It was a long day, July 1, 2010. LeBron James then 25, was interviewing teams for the next stage of his career. In addition to the New Jersey Nets, the New York Knicks, Miami Heat, Los Angeles Clippers and his then-current team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, were flying delegations into Hopkins International Airport in northeastern Ohio.
Mikhail Prokhorov’s Gulfstream V left Teterboro airport at 9:45 a.m. to meet James at the IMG building in downtown Cleveland. The aircraft landed at 10:36 and the Nets delegation was in place at 11:00, the first of the five clubs to sit with the King. All but Jay-Z were out of the IMG Building by 12:35. He stayed an additional 20 minutes talking with James. The Nets departed Cleveland at around 1:30 and flew on to Chicago to meet with Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
Of course, it didn’t work out, but now 10 years after that series of meetings, ESPN is re-examining “The Decision,” and as part of that, Brian Windhorst laid out just what happened that sunny day. The Nets had a star-studded cast for the meeting. In addition to Prokhorov, who had become principal owner on May 9, and Jay-Z, Bron’s friend, Dmitry Razumov, Prokhorov’s No. 2; CEO Brett Yormark; GM Rod Thorn and newly hired coach Avery Johnson were on-board.
There was a lot optimism before and after the meeting, with one Nets insider telling NetsDaily, the meeting was “tremendous, touching on spectacular.” And while the Nets were pushing their new brand, Windhorst now writes, in their hearts, they knew it wasn’t realistic.
[T]he Nets arrived at the IMG building in downtown Cleveland as the first of six teams to meet with James. Out of one side of a Lincoln Town Car emerged Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire Russian oligarch who had bought the Nets less than two months prior. Out of the other side emerged Jay-Z.
“It was a circus show,” said Avery Johnson, who had been hired to coach the team. “We were very excited. But in all honesty, we weren’t ready as an organization. And we were playing in Newark for the next two years — not New York. But Jay-Z really gave a great pitch. He appealed to their friendship and sold New York.”
Jay-Z stayed after the others left and had a 15-minute private meeting with James, which overlapped with the scheduled arrival of the Knicks. As Jay-Z’s SUV left the building, he passed the arriving New York contingent that included owner James Dolan and general manager Donnie Walsh, who was in a wheelchair because of a recent surgery.
“Our cars were rolling in as the Nets were rolling out,” then-Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It was all surreal. That moment was a great piece of NBA history. We’d been waiting two years to make that pitch.”
According to other contemporaneous reports, Prokhorov pushed the idea of the Nets in New York combined with his ownership could help James become a “global icon.” Also, the Nets pledged to make a bit for Chris Paul and Lebron suggested they go for Carlos Boozer or David Lee to play beside him.
As the Gulfstream barreled across the Eastern seaboard, the Nets delegation got some unexpected bad news from Memphis. The Nets back-up plan was signing Rudy Gay, a Grizzlies restricted free agent. They fully believed that Memphis would never give Gay, then 22, the max of five years and $80 million. Wrong. Shortly before 3 p.m., Gay cancelled all his meetings and agreed to sign with the Grizz.
A week later, LeBron announced “The Decision.” He was going “take his talents to South Beach,” The Nets got stuck with a free agency that yielded them Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar and Johan Petro. Not what Prokhorov planned.
However, Prokhorov did prove himself a prophet. Chris Broussard, then with ESPN, got ahold of some notes from a conference call following the meetings in Cleveland and Chicago but before “The Decision.”
According to Broussard, Prokhorov predicted Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would choose the Heat and if they could entice James to come with them, it’s a guarantee of at least “two or three” NBA titles, but “The Decision” would diminish the LeBron “brand”. Then, a couple of weeks later, he predicted the Nets would be worth $1 billion by 2015.
Not bad, Mikhail.
- Three days in July: The high-stakes maneuvers that assembled LeBron, Wade and Bosh - Brian Windhorst - ESPN