Greatest free agency signings in NBA history: 1. LeBron James- Miami Heat, 2010
Rick Barry’s standoff with the Warriors in the 1960s and the advent of free agency in 1988 led us the culmination of player empowerment: The Decision
This was one of the biggest powerplay moves that a player has made in regard to holding some level of power over the historical ruling class of sports: the owners.
As we all know, this television special brought a heavy amount of derision and vitriol toward the previously likable James. Of course, had James simply announced he was re-signing with the Cavs, chances are the venom wouldn’t have been that strong. Some people — mostly Knicks fans — would’ve been annoyed that he strung them along for a predictable announcement.
Everyone from Michael Jordan (who played with other stars in his prime), Magic Johnson (who didn’t have access to free agency in his prime and played with superstars), Charles Barkley (who was traded to a superteam toward the end of his career), and Dan Gilbert (who’s a terrible owner) lambasted James for his “selfishness” (much like Rick Barry) and for “taking the easy way out” by forming a superteam with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh (ignoring that most championship teams had more than one star player).
On the court, the move paid off; James averaged .281 WS/48 in his four years in Miami, earning two MVP trophies and two championships (he was Finals MVP for both). But this move did more than add a few more accolades to James’ resume.
It also subverted the idea of “team loyalty”, truly ushering in an era where players aren’t at the whims of an owner and front office that fights to stymie their income with a salary cap and promises career-long devotion only to trade or release them when they have outlived their usefulness. It provided a gateway for players to take ownership of their own career and no matter how LeBron’s original decision made you feel, you have to appreciate how it gave some level of strength to the NBA’s working class.