Let’s go back in time to the summer of 2010. LeBron James was an unrestricted free agent for the first time and looked primed to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers after getting annihilated in the second round of the playoffs by the Boston Celtics.
There seemed to be many possibilities for James that offseason. Of course, he ended up joining forces with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in South Beach, but before that occurred, some thought he would follow Michael Jordan’s footsteps in Chicago. Others thought might join the other L.A. team in the Clippers. Some felt he would be enticed by the prospect of playing for a New Jersey Nets team that was preparing to move to Brooklyn.
Then, there was the New York Knicks and the Mecca of basketball.
Many of Jordan’s greatest performances came in Madison Square Garden, an arena that is ripe with hoops history.
Knicks fans felt that there was a very good chance James would decide to go to the Big Apple. If he could win a title in New York, he would be immortalized. Remember how Mark Messier was worshiped upon bringing a Stanley Cup to the New York Rangers in 1994? Now imagine how much New Yorkers would have idolized LeBron if he were able to do that for the Knicks.
There was also the allure of New York City in general. There is a reason why it is considered the media capital of the world. It wouldn’t have just been about James’ play on the court; it would have been about business opportunities and the New York night life (sound familiar to a certain decision LeBron made this past summer?).
But, at that time, James was the ringless King. He had made just one finals appearance and was railroaded by the San Antonio Spurs in a four-game sweep in 2007. Then, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in Boston, and it became apparent that James would never make another NBA Finals with the Cavaliers. He had a shot in 2009 when Garnett went down with a knee injury, but Dwight Howard’s Orlando Magic ruined his plans.
After losing to the Celtics for the second time in three years in 2010, LeBron knew he had to do something. His legacy depended on it. After all, how could he possibly be compared to MJ without any titles? It would have been a laughable discussion.
So, in 2010, it actually was solely about James’ play on the court, contrary to what Knicks fans wanted to believe, and with a very questionable roster headlined by an aging Amar’e Stoudemire, New York did not look all that appealing. Carmelo Anthony was not yet a Knick at the time, with names like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Raymond Felton—who would be traded to the Denver Nuggets for Anthony later that season—littering the team.
Sure, James and Stoudemire would be an outstanding duo, but would it be enough to beat a Boston team that had reloaded by also adding Shaquille O’Neal and Jermaine O’Neal to their list of seemingly never-ending talent Obviously, James did not think so, and he was right. The temptation of not only playing with Wade and Bosh, but of also playing in a warm-weather city with arguably the best night life in the country was just too great.
The rest is history. LeBron ultimately signed with the Heat and went on to win two championships in four years with the club before eventually returning to the Cavaliers in 2014 to deliver on his promise of bringing a title to Cleveland.
But earlier this season, when James and Wade faced off for the final time in their illustrious careers, James was overheard making a comment to Wade saying, “Here (the Staples Center) or the Garden.”
Naturally, speculation began to run rampant about what James was referring to. Was he planning on signing with the Knicks sometime in the future? Did he consider the blue and orange this past summer?
Quell the excitement, everyone: that’s not what LeBron was talking about, as he later clarified that he meant the only venue that was worthy of hosting the final duel between James and Wade was either the Staples Center or Madison Square Garden.
So, in reality, was James ever really close to becoming a Knick?
The only time it was ever even a real, genuine discussion was in 2010, and none of us know for sure what LeBron was thinking at the time. Maybe he will provide some clarity once he retires, but right now, only he knows just how strongly he considered the Knicks that summer, but if you want my honest answer? The Knicks probably weren’t even a top three team on his list.
Clearly, the Heat were his No. 1 choice (duh), but who was No. 2? Again, this is merely opinion, but it was probably either the Cavaliers or the Bulls. Why Cleveland? Well, because it was his incumbent team during the 2009-10 campaign, and he had been with the Cavs all seven years of his career up until that point and had promised a championship. Why Chicago? Because that is where Wade is originally from, and Wade gave serious consideration to signing with the Bulls until he knew James was joining him in Miami.
As a matter of fact, Wade has even said that he and LeBron considered joining the Bulls, and many people feel that Wade was going to sign in Chicago if James did not join the Heat.
Sorry Knicks fans, but your team was likely never truly in the running for James’ services.
It’s fun to imagine, though.