In 2010, the Knicks had their best chance to acquire him. They were flush with cap space after tanking for the express purpose of signing James and other high-profile free agents that July.
Unfortunately for the Knicks, that summer will forever go down as one of the biggest disappointments in franchise history after bungling their meeting with James despite being considered the "favorites" in league circles.
"From everyone I've talked to in the know since then, it's clear that the Knicks were the first choice," The Ringer's Bill Simmons said on his podcast. "It was basically the Knicks' to lose, and they just couldn't stay out of their own way. The stories are legendary."
The meeting, which Simmons described as a "disaster," went so poorly that James did not grant the Knicks a second chance to sit down before signing with the Miami Heat. While the Knicks went all-in on glitz in their presentation—even hiring James Gandolfini and Edie Falco to reprise their roles as Tony and Carmela Soprano—their pitch was completely lacking in long-term vision on the court.
"Dolan was Dolan. they didn't have anything prepared. It just couldn't have gone worse by all accounts. It was a disaster. I think at that point, combined with the decade the Knicks just had, I think those guys were just like 'f--k it,'" Simmons said.
The Knicks had around $34 million in cap space heading into the summer of 2010, which would have been enough to land two max free agents with a little maneuvering. Adding the third piece to the Big Three would have required a sign-and-trade, but the Knicks had promising young players like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Timofey Mozgov who could have been enticing to rebuilding teams in Toronto and Cleveland.
Ultimately, the failure falls on Knicks management, which has been among the worst in the NBA for most of the 21st century. The Knicks scrambled to overpay Amar'e Stoudemire despite his knees not being covered by insurance and then jettisoned their young talent for Carmelo Anthony in 2011, who at the time was just months away from unrestricted free agency.
Knicks fans, meanwhile, got their lone chance to live out the dream of James signing with the Knicks in NBA 2K14.