Way back in 2010 before the decision, before Lebron had won a title and before Kobe had retired, there was a very real possibility that Lebron James and Kobe would face off in the NBA finals. Two of the greatest players in the game starting a rivalry that could last for years. This didn’t happen, Kobe and Lebron would never face each other in a playoff series, the world missed out, but why?
Why Delonte West is the reason for Lebron James, The Decision? Delonte West was a team mate of Lebron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers for 3 seasons. They would both play their final game for the Cavaliers in 2010 as they lost in the second round, 4-2 to the Boston Celtics. The Celtics went on to face Kobe Bryant’s Lakers in the Finals. Lebron and Kobe would never face each other in a playoff series. Rumours persist to this day that Lebron had an on the court meltdown due to finding out West was having an intimate relationship with his mother, Gloria James.
This is a juicy one! Was West really having an affair with Gloria James? Is this what caused Lebron to allow his Cavs to lose to the Celtics? Would the Cavs have made it past Orlando in the East Finals? Would facing Kobe in in the 2010 Finals have changed LeBron and Kobe’s careers entirely?
Did Lebron James really have a meltdown after Game 4?
The headline stat here is that in the first 3 games Lebron shot 54.1% from the field. Leaving the Cavs 2-1 up. In the next 3 games he shot 34% from the field. Allowing the Boston Celtics to win the series 4-2. Going into the series the Cavs were seen as favourites. The ageing Celtics were 2 years past their 2008 title winning season. Lebron was 25, and was the reigning MVP. The Cavs had finished with the best record in the NBA (61-21) and held home court over the Celtics (50-32) who placed 4th in the East. In the previous round Lebron had torn through the Chicago Bulls averaging 32-9-8 with a 57% shooting percentage. In the first 3 games of the Boston series he put up:
35pts on 50% shooting, 24pts on 47% and 38pts on 64%.
In the following 3 games, after he allegedly found out about Wests relationship with his mother he posted:
22pts on 38% shooting, 15pts on 22% and finally 27pts on 38% as they were closed out in Boston.
On paper it does look like an epic meltdown. However, this Boston core were recent champions, they had MVP’s, Hall of famers and one of the most lethal shooters the game has ever seen in Ray Allen. Lebron continued to get to the line consistently, an indication of applied effort. In fact, the two games he got to the line the least were the two the Cavs won. The narrative says that he found out about it shortly before game 4 in Boston. His worst performance was in Game 5 back in Cleveland. Maybe this was after it was confirmed to him by Gloria herself?
Shooting percentage and raw points output aside, the stats say that not much changed for Lebron. No one can be perfect all the time? A lot of the belief that something was affecting him comes from his demeanour and body language on the court. We have seen through the following years of his career that this can happen with him. It doesn’t mean he’s checked out or had a specific issue. It’s hard to maintain that level of greatness all the time. We have to factor in, that despite their record, the team on paper was one of the worst Lebron has ever played with.
Verdict: Inconclusive. Something changed with Lebron. It could have been Doc Rivers tactical changes as much as Delonte West’s relationship with his mum.
Was Delonte West having an intimate relationship with Gloria James?
At the time this was denied by Delonte West. Subsequently as his career has fallen apart, he has popped up on social media or interviews and used language that seems to confirm that he was in fact having a relationship with Lebron’s mother. Most recently in 2016 posting a meme referring to him as Lebron’s dad. Before that in 2012 he was on camera saying about his (actual) son:
“His middle name is Delonte but I didn’t want to name him Delonte West, Jr. just because of that,” he says in a YouTube video. “I don’t want my son going to school and people making fun of him for something his daddy did.”
The use of the word “did” does seem pretty conclusive. Choosing not to say something similar to “something his daddy is accused of” would surely be more natural if it was in fact all just a bad rumour. The stats will tell us
something as well, if Lebron’s performance cratered after the revelation, you’d expect to see this show up in Wests stats as well. There’s definitely something here. West had a series high +/- in Game 3. With +15. This was followed in Game 4 with a playoff low -18. This coincided with a MASSIVE minute’s reduction. As illustrated by the below graph,
West had been playing around 30 minutes a game off the bench for most of the Playoffs. Then suddenly, after what seemed like his best contribution to team success so far in Game 3 his minutes dropped. 20 in game 4 and then just 9 in game 5. Was this just a tactical shift based on Boston’s alterations? Wests own inconsistent play? It is known throughout the NBA how much control Lebron is able to excerpt on the whole franchise, GMs and coaches alike. Could this be the Lebron effect? Choking off Wests minutes due to him slighting him off the court? It certainly looks suspicious!
Verdict: Something definitely happened with West. There is no conclusive evidence he had a relationship with Lebron’s mother. Although there’s certainly evidence of something.
Would the Cavs have made it past Orlando in the Eastern Finals?
Probably. For fun, let’s just say yes. I’m sure Lebron’s team mate Shaq would have been extra motivated to prove he could still take Dwight Howard when it counted.
Verdict: Shaq would have gone for 40 & 20 forcing Howard into an early retirement.
How would a 2010 Lebron vs Kobe Finals have changed the NBA?
While the 2010 loss for Lebron signalled the start of a historic 8 trips to the Finals in a row, for Kobe his 2010 win would be his last trip to the finals. The following year in 2011 saw Dallas vanquish Kobe’s Lakers in the Western Finals before going on to provoke potentially an even bigger meltdown from Lebron than we saw in 2010. Dallas would win the title.
How might this have changed if Lebron and Kobe had faced off in 2010?
Win or lose, a trip to the finals opens the door to Lebron staying in Cleveland. That means no, ‘The Decision’ no, opening season ‘victory parade’ (not 1, not 2, not 3…) No, ‘Heatles’. Lebron probably finds a way to reload and get Cleveland back to the finals. Maybe even with Bosh and Wade in tow.
Win or lose, Kobe may have found enough of a rivalry with Lebron to find some extra juice in his 33 year old legs. Powering his Lakers past Dallas setting up Lebron vs Kobe 2.
If Kobe had found a way to best Lebron in both these encounters he would have 6 titles, 2 Three-peats and be the main opponent to Jordan in the GOAT debate. Lebron after losing to Kobe, twice, may have stayed in Cleveland his whole career. Never fully learning “how to win”. A combination of Kobe, The Spurs and The Warriors keeping him from ever winning a title?
What if Lebron had won in 2010? He never chokes against Dallas, winning again in 2011, still beats the young Thunder in 2012 for his now THIRD title in a row. The King is rolling and easily handles the Spurs, twice. How many titles could he have won? (…not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7…)
Whether it can be proven or not, whatever happened in the 2010 Playoffs between Lebron James and Delonte West had a HUGE impact on the NBA landscape. Of course, though, maybe Lebron just choked.
Verdict: The world certainly missed out on this epic match up. Even just for one year.
Did Delonte West really work in Home Depot
No. After his exit from the Cavaliers Delonte West signed with the Celtics on a one-year contract (Possibly as a Lebron stopper). He would play just 24 games, starting two. The next season had a delayed start due to the lockout. He had yet to sign for a team. So, he wasn’t getting paid, having used up the near $14million dollars he had earned in his career so far, he Tweeted to say that he was broke because of the lockout and had applied for a job in Home Depot.
Most other players in his position would have plied their basketball trade over sea’s, however due to legal reasons Delonte was unable to leave the country.
When the lockout finished, he signed for defending Champs the Dallas Mavericks (maybe as a Lebron stopper?), he would play 44 games. That 2011/12 season would be his last in the NBA. He didn’t work a day in Home Depot.
Verdict: There’s nothing wrong with working in Home Depot. Man’s got to eat.