USING AN IMPECCABLE tailored cream jacket, light blue button-down shirt and black tie with a contrasting platinum clip, Lebron James walked through the players' entrance to the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami for the first time. The day before, July 8, 2010, in the broadcast of the decision, James had told a national TV audience that he was taking his talents to South Beach to join other movie stars. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, an ad that left the NBA world reeling. But James was not yet officially a member of Miami heat.
Right next to the door and in the corridor, a contract was waiting: six years, US $ 109.8 million – with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
James signed with a smile. After a press conference, he went to the locker room and wore a bright white Miami Heat uniform for the first time. Minutes later, James, Wade and Bosh were introduced to Heat fans as the NBA's new Big Three at a large commemorative rally.
While the trio was raised on a platform above "YES WE DID" on giant LED screens and while James declared: "Not five, not six, not seven …", amid the smoke and fireworks in the arena, the phones were full in Toronto, Cleveland, New York and, of course, Miami. Executives and lawyers were executing the signature and exchange agreements, transferring the recently signed agreements by James and Bosh to the Heat and cementing a team that would change the course of NBA history.
The intensity of the three days of July that led to the construction of the super team par excellence continues to resonate 10 years later. Here are new details from those who experienced the drama.
JULY 7: Two stars line up
The sporting noon opened with Michael Wilbon, who went straight to the point. On a split screen, Wade appeared on his basketball court outside Fort Lauderdale, Florida. In the box on the right, Bosh smiled from his Dallas home.
The day before, Wade's number had appeared on Wilbon's cell phone. The longtime journalist hoped that Wade was calling to say he was signing with Chicago buffaloes, your hometown shared team. Instead, Wade asked Wilbon to conduct an interview in which he and Bosh simultaneously announced their fate as a free agent.
"He didn't tell me where he was hiring," said Wilbon, "but I had a feeling it wasn't Chicago."
Wade had given hope to the bulls. On July 1, he was in Chicago. His first stop? United Center. The Bulls were happy to welcome him, but did not know where they were with Wade. They were concerned, the sources say, that Wade would simply pass on his free agent strategy to his team, the Heat.
Chicago spent more than a year working in fields for James and Bosh. The Bulls ordered Harpo Productions, Oprah Winfrey's producer, to create videos. Even when they met on July 1, the Bulls were skeptical that Wade was seriously considering signing with them, so they initially revealed only part of their speech.
However, Wade smiled when he tried on a red Bulls # 3 shirt with his name on the back. That was a feeling he dreamed of as a child watching Michael Jordan winning titles.
Meanwhile, high on the Chicago skyline, Bosh was in a conference room receiving a speech from the Heat – a meeting punctuated by Pat Riley rolling out a small velvet rug on the table, followed by the presentation of a small velvet pouch.
"Oh yes, Pat took off his rings. It looked like a Crown Royal bag," said Bosh. "He writes it down, like a boom. Big boy talk. When he finished the meeting, Pat gave me a ring at the 2006 Heat championship."
"Take it. Keep it. Give it back to me when you win one," Riley told Bosh.
"I haven't returned it yet," said Bosh. "Does he remember that? I think I mentioned it once, like, 'Hey, do you want that ring back?' And he said, 'What are you talking about?' ; And I kept walking. "
But the most important part of the presentation was not jewelry. The bulls, New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets positioned themselves to sign two superstars, and that’s what these teams offered.
The Heat offered the chance for three.
After their respective meetings, the two stars switched places. Bosh visited the Bulls, and Wade received a speech from the Heat at Henry Thomas's office, Agent Wade and Bosh shared. There, Riley showed Wade the formal plan to bring three stars to South Beach.
"I've never seen Pat Riley so nervous," Wade told Thomas after the meeting, a moment captured on video in his recent documentary, D.Wade: Unexpected Life.
The Heat group flew to Cleveland, where Riley and Andy Elisburg, the senior vice president of basketball operations for the Heat, had a midnight meeting with James Rose, James's agent, at The Ritz-Carlton bar. Riley detailed to Rose what the proposal for James would be the next day: three stars, not two.
That same night, Wade asked Thomas to set up a second meeting with the Bulls. This time, Chicago gave his full speech, Oprah videos and everything. The Bulls, already feeling they had a big chance with Bosh, started to feel like they had a real chance from Wade. But he had a specific question: could the Bulls create enough space for a third star?
Wade was bringing the Heat's strategy to the Bulls – and not the other way around.
One thing was clear: Bosh, Wade and James were interested in playing together. It was a package of dreams. But which team could close?
To win the three-star award, the Bulls needed $ 16 to 18 million in wage cap space. After examining their options, they realized that any strategy to achieve this would require negotiation Luol Deng, getting a team to receive the remaining four years from Deng and receive $ 48 million in salary without receiving any pay back or through a contract with Cleveland, Toronto or Miami.
This was not impossible, but it was complicated. Before even considering, there was a big caveat: commitments from the three stars were necessary so that the dominoes could be aligned.
The Bulls' motivation, the sources say, was divided. After two days of meetings, they thought they were in a competitive position with Bosh and Wade. They were not so sure about James, as some rivals feared that Chicago was in pole position to rob him of Cleveland.
However, with the blessing of owner Jerry Reinsdorf, the Bulls started working to find a way to get all three. They tried to move Deng to the LA Clippers, the sources say, but were refused. They talked to Toronto about a signal and switch to Bosh – the Raptors started discussing Deng's adjustment and the possible parameters of a deal, sources say – to leave room to sign Wade and James.
There was another question for the Bulls: Derrick Rose, the young star of the team, was not deeply involved in the recruitment process.
Another of your young players, Joakim Noah, ended up being the main voice of the player. Although Noah has a magnetic personality and became a star recruiter in his days at the University of Florida, he was not the player in the franchise. He also had a bitter relationship with James. Underlining that, Noah called James that week, and James never called back.
Rose refused to be part of James' speech, instead of recording a video. Being an active recruiter was not part of Rose's personality, and at the age of 21, he didn't have the mindset of an empire builder. If things would have been different if Rose had done what Stephen Curry did in helping to convince Kevin Durant to come to the Golden State Warriors six years later it will be forever unknown.
What is known, however, is that the free agents noticed Rose's disappeared enthusiasm, as well as the fact that Chicago did not have an actionable plan to free up space on the cover.
Meanwhile, Miami had an advantage at home with Wade, who had already sold Bosh and was selling James. In addition, the Heat had a concrete plan to accomplish everything. They were just hours after reducing their list to a single hired player.
Even years later, Bulls employees believe that Bosh and Wade were close to committing to Chicago. But in the end, three were bigger than two.
"I'm back in Miami," Wade told Wilbon moments in the SportsCenter interview. "My decision is final."
"I'm going to join Mr. Wade in Miami," said Bosh.
They said they would see each other in South Beach.
JULY 8: Decision Day
WADE AND BOSH they announced that they would be joining, but in particular they were waiting for a final piece.
Four days before the decision was transmitted, James dialed Wade for a conference call with Bosh. They discussed the arguments they heard, their options and wishes. In the final analysis, there was Chicago and there was Miami. When the call ended, it was settled: everyone was going to Miami.
But when Wade and Bosh started lining up details, James stopped returning calls – even from Wade. News of a TV show announcing James' decision surprised Wade and Bosh and caused last-minute anxiety.
"Everyone was excited, but LeBron was somber. And that worried us a little bit," said David Fizdale, who was an assistant coach at Heat at the time. "Even Dwyane wasn't sure."
It had been seven days since James started having meetings with suitors, and some around him still questioned which team he would choose.
A week earlier, just after 11 am on July 1, the Nets arrived at the IMG building in downtown Cleveland as the first of six teams to meet James. From one side of a Lincoln Town Car came Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire Russian oligarch who had bought the Nets less than two months earlier. Jay-Z emerged from the other side.
"It was a circus show," said Avery Johnson, hired to coach the team. "We were very excited. But in all honesty, we were not ready as an organization. And we played in Newark for the next two years – not in New York. But Jay-Z really gave a great speech. He appealed to his friendship and sold New York. "
Jay-Z stayed after the others left and had a private 15-minute meeting with James, which overrode the Knicks' scheduled arrival. When Jay-Z's SUV left the building, he passed the contingent arriving in New York, which included owner James Dolan and general manager Donnie Walsh, who was in a wheelchair because of recent surgery.
"Our cars were coming in while the Nets were leaving," said Knicks' then coach Mike D & # 39; Antoni. "It was all surreal. That moment was a big part of NBA history. We were waiting two years to make this speech."
The next morning, Heat representatives arrived early to prepare. Riley, Elisburg, coach Erik Spoelstra, Alonzo Mourning, owner Micky Arison and his son Nick, then vice president, showed up 45 minutes before James. Riley paced the hall with nervous energy. The velvet bag with the rings came out again.
"Everyone was excited, but LeBron went dark. And that made us all worry a little bit."
David Fizdale, former Heat assistant coach
During the presentation, Mourning shed tears talking about the organization's support when he needed a kidney transplant and the joy of winning a title later. But two pieces anchored the argument: the explanation of playing in Florida, where there is no state income tax (and what it would save in salary and income), and the plan to unite James, Wade and Bosh.
"We were all defending LeBron with a two-star approach," said D & # 39; Antoni. "All these teams thought we could get him another star. Heat came in with a three-pronged attack.
"They threw us out of the water."
On the morning of the third day, James' hometown, Cavs, delivered his plan. The group stayed up the night before improving their presentation. In the previous month, owner Dan Gilbert had hired a new coach, Byron Scott, and a new general manager, Chris Grant, after the consecutive 60-win seasons failed to make an appearance in the finals.
For the presentation, Gilbert commissioned a cartoon in the style of "Family Guy", James' favorite show at the time, which included crude jokes at the expense of other teams that had pitches. There was a video built around James' connection to the community.
The Cavs told James that they discussed exchange and exchange scenarios with Toronto for Bosh and asked if he would recruit Bosh to join as a second star. James replied that he did not know Bosh well and did not know his plans. That was false, of course, but it didn't matter. Bosh had no interest in playing in Cleveland.
The bulls were the last. It was Saturday afternoon on a holiday weekend, and their group had forgotten to book a car at the hotel. They arrived at the IMG Building in taxis, but did not know how to enter the garage. They were stuck waiting in the street with the door locked.
The Bulls had been preparing for this field for over a year. They had a young and fantastic nucleus and many possibilities. A lineup with Rose, Wade, James, Bosh and Noah was one of them. There was a possibility of losing Bosh and Wade, but getting James. There was the idea of losing James, but getting Wade and Bosh. During the meeting with James, it was clear to the Bulls that the 25-year-old had a comprehensive plan, but they were still unsure whether that included them.
In 2006, agents from Bosh, Wade and James – all represented by the Creative Artists Agency – had worked together to get the three players to sign corresponding short-term extensions to allow for this possibility. As teammates for All-Star and USA Basketball, the trio talked over the years about playing on the same NBA team, although nothing was formalized.
Many across the league assumed that the plan to play together had been predetermined for months, if not years. To date, all three players maintain that nothing has been decided until the call.
After the group's call on July 4, James organized his annual Nike camp for elite high school and college players for three days at Akron University. Friends and teammates, including Chris Paul, Damon Jones and Daniel Gibson, made appearances. James showed nothing. At one point, Coach Scott arrived with new Cavs equipment, but James was not interested in the conversation.
More than 2,200 miles away in Miami, the Heat gained confidence that its offer would be accepted, especially when the Bulls had not committed to Wade after several meetings. They worked on a set of moves to free up space to sign the three stars.
One was an exchange and exchange agreement with the Raptors for Bosh, a maneuver that would give them room to maneuver and extra cap space for other free agents. The other would send Michael Beasley to Minnesota for two choices in the second round. Removing Beasley's $ 4.9 million salary left Miami with more than $ 50 million in capitalization space, with just Mario Chalmers under contract. The decks were clean.
But there was still no official word from James, Leon Rose or anyone else in his circle.
On July 8, after watching a few games at an AAU tournament he sponsored at Cleveland State University, James and his camp traveled to Greenwich, Connecticut, where he would announce his plans.
Just before 8:30 pm, James arrived at the Greenwich Boys & Girls Club and hundreds of fans lined up on the street. Inside, final preparations were being made for what would be one of the most controversial hours in the history of sports television.
In Miami, Bosh had arrived with his fiancee, Adrienne, and rented a suite at the W Hotel. Wade was organizing dinner in a private room at the Prime Hotel in South Beach. Although James said in the broadcast of the Decision that only a handful of people knew their choice, the pilots on his private plane had presented a flight plan to Miami, and there were rooms reserved for James and his friends alongside Bosh's group in the W .
As James prepared to make his announcement and the party was lively, though a little nervous, Wade whispered to those close to him that it was a deal.
At 9:28 pm ET, it was official. James was taking his talents to South Beach.
July 9: & # 39; Neither five, nor six, nor seven … & # 39;
LIKE CAVS were dealing with the shock of James's departure, Chris Grant's phone rang. It was Riley calling to offer an exchange and exchange for James.
Riley thought Grant might turn it off. After Gilbert released his infamous Comic Sans letter ripping James the night before – for which NBA Commissioner David Stern fined the Cleveland owner $ 100,000 – The Heat did not expect the Cavs to be willing partners in a move that would help Miami and give James additional guaranteed money. That proposal would cost Miami picks, but the Heat wanted more immediate capital space to fill its list.
Grant knew he was now undergoing massive reconstruction, so he was only responsible for considering the Heat's offer. The Cavs hoped they would never use it, but they had a plan: if James left, their goal was to signal and negotiate to reach distant picks. Riley made an opening offer and Grant said he would take her to the property. Much to everyone's surprise, Grant sold Gilbert in the trade.
Grant initially asked Miami for four choices in the first round in the next seven years. The Heat said no, but eventually an agreement was reached: first round in 2013 and 2015, two more choices from the second round and a change of selection.
"All these teams thought we could get him another star. The Heat came in with a three-pronged attack. They blew us out of the water."
Mike D & # 39; Antoni, ex-Knicks coach
While Miami was busy sorting out the details of James and Bosh's business, Henry Thomas was trying to get another client to join Wade in Miami: a long time ahead Udonis Haslem.
James, Wade and Bosh agreed to take $ 1 million less than the maximum to make room to sign Mike Miller, a free agent that Riley discussed in speeches with James and Bosh. Miller received up to $ 10 million a year elsewhere, but accepted a $ 5 million contract to join the Heat.
"Dwyane and I had a heart to heart," said Haslem. "And he said, & # 39; I love you, and if we are together in the future, we will get rings together again. But at this point, I have to go. & # 39;"
But while Haslem was driving to the arena to say goodbye to Riley, Spoelstra and Arison, Wade called Bosh and James. He talked about Haslem and said he was willing to spend an additional $ 1 million a year if they joined him to make space. Both agreed.
When Haslem arrived, Thomas told him to wait in his car. Haslem wanted at least $ 20 million and the numbers were still short. While Elisburg calculated wages, Thomas called Wade again. Wade agreed to give up an additional $ 500,000 a year, allowing enough space to meet Haslem's deal: five years and $ 20.3 million.
Haslem agreed in the car and ran into the building for a euphoric moment that many in the Heat organization consider the most memorable part of the three days of joy.
The NBA axis had tilted towards Miami at the culmination of the most notable period of free agency that the league had ever seen.
"We have 10 years of time and space, and I can look back and say, 'Oh, it's —. That's really what it was about,'" said Bosh. "You can look back and say that the story is about guys trying to find their way or whatever.
"We were reacting to the stimulus around us. We were where we wanted to be. We were cool. We were a little bit innocent. We were naive."
"But we learn. Ah, we learn."
Jorge Sedano, Nick Friedell and Dave McMenamin, from ESPN, contributed to this story.