan’s mailbag question to then-ESPN writer Bill Simmons served as the inspiration for the show.
Per ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr., Drew Wagner emailed the following question to Simmons:
“What if LeBron announces he will pick his 2010-11 team live on ABC on a certain date for a show called ‘LeBron’s Choice? What type of crazy ratings would that get?”
Simmons did more than answer the question, however, per Van Natta:
“At the All-Star Game weekend in Dallas in February 2010, Simmons pitched the ‘LeBron’s Decision’ idea to James’ business partner, Maverick Carter; James’ agent at the time, Leon Rose; and James’ advisor, William “World Wide Wes” Wesley. Simmons met with Rose and Wesley. ‘They both loved it,’ Simmons later wrote in an email. ‘I mean, LOVED IT.’ That weekend, Simmons also enthusiastically pitched the idea to several senior ESPN executives.
“Simmons pitched two ideas to his bosses: a 90-minute documentary following LeBron in his free agency recruitment tour called ‘The Courting of the King,’ followed by ‘LeBron’s Decision,’ where he would pick his new team in a live show, both to be aired on ABC.”
The ball really got rolling in June when Carter spoke with Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel and broadcaster Jim Grey, who served as the show’s host.
One thing led to another, and then-ESPN president John Skipper gave an hour of programming to James and Carter for July 8. In return, the LeBron James Family Foundation donated $2 million to the national Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
As for Wagner, the 38-year-old Detroit Pistons fan spoke with Van Natta about his idea being the inspiration for the show.
“I remember everyone was talking about where LeBron would go, and it seemed to me that LeBron should do the same thing these kids do and announce it live on TV. I used to enjoy those Simmons mailbags quite a bit, and I thought it would be a fun idea to send it.”
Wagner didn’t know that his idea was behind “The Decision” until Friday, when national radio shows discussed some of the reveals in an upcoming Backstory episode of the show. Beforehand, he thought it was an “odd coincidence.”
“I don’t know how that stuff works,” Wagner told ESPN.
“I always had in the back of mind that maybe I did kick this into some kind of gear … I don’t think I deserve anything from it or any credit. I’m sure plenty of people could have come up with that kind of idea and got the ball rolling. I’m also pretty sure some people would want to shoot the guy who came up with the idea.”
Cavaliers fans were outraged when James said he was taking his talents to South Beach, but they were thrilled four years later when he returned to Cleveland. He then led the Cavs to four straight NBA Finals, winning one in 2016.