One of the more fascinating stories in the NBA in the mid aughts was in the 2004 offseason. The Cavs were on the up and up. LeBron had just finished his rookie season. The team famously declined Carlos Boozer’s option with the intention of giving him a big raise, only for him to be offered a bigger raise by the Jazz (the Cavs offered six years and $40 million while the Jazz offered six years and $68 million). Boozer has been crushed for this for years.
There was always a what-if around this move — if Boozer had stayed in Cleveland, could that have pushed them over the championship hump in LeBron’s first time around there? On an Uninterrupted crossover between his own podcast with Nate Robinson and the R2C2 podcast with CC Sabathia and Ryan Ruocco, Boozer told his side of the story, which included an element of support from LeBron I hadn’t heard before:
I go into a meeting with the GM and the owner, Jim Paxson and Gordon Gund, my agent Rob Pelinka, and me. We’re in a meeting. We want to take care of you. You’ve had two great seasons here. I almost made the All-Star team as a second year player. I almost got Most Improved Player. I was on the come-up.
They were like If we take away your option to make you a free agent and I was like Cool. I’m ready to get paid. I’m 100% on-board with staying in Cleveland, there wasn’t a handshake because that would’ve been illegal. I couldn’t do any of that. So we just had a great conversation.
I leave the room, it comes on the wire that I’m a free agent — ESPN, whatever — and four teams blow up my agent’s phone. It was Denver — they ended up getting K-Mart that summer — it was the Atlanta Hawks (they were in disarray, this was before Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford), and then it was the Bobcats. They were an expansion team; Bob Johnson just got there. And then there was the Utah Jazz.
And so, for me, I called them [the Cavs] right away and I’m like I got four teams offering me 70 [million]. I’m like, for me, I’m a second round pick. I’m only making 500 grand. This is about to change my entire life. I’m not about to sit here and be like — I wanted to take the bread, but I’d rather have the money from Cleveland. So I told them Can you guys make some moves to keep me here? I called LeBron the same way. Hey ‘Bron they offered me 70. He goes Listen, when Nike gave me 100 million when I was 18, it changed my entire life. If they’re not gonna do what it takes to keep you here, you gotta do what you gotta do Booz.
If this is indeed an accurate recollection from Boozer nearly 15 years later, that’s a pretty selfless move by LeBron, who was 19 years old at the time, to encourage one of his more formidable teammates to seek greener pastures.