You may not like LeBron James as a person or even as a basketball player.
Heck, if you happen to hail from Cleveland you may downright hate James. Not just for leaving the Cavaliers, but for announcing his decision to “take his talents to South Beach” during a well-publicized network television special.
Whether you love or hate James, three years later you have to respect "The Decision,” as it was clearly the right move.
James is currently earning $17 million per year while the league’s highest-paid player—Kobe Bryant—is earning $27.8 million per year.
James, who is the undisputed best player in the game right now, could have easily commanded a salary of $30 million or more per year, thus making him the highest-paid player in the game.
But James also knew that if he were earning $30 million per year it would have left little room for a talented supporting cast. Over the course of the past three years, that amounts to a loss of nearly $40 million for James.
Nearly $40 million for two NBA titles is certainly nothing to scoff at.
Second, James’ scoring has also taken a hit because he now has to share the limelight with multiple superstars.
Had James stayed in Cleveland or went to a team where he was the only scoring threat on the floor every night, he could easily have been averaging more than 30 points per game during the past three seasons and been well on his way to shattering more than a few NBA scoring records.
But James ultimately knew that NBA championships are not won by just one man.
The Chicago Bulls were not a good basketball team during Michael Jordan’s early years. It wasn’t until they added Scottie Pippen and then filled out their roster with a strong supporting cast that included the likes of Horace Grant, Bill Paxton, Dennis Rodman, Steve Kerr, etc., that they were able to make their incredible championship runs.
Kobe Bryant had Shaquille O'Neal—one of the most dominant big men in NBA history—around during their three-peat run.
Players such as Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were drafted into basketball teams that were already quite strong, not to mention that they played in larger markets where their teams had little trouble attracting the league’s top talent.
Heck, Julius Erving couldn’t even win an NBA title until the 76ers added Moses Malone in 1983.
In some ways James was even more successful during his time in Cleveland than many of the game’s all-time greats. He was somehow able to lead what could only be described as a poor Cleveland Cavaliers team to multiple playoff appearances and the franchise’s first ever NBA Finals appearance in 2007. Jordan needed a supporting cast to get to the NBA Finals; James found a way to get there pretty much on his own.
Three years ago James was viewed as a true villain in the game.
He grew up in Akron, Ohio, and was the pride and joy of Cleveland, a city that was struggling as much as any during the nation’s financial crises. Yet despite his strong ties to Ohio, James simply up and left for the bright lights of Miami.
James’ decision was not based on financial gain, a desire to be the center of attention or a selfish desire to score as many points as humanly possible every night. James’ decision was based solely on his desire to win NBA titles, and he knew that was simply not going to happen in Cleveland.
Fast forward three years and James has been to three consecutive NBA Finals and has just won back-to-back titles.
You may not have liked James’ decision or the way in which he announced his plans to leave Cleveland, but three years later it is also very difficult to describe James as selfish, money hungry or in constant need of attention, like many NBA superstars who have come before him.
So whether you love James or hate him, you can’t help but look back over the past three years and ultimately respect “The Decision.”