There's an episode three seasons into the TV show "Community" where the protagonist, Jeff Winger, throws a die in the air to determine who in their group of seven will go downstairs to collect a pizza they ordered.
What ensues is absolute chaos. Over the course of 21 minutes, seven different timelines play out depicting what would have happened depending on which member of their group went to pick up the pizza. It ranges from the mundane - two characters suddenly having eyes for one another - to the absolute absurd - someone accidentally getting shot and a fire breaking out in the apartment, leading to one of the greatest GIFs of all time.
That episode feels especially pertinent on the 11-year anniversary of LeBron James' "Decision." We all know what happened on July 8, 2010 - LeBron announced on live television that he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Miami Heat to form a superteam with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh - but there were a number of different ways his free agency could have gone that year. The Heat were one of several teams that were considered to be in the running for the best player in the league, the others being the Cavaliers, New York Knicks, New Jersey Nets and Chicago Bulls.
Going through each one is an exercise I'm not willing to commit to, but there is one in particular that I'm fascinated by now a decade removed from a pivotal moment in NBA history, as you may have gathered from the title.
LeBron James sits in a chair across from Jim Gray at the Boys and Girls Club in Greenwich, Connecticut. It's 30 minutes into a 75-minute program broadcasted on ESPN. Every sports fan in the world is watching, sitting on pins and needles as they wait for the greatest basketball player in the world to reveal his decision. Rumours have been flying around for weeks about which team LeBron is going to sign with, but that's all they are - rumours. The air is thick with tension. The moment has come.
You've had everybody else biting their nails. So I guess it's time for them to stop chewing. The answer to the question everybody wants to know: LeBron, what's your decision?
In this fall - man, this is very tough.
LeBron shuffles in his chair. The camera zooms in closer on his face. A bead of sweat trickles down his forehead. He's nervous, but there's also a confidence about him. He's at peace with his choice.
In this fall, I'm going to take my talents to the Windy City and join the Chicago Bulls.
The Chicago Bulls? That was the conclusion you woke up with this morning?
That was the conclusion I woke up with this morning.
LeBron can't help but crack a smile. He knows that his decision will shake the competitive balance in the NBA for the years to come. A superteam has been born.
It's easy to forget that the Bulls were being talked about as a real possibility for James in 2010, moreso than the Heat, who gained steam much later on in the process. Based on a CNBC article that was published on May 14 of that year - close to two months before LeBron made his decision - the Bulls once had the second-best odds of being his team of choice behind only the Cavaliers.
Why? A couple of reasons.
One, the Bulls had a bright future. They were coming off of a season in which they went 41-41 and were gentleman's swept by LeBron's Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs, but they had a young Derrick Rose and a young Joakim Noah on their roster. Rose made his first All-Star team in that 2009-10 season and was named the youngest MVP in NBA history the following season. Noah was still two seasons removed from making his first All-Star team, but he was starting to come into his own as one of the most unique centres in the NBA.
Two, the Bulls had the space to sign other free agents thanks to Rose and Noah still being on their rookie contracts. Signing LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would have taken some cap gymnastics - finding a home for Luol Deng, who had four years and $48 million remaining on his contract, being their biggest obstacle - but clearing the space to acquire the three of them was reportedly the plan. According to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the Bulls even believed at one point that they were close to getting a commitment from both Wade and Bosh, paving the way for them to pair the two of them with James like the Heat ended up doing.
Part of the problem was that Rose "wasn't deeply involved in the recruiting process." Windhorst added that Rose even declined to be a part of the pitch to LeBron, choosing to record a video instead. Additionally, Noah had an "acrimonious relationship" with LeBron, which ... isn't ideal. If you're going to sign a player of LeBron's calibre, you kind of want him to, you know, like his teammates.
It doesn't help that the Bulls were a step behind the Heat during the process either. As Wade detailed to Sam Smith of Bulls.com in 2016...
"It was us trying to put together our dream team in a sense. Chicago was very tempting from a standpoint of what they had on the roster when it came to the young talent. But when it came to the point Miami was able to get three players, that changed the whole dynamic of the summer. It would be a different story (if the Bulls were able to trade Deng). We thought about it. That didn't happen. It was something they (Bulls) talked about. They were very open with us with what they were trying to do. They heard the news of Miami being able to bring three players in. But it never happened. So we never had to think that far."
Still, the thought of the Bulls being able to roll out a lineup of Rose, Wade, LeBron, Bosh and Noah is terrifying. Imagine Rose pushing the ball in transition with James filling one lane and Wade filling the other. Imagine Noah standing at the top of the key with the ball in his hands while Rose, Wade, LeBron and Bosh exchange screens around him. Imagine lineups with Rose, Wade, LeBron, Bosh and a shooter. Imagine lineups with Rose, Wade, LeBron, Noah and a shooter. Imagine Rose running pick-and-rolls with James as the screener. Imagine James running pick-and-rolls with Rose as the screener. Imagine the five of them switching and rotating on defence.
Man oh man, imagine the defence.
Wade is a two-time member of the All-Defensive Second Team and one of the best defensive two-guards of all-time. LeBron is a five-time member of the All-Defensive First Team. Noah is a one-time Defensive Player of the Year. Surprisingly, Bosh never made an All-Defensive Team in his career, but his ability to guard multiple positions as a 7-footer was a big reason why the Heat were the defensive juggernaut they were. As for Rose, he's never been known for his defence, but you're doing alright if he's the worst defender in a lineup. The Bulls were able to build a championship-level defence without LeBron, Wade and Bosh. With them, they would've been able to shut down anyone.
That's not to gloss over some of the issues they would've almost certainly faced. Wade, LeBron and Bosh had a hard enough time learning how to play alongside each other in Miami with role players surrounding them. Replace those role players with a ball-dominant guard in Rose, as well as an up-and-coming centre in Noah who handled the ball a decent amount for a player his size, and there would've been a lot of mouths to feed without much shooting.
Wade spoke about that with Smith in 2016 as well.
"They did have a young Derrick Rose. What, he got MVP that next year? So you're already talking two guys who are ball dominant. And then you have a young up-and-coming star in the league who is ball dominant. At that time, I don't think it would've worked out for us. We took our two ball-dominant selves away from having three guys as ball dominant. So instead of it being me, LeBron and Derrick Rose, it's going to be a tough one. So we decided to pick what we thought was better from a basketball standpoint."
The Bulls would've also been strapped for cash. Not only because LeBron, Wade and Bosh would have each been making the max or close to it, but because of the looming extensions of Rose and Noah. Ahead of the 2010-11 season, Noah signed a five-year, $60 million extension with the Bulls. Rose followed him a year later, signing a five-year, $94 million extension. With LeBron, Wade and Bosh on the roster, would both of them have had to take a paycut? Would the Bulls have had to eventually choose between them? Would they have been at risk of losing them both? How would they have filled out the rest of the roster?
The answers to those questions would've gone a long way in determining how dominant the Rose-Wade-LeBron-Bosh-Noah version of the Bulls would have been. But for however long they would have been together, it's hard to imagine them not being the overwhelming favourites, especially when you consider the power vacuum created by LeBron leaving Cleveland, Wade leaving Miami and Bosh leaving Toronto. They would've been set up for immediate success with that amount of star power while still being set up for future success with Rose being the ideal insurance policy for Wade's deteriorating knees - although, of course, that would've hinged on Rose staying healthy himself, which, well, we don't have to get into now.
Ultimately, we'll never know if LeBron would have been better off choosing the Bulls over the Heat in 2010, both from a winning perspective and a career arc one. His time in Miami might not have gone quite as expected - they didn't win seven titles after all - but it certainly wasn't a failure. It also led to the defining moment of LeBron's career, a return to Cleveland several years later where he ended one of the longest championship droughts in professional sports.
But 11 years after LeBron shook the NBA with a decision nobody will ever forget, him going to Chicago is the one timeline I can't get out of my head.
The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.