- Steve Wulf, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
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They remember it differently.
To you, it was a staged announcement. To the kids who were at the Greenwich, Conn., Boys and Girls Club last July 8, it was an exciting visit to their home. To you, his choice was about maximizing fortune and fame. To them, it was his chance to play with his friends. To you, he seemed stiff, almost embarrassed when he said, "I'm going to take my talents to South Beach." To them -- once the show was over and he was asked to pose for a photograph -- LeBron James was warm and gracious.
"It was like I was looking up at a star," says Gigi Barter, age 8. "He smiled at me, and suddenly I was lifted up, and sitting on his shoulders. I was scared, but I was on top of the world!"
This Friday marks the first anniversary of "The Decision," and while it isn't cause for celebration in Cleveland -- or Miami, for that matter -- it is in the building on Horseneck Lane and throughout the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. As a result of the sponsorships for the show, and at the specific request of James, more than $2 million was donated to the organization. And the boys and girls at the club in Greenwich now have a new gym floor with the "Knuckles" logo, 30 new Hewlett-Packard computers (families without computers get the old ones), some fresh Nike equipment and -- coming soon -- a climbing wall.
"The best gift of all," says Bob DeAngelo, the dynamic executive director who's an alumnus and a former fighter pilot, "is the visibility for what we do here, and at every Boys and Girls Club."
What the Boys and Girls Clubs do, with classes and programs and camps, is enable and encourage kids to find their own talents -- be they alums such as James, or Denzel Washington, or J-Lo, or J-Ro (Jimmy Rollins), or Steve Young, who learned to swim in the pool that the James entourage (including Kanye West) walked past on the way to the gym that night.
You may criticize "The Decision" as a TV show, and you may think James and the Heat got what they deserved in the NBA Finals. But please don't subscribe to the cynical and glib notion that the leafy address somehow lessens the mission of the club. Children everywhere need a hand -- and a place. The Greenwich Boys and Girls Club has been helping local kids and their families since 1908.
The other day, as the one-year anniversary of The Big Day approached, we asked some of the kids who were in attendance where they were taking their own talents.
Gigi: "I'm taking my singing and dancing to Hollywood."
Kevin Wing, age 11: "I was all about football until LeBron came. Now I want to be the point guard for the Knicks. If not that, maybe a sportscaster."
Robby Barter, 10: "I'd like to be a running back for the Jets."
Peter Ryan, 11: "Dunno yet."
Jack Barter, 12: "I play the trumpet. I'd like to make music."
Connor Gaffney, 18: "I want to help kids and pursue social work -- and I'm taking that to UConn in the fall."
Cassidy Sammet, 11: "I want to be an offensive lineman and open holes for Robby."
Did they ever have to make a big decision like the one James made?
Peter Ryan had: "One time my new friend got into a physical fight with my old friend, and I had to choose whose side I was going to be on. I really liked my new friend, but my old friend knew my secrets and stuff, so I stayed on his side. But it worked itself out because now we're all friends."
Do they think James made the right choice?
Kevin: "Definitely. He wanted to play with his friends, and he got to the Finals. That's a pretty good season."
What about his performance in the Finals?
Kevin: "He played so hard that he got tired in the fourth quarter. Plus, Nowitzki was unstoppable."
What else do they recall about the day of The Decision?
Robby: "After the show, I had to go to the bathroom really badly. But LeBron was in there, and security wouldn't let me go in."
Gigi: "Why didn't you go to the bathroom downstairs?"
Robby: "I wasn't going to go down there. It's haunted."
James and Jim Gray may now be ghosts at the club, but the iconic directors chairs and night tables from "The Decision" set remain. In the spirit of the occasion, the kids politely reassembled on the new gym floor as assistant executive director Sukie McFadden busted out the chairs, and athletic director Mike Gerald and Kevin Wing picked up the conversation where James and Gray left off.
Kevin: "So, LeBron, what do you hope to accomplish with the money that you're going to give to the Boys and Girls Clubs?"
Mike: "Well, Jim, I want to make sure that children get 60 minutes of exercise a day, just like I did. I want to give them books and computers to improve their minds. I want them to enjoy the outdoors more. I want to help them realize their potential."
Kevin: "Thank you, LeBron."
Mike: "My pleasure, Jim."
If you only watched "The Decision" last July 8, you would think it was all about him. But, a year later, if you saw the excitement over the new computers, or heard the squeak of sneakers on a shiny floor, or listened to the mixture of giggles and questions and wisdom, or observed the easy, respectful interaction between staff and kids, you might think differently.
It was about them, too.
Steve Wulf is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.
One year later, "The Decision" still reverberates around the grown-up NBA. But maybe its most meaningful impact is found in smaller packages: the kids who watched it up close and personal.