Ten years ago, ESPN aired The Decision, a controversial live prime time special in which NBA free agent LeBron James announced he would leave his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and join forces with Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and the Miami Heat. The criticism of James and ESPN was immediate, harsh and widespread.
The behind-the-scenes developments that led to The Decision, the far-reaching consequences of the telecast and its legacy for a new era of player empowerment will all be examined in the new episode of Backstory, the ESPN documentary series featuring the investigative reporting of three-time Pulitzer Prize winner Don Van Natta, Jr. The series brings new reporting and fresh perspectives to some of the most intriguing stories and characters in sports history.
Backstory: The Decision premieres Sunday, June 28, at 9 p.m. ET on ESPN, ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the July 8, 2010, airing of the polarizing yet ground-breaking announcement that remains the most-watched studio show in ESPN history with nearly 10 million viewers. With James now one of the most powerful voices in sports, and particularly outspoken on matters of racial and social justice, Backstory: The Decision reveals how the live special developed into what it became and examines its profound influence over the past decade.
“Our new Backstory episode explores the unlikely way The Decision was created, the reasons why it was done despite the risks and the tensions about it behind the scenes,” said Van Natta, who joined ESPN in 2012. “And despite all the criticism that LeBron James and ESPN received, the one-hour show had a far-reaching impact on LeBron and his inner circle while beginning a trend of star athletes telling their own stories through their own media and production companies. LeBron’s experience on The Decision was the launching pad for his own shows sold to multiple networks and helped him sharpen his voice on a wide array of important issues beyond the basketball court.”
In doing his reporting for Backstory, Van Natta learned new details and information that will be revealed in the one-hour program, including:
- The original idea for The Decision came from a surprising source not connected to either James or ESPN.
- The show actually started taking shape months earlier than previously known.
- Former NBA Commissioner David Stern urged ESPN to cancel the show and former ESPN president John Skipper says Stern was concerned the show would extend too much power to one player.
- The preparation James did for The Decision in the hours leading up to the broadcast.
The episode features candid interviews with Skipper, who greenlit The Decision in June 2010 as ESPN’s head of content at the time, and former ESPN executive Keith Clinkscales, whom Skipper charged with overseeing the project. Van Natta also sheds new light on what fans and media critics have wondered about for 10 years, including what events led to James’ infamous “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach … “ line that he said nearly a half-hour into the show.
Among others interviewed on camera:
- Buzz Bissinger, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of two bestselling books on LeBron James.
- Michael Wilbon, co-host of ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption and NBA studio analyst.
- Vince Doria, former ESPN vice president and director of news.
- Chris Broussard, NBA Insider for ESPN at the time of The Decision and current analyst for Fox Sports.
- Scott Raab, the author of two books on LeBron James.
- Bomani Jones, ESPN commentator.
The June 28 debut of Backstory: The Decision will mark 11 consecutive Sunday nights of original content premiering on ESPN. There will also be multiple re-airs on ESPN networks. After its initial airing, the program will re-air at 11 p.m. on ESPN2 and will be available for on-demand viewing on the ESPN App. It will eventually be available to stream on ESPN+.
Backstory debuted in August of 2019 with “Serena vs. The Umpire,” followed in January of this year with “Banned for Life*.” Subjects and airdates for additional episodes of Backstory will be announced later.