James Gandolfini loved the New York Knicks so much that he reprised his iconic role of mafia boss Tony Soprano in a special video designed to entice LeBron James to join the team in free agency in 2010.
Gandolfini, along with Edie Falco who played Tony’s wife on the show, Carmela Soprano, reprised their roles in a short scene as part of a pitch video to persuade LeBron to head to New York City and sign a lucrative contract with the Knicks.
This story is discussed in-depth on the fourth episode of Shattered: Hope, Heartbreak, and the New York Knicks, a podcast produced by The Athletic and hosted by Chuck D.
The Lost Sopranos Clip
Emmy-winning director Jonathan Hock was tapped to direct the LeBron/Knicks video. Other NYC celebrities were included in the pitch, including Spike Lee, Robert DeNiro, Walt “Clyde” Frazier, and Donald Trump.
“It felt like this very oddly civic effort,” said Hock, who grew up in Queens as a rabid Knicks fan. “It would be so great for the city to have LeBron James come to New York.”
As a life-long Knicks fan, Gandolfini was happy to assist Hock. Falco, who had been spotted at games with her son, was admittedly not a huge basketball fan and didn’t know who LeBron was at the time of the request. But she was all-in when she found out about Gandolfini’s commitment to the video and the Knicks.
“I do remember doing it, and what is absolutely amazing to me is, I didn’t know who LeBron James was,” said Falco. “We got those requests all the time back then and Jim Gandolfini, he did nothing. And somehow he agreed to this thing, which I was shocked by. I thought it was a prank when someone said Jim’s going to do it.”
Falco and Gandolfini shot the video inside Gandolfini’s NYC apartment. Even though they filmed the last episode of The Sopranos three years earlier, the two quickly fell back into their old routine as Tony and Carmela Soprano.
“There he was, dressed as Tony,” said Falco. “He must have been a bigger basketball fan than I realized.”
Eleven years later, no one else aside from LeBron has seen the complete video. It apparently has disappeared.
“None of us had copies as far as I know,” added Hock. “This was very top secret.”
After the end of the 2009-10 season, LeBron faced “The Decision” of which team he would sign in free agency. The Cleveland Cavs wanted their native son to return home, where he played his first seven seasons in the league after heading directly from high school to the NBA in 2003.
“The Decision” was a media extravaganza, which was broadcast live on ESPN. LeBron ultimately picked the Miami Heat and opted not to return to Cleveland. Numerous other teams missed out on signing LeBron at that time, including the Chicago Bulls, LA Clippers, New York Knicks, and New Jersey Nets.
LeBron spent four seasons with the Miami Heat. He guided the Heat to trips to the NBA Finals in all four seasons. LeBron won back-to-back championships with the Heat in 2012 and 2013. He returned home to Cleveland in 2015 and led them the Cavs to four-straight trips to the NBA Finals. He won a title with Cleveland in 2016.
LeBron bolted Cleveland for a second time at the end of the 2018 season. He signed with the LA Lakers and won a championship in his second season in Hollywood.
James Dolan Blew the LeBron Pitch
Leave it up to egotistical owner James Dolan to ruin a pivotal moment in NBA history. LeBron should’ve signed with the Knicks, but Dolan rubbed LeBron the wrong way. It started with Dolan’s album for JD and the Straight Shots. He handed out copies of the CD to prospective free agents. The lack of self-awareness and outright narcissism turned off numerous players, especially LeBron. The owner is supposed to be kissing LeBron’s ass and not boasting about his glorified dive bar blues band.
“From everyone that I’ve talked to in the know since then, it’s clear that the Knicks were the first choice,” said Bill Simmons on an episode of his podcast. “It was basically the Knicks’ to lose, and they just couldn’t stay out of their own way. And the stories are legendary.”
Aside from the Tony Soprano video by Gandolfini, the LeBron meeting with the Knicks was an utter disaster.
“(Knicks GM) Donnie Walsh was in the wheelchair, and Dolan was Dolan,” continued Simmons. “They didn’t have anything prepared. And it just couldn’t have gone worse, by all accounts. It was a disaster.”
Knicks fans often wonder “what could have been” if LeBron snubbed Pat Riley and the Miami Heat, and signed with New York instead. LeBron would’ve made Knicks games at MSG the hottest ticket in the NBA while he revitalized the franchise in the 2010s. Perhaps LeBron would have helped the Knicks hoist their first championship banner since 1973.
Alas, the cursed Knicks missed their shot at signing LeBron in 2010. The hapless Knicks whiffed again in 2018.