You’ll have to wait until : p.m. CT if you want the exact moment that LeBron James decision to spurn the Bulls and take his talents to South Beach turns years old.
That’s when James uttered his oft-ridiculed line to broadcaster Jim Gray on a July , television special. Leon Rose, then James’ agent and now the new president of the New York Knicks, had notified the Bulls, and the other teams in pursuit, of James’ decision just before the show began.
I remain convinced that this organization made the strongest of bids to acquire LeBron James during this free-agency period, Bulls general manager Gar Forman said in a statement released that night. While we re disappointed he chose to go to another franchise, our strategy for the future competitiveness of this organization did not begin or end with James, and we feel the addition of two-time All-Star Carlos Boozer significantly strengthens our team s already talented roster.
Click to download the MyTeams App for the latest Bulls news and analysis.
It s our goal to keep exploring every avenue that it may take, whether through trades or free agency, to continue to build this team to compete at a championship level.
It’s not often a team releases a statement to acknowledge a free agent playing elsewhere. But such was the sway James held as he left his home-state Cavaliers to join Chris Bosh in teaming with Dwyane Wade to form the Miami Heat’s Big Three.
It’s also not often a team sells close to , new season-ticket packages on the promise of hope alone. But that’s what the Bulls did.
At least those fans witnessed Derrick Rose becoming the youngest Most Valuable Player in NBA history in -, and a team that led the NBA in regular-season victories for two straight seasons. But the Heat’s faithful witnessed four straight trips to the NBA Finals and two championships.
Plenty of initial skepticism existed as to whether or not the Bulls were serious players — or were seriously played — in free agency. But the passage of time has produced enough evidence to confirm what select media outlets reported then — that the Bulls were a Luol Deng trade away from perhaps landing the same Big Three.
“I know LeBron’s eyes were here,” Wade said in October , his lone season with the Bulls. “I know my eyes were here.”
This is indisputable: The Heat viewed the Bulls as legitimate players. Heat president Pat Riley just had the vision and the salary cap space to execute his plan.
It’s not like the Bulls didn’t try. They traded franchise stalwart Kirk Hinrich to the Wizards for nothing but salary-cap space — another rarity for the historically conservative franchise — to clear the way for two maximum contract offers.
Initially, the Bulls’ plan centered on wooing Bosh and James. When Wade and his representatives unexpectedly called for a second free-agent meeting in Chicago, matters intensified. The Bulls held trade talks with the Clippers centered on Deng to try to clear room for three maximum contracts.
Leon Rose isn t the only current Knicks connection to this drama. Tom Thibodeau had hired William Wesley — aka “World Wide Wes,” who Rose brought to New York in an advisory role in June — as his agent. Multiple reports at the time indicated Wesley was trying to steer James to the Bulls.
The Bulls were the last of six teams to pitch James in a downtown Cleveland office building on July . The meeting, which featured a video made by Oprah Winfrey s production company, only intensified the franchise’s quiet optimism. Thibodeau and James clearly connected. Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf pitched James and his representatives on the pairing of two global brands.
And Paxson and Forman pitched the ready-made roster, which, even if the Bulls had been able to engineer a Deng trade, would have featured Rose, Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson.
Wesley pushed for the Bulls to the point that a rift developed, and James leaned only on Leon Rose and Maverick Carter, his business manager, from the meetings end to his decision. Derrick Rose, whose nature wasn t to recruit, appeared in a video making it clear he d welcome James. But Rose had entered the free agency period thinking the Bulls might sign shooting guard Joe Johnson, who was represented by his same agency, and surprisingly signed the biggest free agent contract of the offseason with the Hawks.
The Bulls optimism started drying up. Attempts to trade Deng stalled. On July , Bosh and Wade appeared together on TV to announce they were signing with the Heat.
“It s great talent, James told ESPN’s Michael Wilbon of the Bulls on that July , TV special. Derrick Rose is one of the best point guards we have in our league at age . And Joakim Noah is one of those players you can t substitute for. And with the addition of Carlos Boozer, they re going to be a really good team.
They have great pieces. They have a great coach in Tom Thibodeau, who I believe when I had my meeting with them was a great guy and a great coach. He s going to have those guys real prepared. Hopefully we ll see them down the line.
Oh, the Heat saw them down the line. In fact, James and the Heat eliminated them from the playoffs twice, including the Eastern Conference finals.
Boozer wouldn’t have been a Bull if James had taken his talents to the Windy City years ago. So much else surrounding the NBA would have played out differently too.
Would the Bulls have won any championships? A starting lineup of Rose, Wade, James, Bosh and Noah sounds pretty impressive, regardless of what bench depth would’ve been featured beyond Gibson.