1 of 23arry Busacca/Getty Images for Estabrook Group
After years of preparation by some teams and months of anticipation by fans, LeBron James became the biggest free agent in NBA history on July 1. And as soon as he hit the market, rumors immediately began to swirl about where he'd land. Would he stay in his hometown and help the Cavs finally win a title? Would he take his talents to the Big Apple, where the Knicks spent two seasons trying to clear cap space for him? Would he go to Chicago and follow in the footsteps of Michael Jordan, or would he opt for sunny South Beach to play alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who agreed to deals with the Heat just days earlier? On July 8, 2010, in an hour-long prime-time announcement, LeBron told the world he wanted to join Wade and Bosh in hopes of winning it all. Here's a look at some other big-name athletes across sports -- some NBA free-agent moves that were technically sign-and-trades -- who also decided to make moves as a free agent.
2 of 23John Iacono/SI
After weeks of teams lining up to woo him, Rodriguez signed what was the largest contract in sports history (until he broke his own record signing with the Yankees in the 2007 offseason), a 10-year, $252 million pact. It was double the record for a previous contract in any sport, with the former record held by the NBA's Kevin Garnett, who signed a six-year, $126 million contract to stay with the Minnesota Timberwolves. A-Rod spent just three years in Texas, winning the 2003 AL MVP award, before being traded to the Yankees.
3 of 23Peter Read Miller, John W. McDonough/SI
Shaq's defection to Los Angeles turned the league on its ear and restored the Lakers to glory. Credit goes to Los Angeles GM Jerry West, who cleared up cap space by shipping Vlade Divac to Charlotte (for an 18-year-old rookie named Kobe Bryant) as well as sending Anthony Peeler and George Lynch to Vancouver so he could clear cap space. Excited by the acting and music opportunities in Los Angeles, Shaq put his signature on a seven-year, $121 million deal. Three championships (and four rap albums) later, West looks like a genius.
4 of 23Bill Frakes, Heinz Kluetmeier, Al Tielemans/SI
The late great "Minister of Defense" didn't just terrorize signal-callers on the field, but he sacked the NFL status quo off the field as well in a 1992 lawsuit that resulted in free agency coming to the NFL. The following year White left the City Of Brotherly Love for the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field. In White's six years in Green Bay from 1993-1998, he recorded 68.5 sacks and led the Packers to a Super Bowl XXXI victory over New England.
5 of 23Heinz Kluetmeier, Manny Millan/SI
Fresh off becoming the youngest player to reach 3,000 career hits, Rose was lured to the Phillies with a then-record $3.2 million, four-year deal in hopes of leading them to their first World Series title. Rose delivered with the Phillies, hitting .331 in his first season before helping the team that elusive World Series in 1980. Rose hit .291 in five seasons in Philadelphia.
6 of 23George Lange/SI; Rick Stewart/Getty Images
If there was ever a match made in football heaven, it was Deion Sanders and the Dallas Cowboys. He signed a seven-year, $35 million deal to play offense, defense, and special teams for a flashy Cowboys team led by Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. "Neon Deion" had his name in lights during a run to a Super Bowl XXX victory.
7 of 23John W. McDonough/SI
Dallas felt Nash was too old and too injury-prone to sign to a huge contract, so it declined to match Phoenix's six-year, $65 million offer for the Canadian point guard. That decision backfired: Nash has won two MVP awards since joining the Suns and cemented his legacy as one of the NBA's all-time top point guards.
8 of 23Gregory Heisler, David E. Klutho/SI
Rejecting a three-year deal to stay in St. Louis after part of a season with the Blues, Gretzky instead accepted an offer to play in New York on a two-year, $10 million incentive-laden deal with the Rangers. In signing with the Rangers, Gretzky rejoined long-time Oilers teammate Mark Messier, with whom he had won four Stanley Cups. Gretzky spent three years in New York, recording 90-plus points in two seasons.
9 of 23Walter Iooss Jr./SI
Jim "Catfish" Hunter
The ace of Oakland's three-time World Series champions was the big fish and he ended up signing for a then-record $3.75 million for five years with -- who else? -- George Steinbrenner's Yankees, who beat out 19 other suitors. "Just walking into Yankee Stadium chills run through you," said Hunter, who'd won the 1974 AL Cy Young Award with a 25-12 record and 2.49 ERA for the A's. "I believe there was a higher offer, but no matter how much money (is) offered, if you want to be a Yankee, you don't think about it." Hunter went on to help the Yankees reach and win the Series in 1977 and '78.
10 of 23Marilyn Indahl/Icon SMI; John Biever/SI
After a strange season in New York with the Jets, Favre did the retirement dance for the second time in as many offseasons. Favre decided to come back to the NFL and signed a two-year, $25 million contract with the Minnesota Vikings. Favre experienced a renaissance in 2009 throwing for 4,404 yards, 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions. At the age of 40 he posted a career best 107.2 QB rating.
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After one season with the Orioles, Jackson made headlines by signing a five-year, $2.96 million contract with the Yankees. Jackson famously butted heads with Yankees manager Billy Martin but always seemed to produce when it mattered most. In the 1977 World Series, he had his best moment as a Yankee, hitting three home runs and driving in five in Game 6 against the Dodgers. He helped the Yankees to another World Series victory in 1978 and two more postseason appearances before leaving after the 1981 season.
12 of 23Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images
Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill
These acquisitions were officially sign-and-trades, but former Raptor Tracy McGrady and former Piston Grant Hill were two of the top free agents on the market when they decided to join Orlando with identical seven-year, $92.8 million contracts. The Magic's plan to contend for the championship annually never materialized: They didn't even win a single playoff series with McGrady and the injury-plagued Hill on the roster.
13 of 23Andy Hayt/SI
Ryan jumped at the chance to return to his native Texas after eight seasons with the California Angels. Signing a three-year contract with the Astros, Ryan became the first $1 million per year player in major league history. He didn't disappoint: he ended up spending eight years in the Astros organization, winning 106 games and striking out 1,866 batters along the way.
14 of 23Bob Rosato, Al Tielemans/SI
After leading the Chargers to a 12-4 record and an AFC West Division title in 2004, Brees was slapped with the franchise tag, which guaranteed him $8 million for the 2005 season, but no long-term security. Waiting in the wings was first-round draft pick Phillip Rivers, and when Brees hurt his shoulder, an injury that required off-season surgery, the Chargers cut Brees loose. The Chargers' trash became the New Orleans Saints' treasure, when Brees signed a six-year, $60 million deal. Brees has become one of the games top QBs and led the franchise to its first Super Bowl victory in 2010.
15 of 23John Iacono, Clay Patrick McBride/SI
It wasn't quite the deal Rodriguez got, but in the free agent frenzy of the 2000 offseason, Ramirez also struck gold. He signed an eight-year, $160 million contract with Boston after the Red Sox outbid his old team, the Cleveland Indians. Despite some strange and at times controversial behavior on field and off, Ramirez rewarded his new team over the course of the next seven-plus seasons with his brilliant hitting. He smashed 274 homers during that span and helped the Red Sox to two World Series, the first in 2004 that ended an 86-year title drought for the franchise.
16 of 23Simon Bruty/SI
After being selected with the 31st overall pick in 2001 by the Warriors, Arenas spent his first two years quickly establishing himself as a budding talent in the league. He earned the NBA's Most Improved Player Award and was named the MVP of the Rookie-Sophomore game during All-Star weekend in 2003. After that season, he was one of the most sought-after free agents on the market, and turned down the Warriors and Clippers to sign a six-year, $65 million contract as a restricted free agent with the Wizards.
17 of 23Damian Strohmeyer/SI
Saying that Clemens was entering the "twilight" of his career, Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette chose not to try and re-sign Clemens in the 1996 offseason. Clemens signed a four-year, $40 million contract with the Blue Jays and proved Duquette wrong all season long. He led the AL in wins (21), strikeouts (292) and ERA (2.05) in the 1997 season, winning the AL pitcher's Triple Crown for the first time since 1945, and the first of four more Cy Young awards before his career finally ended in 2007.
18 of 23David E. Klutho/SI; AP
Hull spent parts of 11 seasons in St. Louis before packing his bags for Dallas. The Stars gave Hull a three-year, $17.5 million deal, including a no-trade clause that was a sticking point in his negotiations with the Blues. Hull's most memorable moment with the Stars was his controversial, 1999 Stanley Cup-winning triple overtime goal in Game 6 against the Buffalo Sabres.
19 of 23Al Tielemans, John W. McDonough/SI
Billups played on four teams in his first five seasons before Joe Dumars swooped in and signed the point guard to a six-year, $35 million deal. The move made Dumars look like a genius as Billups averaged 17 points and seven assists during his tenure with the Pistons, including two trips to the Finals and one championship (after which he was named Finals MVP).
20 of 23Peter Gregoire/SI
Turning down more lucrative offers from Edmonton, Montreal, Vancouver and the Penguins, Hossa left Pittsburgh to join the Stanley Cup-winning Red Wings on a one-year, $7.45 million contract. He reportedly turned down a five-year deal from the Penguins. It didn't turn out so well for Hossa that year -- his former team beat his new team to win the Stanley Cup. Finally, though, Hossa won a Stanley Cup this season with the Blackhawks.
21 of 23Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
As one of the "Big Three" free agents in 2010 -- along with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade -- Chris Bosh was the only one of the trio who made his intention known throughout: He wanted out of Toronto. After meeting with multiple suitors, Bosh opted for Miami, where the pressure will be on to win a title alongside LeBron and Wade.
22 of 23Walter Iooss Jr./SI
Coming off three seasons of under-3.00 ERA pitching, Brown entered free agency as the most sought after player on the market. Rupert Murdoch, who owned the Dodgers at the time, won the bidding war by signing Brown to a seven-year, $105 million contract, making Brown the first $100 million player. He had a 2.82 ERA in parts of five seasons with the Dodgers but was hampered by injuries throughout his time in Los Angeles.
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After eight years in Phoenix, Amar'e Stoudemire moved to New York thanks to a five-year, $100 million contract. The Knicks had hoped to lure LeBron James with their cap space but settled on Stoudemire, who averaged 21.4 points and 8.9 rebounds with the Suns and formed a deadly pick-and-roll combination with two-time MVP Steve Nash. The deal with the Knicks reunited Stoudemire with former Suns coach Mike D'Antoni.
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