Ten years ago, NBA superstar LeBron James sat down for an ESPN special titled The Decision. The purpose of this special was for James to announce which team he would be joining for the following NBA season and the foreseeable future moving forward. It was a move that broke the mold for how these kinds of decisions and announcements were made, and it was one that led to a lot of heat (see what I did there?) for James.
Tonight, ESPN’s documentary series Backstory took a closer look at that 2010 special and the fallout that followed.
The documentary opens a bit awkwardly, focusing on the quarantine life of host Don Van Natta, Jr., but it doesn’t take long to get into the subject we came to see. It’s clear there was extensive research done for this installment of Backstory, as it jumps into LeBron’s childhood and his relationship with his friends from high school, who will look familiar to fans of the ESPN+ seres More Than an Athlete.
The doc spends a chunk of time on James’ highschool days and his early NBA career, the seven years he spent in his hometown of Cleveland, before getting to The Decision. And it really covers the infamous ESPN special from every angle, from the conception of the idea all the way up LeBron’s widely-mocked utterance of the words “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach.”
Van Natta Jr. spoke with authors and analysts, all of whom openly criticized the special and LeBron for the way his announcement was handled. It was fun to get a behind-the-scenes look at the special and hear stories from so many of these people who were either directly involved or had connections to those who were. For example, hearing about James’ reaction to the immediate uproar in Cleveland was a new angle on this old story.
It was also interesting to hear from the executives at ESPN who made the calls to run with this special. While the one-hour block of unscripted and mostly uninteresting television has been panned for years, they look back and recall the 10 million viewers they had one that night in 2010.
At a point, Backstory takes a turn away from mocking The Decision and begins to focus on its success in empowering athletes and sparking a movement in the way their stories and content is sold. Many would think this documentary would paint LeBron as a bad guy, and in the early going that looks like it will be the case. But for the many who know what James has accomplished in the way of charitable acts and speaking out on social equality, they know LeBron is anything but a villain.
Overall, this was a very interesting look back at one of the most bizarre moments in sports history. It’s something just about anyone could follow and be entertained by, even if they’re not particularly a fan of the NBA. Backstory: The Decision tells an interesting story and looks at the surprisingly big picture that resulted from a silly, poorly-executed hour-long special from 10 years ago.
Backstory: The Decision will be available for on-demand viewing on the ESPN App and will eventually be available to stream on ESPN+.
Mike is a writer that has covered comic cons, theme park events, video game showcases and other fun events. He is a fan of theme parks, sports, movies, Marvel Comics and is a self-proclaimed “nerd.”