GREENWICH CT - JULY 08: LeBron James speaks at the LeBron James announcement of his future NBA plans at the Boys & Girls Club of America on July 8 2010 in Greenwich Connecticut. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Estabrook Group)

LeBron James' Surreal Year Comes Full Circle In Cleveland: Let's Relive The Journey

LeBron James' 2010 has been crazier than even the best of us can remember. Before he returns to Cleveland tonight, relive some of the madness through the eyes of some of the best writers in America.

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January-May: LeBron James' Last Days With The Cavaliers

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FEATURING (in order): Bill Simmons, Chris Palmer, Brian Windhorst, Michael Wilbon, Adrian Wojnarowski, Scott Raab, Simmons, Windhorst, and yes, Terez Owens.

1/20/2010: He's the most charismatic athlete of his generation, only you wouldn't fully know it until you studied him in person. Command of the room. He might dunk in the layup lines. He might try to make a one-handed half-court shot. He might call for an alley-oop and soar above his incredulous teammates just for the hell of it. Simply saying "bursting with energy" wouldn't do him justice. It's like watching a super-coordinated, mutant 4-year-old dealing with a severe sugar rush.

And when the warm-up suit comes off ... I mean, good grief. LeBron is the greatest natural athlete in NBA history. Has to be. Karl Malone's height, weight and muscles, only if you gave him the Jordan/Erving/Thompson DNA strain, Magic's passing eye and Bo Jackson's breathtaking combination of power and finesse. We're seeing someone like this again? In his first few seasons, LeBron couldn't fully harness his immense gifts; it was like watching someone carrying too many groceries at once. Now? Those gifts have been harnessed.

The Kobe-LeBron argument is dead. It's over. LeBron James is the best basketball player alive. Whoever gets him this summer will treat their fans to 50-55 appointment home games for the next five seasons (including playoffs). If you were ever fortunate enough to have season tickets for a memorable athlete in his prime -- Gretzky, Montana, Jordan, Magic, Bird, Pedro, Koufax, whomever -- then you know exactly what this means.

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2/15/2010: Then without warning a force of nature swept through the chic lounge and threatened to spin the joint out of the lower atmosphere.

The elevator doors swung open, and what happened next was perhaps the best entrance in All-Star party history.

LeBron, flanked by a single-file entourage 10 deep, strides through wall-to-wall partiers, who part the way and bounce off him like positively charged ions.

The deejay stops the record and shouts, "LeBroooon James is in the building!"

Ironically, when the bar shut down at 2 a.m., the knob on the intensity level snapped off. Foxx was sweating bullets, now with one foot on a table and one on the couch. Women swooned over Drake. Cuban busted out dance moves man has likely never seen before. Even Kevin Durant was dancing, his long, spidery limbs akimbo.

LeBron held the Roc sign high and sang the lyrics to every Jay song at the top of his lungs.

Truly a night fit for a King.

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4/2/2010: There's another side to James, and this is the fraction of his personality that still unnerves the Cavs organization that has done all it can to bring James coziness and surround him with high-priced talent. And it is what scares so many Cavs fans to their very core.

It is another personality, even if it doesn't come out as often as his Akron-rooted sensibilities.

It is New York LeBron.

That's the James who gets in his jet to fly to New York to attend parties, restaurant openings or concerts on off nights during the season. It is the James who loves fashion, being on magazine covers and hanging out with Jay-Z, his mentor, who made a name for himself by conquering the New York music scene. It is the James who once said he wanted to earn a billion dollars and who has devoted his off-court time to developing business interests.

... those who know James firmly believe it is a two-horse race. Cleveland and New York.

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5/9/2010: By the end of the first quarter, with Cleveland leading 36-17, there was no more talk of LeBron's uncooperative elbow, of the Celtics taking control of the series, of LeBron being two games from considering his free agent options and therefore the end of the Cavaliers as we've known them. He wound up with 38 points, 7 assists and 8 rebounds. Cleveland wound up with an unthinkable 29-point victory and LeBron goes into Sunday's Game 4 here never having looked more invincible.

That said, in the NBA one player can be and often is responsible for winning the championship, so LeBron is ultimately (and fairly) going to be judged by that standard. What the three days between Games 2 and 3 demonstrated was that he doesn't run from that judgment. "It starts with me," he said after Game 3.

...this is who the Cavaliers are, a still-flawed team built around a basketball marvel, one who can do so many things so well that executives from Los Angeles to New York to Miami go to bed at night envisioning him in their team's jersey. There's no vulnerability going into Game 4, just the possibility once again that the biggest, strongest, best player in the game can do anything to anybody.

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5/12/2010: This isn’t important enough to LeBron James. That’s the uncompromising, unconquerable truth. Everything has come too easy to him, and he still doesn’t believe that winning championships takes a consuming, obsessive desire that borders on the maniacal. He is chasing high school and college kids on recruiting trips for his fledgling marketing company, medicating his insecurities with unending and unfolding free-agent dramas.

Somewhere, the whispers of the game’s greatest talents became a murmur louder and louder: James still doesn’t understand part of the price of greatness is inviting the burden on yourself and sparing those around you. He missed 11 of 14 shots. James didn’t score a basket until the third quarter. He was terrible, just terrible, and yet James couldn’t bring himself to say the worst home playoff loss in franchise history began and ended with him.

James stood there for five seconds and 10 and maybe now 20, just staring into the mirror, just taking a long, long look at himself. For the first time in his career, the first time when it’s all truly on him, maybe the sport stood and stared with him. All hell breaking loose, all on the line now. Forget everything in his life, all the make-believe nonsense, Game 6 and maybe Game 7 will promise to serve as the most honest hours of his basketball life.

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5/14/2010: Watching Cleveland teams lose isn't merely second nature to me; it's every bit as defining a part of my experience of life as breathing air or jerking off. But I honestly can't recall another case of a Cleveland team devoid of heart, guts, and soul under pressure. Give Boston credit, not only for playing a fine series but also for imposing their collective will on the Cavs. But nobody robbed the Cleveland Cavaliers of pride and courage except the Cleveland Cavaliers. They disgraced themselves, betrayed a city, and gave up.

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5/14/2010: As summer free agency approaches, LeBron's camp will shift public blame to his coach (Mike Brown, who could be sued by Cavs fans for coaching malpractice after this series) and his GM (Danny Ferry, who dropped the ball at the 2009 trade deadline and never found LeBron a Pippen-type supporting guy). His people will make the following sentiment clear to Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert: For LeBron to even consider staying, you need to splurge on a better coach and a better GM. And even then, LeBron might leave. Part of me doesn't blame him.

Part of me.

Because the other part feels as if we learned something substantial about LeBron James this spring. I always thought his ceiling looked like this: Jordan's DNA crossed with Magic's DNA crossed with Bo Jackson. Nope. Take the Jordan DNA out. Have to. Jordan was a ruthless mother******. Jordan was a killer. Jordan didn't care if his teammates despised him. Jordan never, ever, not in a million years, would have allowed his team to quit in the final two minutes of Thursday night's game the way LeBron did. His teammates feared him, loathed him, revered him and played accordingly. Bird had that same quality. In the second half of his career, so did Magic. Winning meant so much to those guys that their teammates almost didn't have a choice; they had to follow suit. Or else.

...there comes a point in every great player's career when you have to pour the cement, let it harden and see what you have. We poured the cement for LeBron in this series. It hardened last night. We know what we have.

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5/14/2010: ...they lost only four games all season by nine points or more. In the playoffs, they lost four games to the Celtics by at least nine and twice were blown out on their home floor, something that hadn't happened in the past five seasons.

The Cavs' greatest pitch is that they can continue to put him in position to compete for titles because of their more impressive résumé over the last several seasons. But they haven't been able to deliver for James for various reasons, and as the Celtics showed this season, they don't appear to be very close.

All of which could open the door, which looked mostly shut for James just weeks ago, wider when July comes. As he headed away from another spoiled high playoff seeding into some days of reflection before the summer circus, James already seemed to be considering the fallout.

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5/14/2010: In what is truly a disturbing story, comes exclusive Terez Owens news that LeBron’s teammate Delonte West is sleeping with LeBron’s Mother Gloria James..With Delonte West’s checkered past, LeBron can be none too pleased with his teammate and good friend hanging with his Mother… The Cavs definitely looked like a different squad from game 4 on..especially LeBron…coincidence, or did this really just happen? Maybe this is the reason LeBron’s leaving Cleveland..

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June-July: The Summer Of LeBron James, And The Decision That Changed Everything

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FEATURING (in order): Bethlehem Shoals, ESPN News Services, Drew Magary, Will Leitch, Dan Gilbert, Scott Raab, Buzz Bissinger, Trey Kerby, Tommy Craggs, Katie Baker, Matt Taibbi, and Brian Windhorst.

6/4/2010: Over the last few months, I have gone out of my way to justify Bron's playoff performance, continued to say Kobe Bryant must surpass him (not vice-versa), and tried to put a good socialist spin on him and his other very expensive friends in basketball labor.

Today, with the news of LeBron's world tour close at hand, I want to take it all back. It doesn't bother me that LeBron James wields an undue amount of power over the NBA's future. But with Kobe Bryant playing like he is, on the verge of a fifth championship, James needs to sit down and shut up until the Finals are over. I know athletes are competitive. But by not showing respect when Kobe (and the Celtics, for that matter) are on a tear, and he's at home ... James looks either like a first-rate jerk or someone who (cliche alert) JUST DOESN'T GET IT.

I never thought I would say that about an athlete. Do you "get it"? Do I? Do either of us have the slightest idea what it means to "get it" with LeBron's brain and body, in his particular life-situation? No, of course not. But there is such a thing as common decency and honor. I don't have kids who learn from sports, and basketball players aren't role models. Regardless, though, this is just so ... gross.

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7/7/2010: LeBron James is planning to announce the team with which he will sign during a one-hour special on ESPN Thursday night, ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard has learned...

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7/7/2010: LeBron is now the guy you openly root against. If he leaves Cleveland tomorrow night, he'll have needlessly strung along an entire fanbase and given them the middle finger by making their breakup spectacularly public. If he stays, he'll have spent two years cockteasing the rest of the world about going somewhere else when he probably never wanted to leave Ohio to begin with. There's no end result tomorrow that makes LeBron a sympathetic figure. He's already gone past the point of no return. He's a cocksucker. Fitting that his most memorable career moment will come when he doesn't even take a fucking shot. He's a guy that cares more about the end result of playing basketball – massive, unending adulation – than he does actual basketball.

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7/8/10: We trust that they will recognize the ultimate ludicrousness of this whole enterprise, that these are grown men wearing tank tops, throwing a ball up and around, running on wood, that this all exists because we allow it to exist, that the illusion must be maintained. We trust that they understand how good they have it, how much we give them, against our own self-interest. We trust that they are not laughing at us.

That trust felt broken tonight. ... it felt like everyone involved — LeBron, ESPN, Bing, the University of Phoenix, Stuart Scott, the man who once chastised fans for having the audacity to boo, Jim freaking Gray — treated the millions of people watching like stupid, mindless consumers, empty lemmings ready to follow Sport into the abyss. Here, here are the Boys & Girls Club props. Here, here is your search engine. Here, here is your online college, Here, here is your Athletic Hero. Eat. Eat. Consume. You like it. You love it. You'll always come back for more.

They're surely right, of course. But never has it been laid more bare, and never did it feel so empty. It felt like a break, the moment when the tide crested, when we looked at the games, and their players, and ourselves, and wondered: Why in the world are we watching these awful people? It was a question impossible to answer.

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7/8/10:  If you thought we were motivated before tonight to bring the hardware to Cleveland, I can tell you that this shameful display of selfishness and betrayal by one of our very own has shifted our "motivation" to previously unknown and previously never experienced levels.Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.

Sorry, but that's simply not how it works.This shocking act of disloyalty from our homegrown "chosen one" sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And "who" we would want them to grow up to become.

The self-declared former "King" will be taking the "curse" with him down south. And until he does "right" by Cleveland and Ohio, James (and the town where he plays) will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.

Just watch.

Sleep well, Cleveland. Tomorrow is a new and much brighter day...

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7/9/10: This is what passes now for honor among thieves: One bland and gutless fraud is not going to ask anything that might make another bland and gutless fraud uncomfortable. Boo-ya! LeBron James was the native son who understood that pain and promised to redeem it. That he tried and failed may be sad, but it's no tragedy. And that he left the way he left makes it easier to say it: Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Which brings us to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, whose response to LeDecision — a bellicose "open letter" to Cavs fans, and a bracing set of quotes about how LeBron quit in the playoffs — brought tears of gratitude to my eyes. A bum is a bum is a bum. LeBron's a bum, and Dan Gilbert says so. And promises that the Cavs will win a title before the Heat do.

He'll be subject to derision aplenty for it — and no doubt a talking-to from NBA Commissar David Stern — but Gilbert's yowl is exactly what Cleveland fans want and need to hear today. A calling-out. A yowl of rage. A blood oath. It's great stuff, and I'm grateful to him for it.

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7/9/10: I knew something was seriously out of kilter to begin with when LeBron’s handlers, who certainly won’t be arranging my funeral, decided in their arrogant wisdom to hold The Decision (their phraseology) in Greenwich, Connecticut, one of the richest towns in the United States. The presence of African-American kids was a nice touch. It was probably the biggest aggregation of blacks in Greenwich in history, and I was impressed by how quickly they had been shipped in. If LeBron had wanted to make an altruistic gesture, why not do it in one of a thousand places where kids really do need dreams? Bridgeport. New Haven. New York. Philadelphia. All worthy candidates. Greenwich? The only place possibly worse would have been the lawn of Don Imus’s house in Westport.

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7/9/10: James said some pretty strange things during his television special. Here are the standouts...

  • "This whole free-agent experience, I'm looking forward to it."

This was pretty much the first thing out of LeBron's mouth, which was strange because I was under the impression that "this whole free-agent experience" was ending.

  • "I never wanted to leave Cleveland."

Obviously none of us were privy to the negotiations between LeBron and the Cavs, but it seems like the easiest way to not leave Cleveland is to not leave Cleveland.

  • "Put the shoe on the other foot. If the Cavs would have got rid of me at one point, would my family burn down the organization? Of course not."

This was the biggest laugh of the night for me. I am still very happy to know that LeBron's family would have never burned down the entire Cleveland Cavaliers organization. You have no idea how many nights I've stayed up worrying about that.

  • "One thing you can't control is you never know."

This could be a Ringo Starr lyric.

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7/9/10: Nearly a day later, I still don't get it. In almost every way, LeBron did what fans always demand of their stars: that they elevate winning above all else, that they privilege the team above personal gain, that they be Not Just About The Money. Miami was a cold-eyed basketball decision, made strictly on those terms. (You could argue that Chicago would've been the better pick, as Jon Barry was made to do roughly 7,842 times last night, and you might even be right, but that's beside the point.) This was the best player in the world knocking a few large off the price tag because he wanted to win. The tight-ass moralists on press row usually love this sort of thing; Mike Lupica's socks should be rolling up and down right now. But the national freakout is upon us anyway, and the only reason for that, so far as I can tell, is that LeBron put on a bad show last night. He fumbled the script. He is the most hated man in basketball right now because he went on live television and blew his lines.

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7/9/10: There was the lame ad for "DecisionWater" and the beefcake one for some insurance company that was clearly meant to pander to the ladies in the crowd, the ones who tuned in to see what all the fuss was and were probably left wondering, "is this what sports is like?" And Dan Gilbert’s angry missive, reading like the lovechild of Buzz Bissinger and Mark Cuban and, in another case of life imitating middling Twitter jokes, actually rendered in comic sans.

Oh god, everything. So awkward! It was a game of Mad Libs brought to life by David Lynch, or a wall in an asylum upon which a game of Pin the Tail on the Donkey has just transpired.

My friend Joe used to, at like 3 in the morning during the last gasps of a house party, put all the remaining alcohol in a blender with ice and serve the resulting concoction to unsuspecting late night guests. "What…is this?" they would ask, having bravely sipped the foul brew. "It’s a Jersey Turnpike!" he’d respond, delighted, waving his hands as if to illustrate a web of tangled roads. "Everything just mixed up all crazy. Is it good?"

It was never, ever good.

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7/10/10: Its entertainment value rested almost entirely in its scope — the same way a person goes to the Niagara Falls or to the Grand Canyon for that take-your-breath-away moment when the heretofore unimaginable vastness of the vista is first perceived, I watched "The Decision" in breathless awe of the sheer scale of the narcissism involved. By any measure it was a landmark moment in the history of human self-involvement, eclipsing previous peaks in the narcissism Himalayas (Nero's impromptu fiddle concert as Rome burned, the career of the prophet Mohammed, Kim Jong Il publishing "The Popularity of Kim Jong Il") mainly because it was a collective effort.

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7/10/10: During a rally for Miami Heat fans Friday night, Chris Bosh said he had been talking with new teammates LeBron James and Dwyane Wade about the moment for months.

It was a slip, which some, including Bosh himself, caught. ... Bosh quickly revised the statement and said they had been talking about it for "days." But it appears James, Bosh and Wade had been discussing this for years.

In the ensuing years, four important events happened that were major contributors to their teaming in 2010.

First, the three had a positive and emotional summer in 2008 in China, winning the gold medal.

Second, Los Angeles-based management company Creative Artists Agency decided to get into the basketball agent business.

Third, the recession hit, and NBA owners started tightening their spending, a trend that would last for two years.

Fourth, the struggling New York Knicks launched a plan in the fall of 2008 to clear off enough cap space to sign two maximum level free agents in an effort to recruit James to New York by promising to sign another star as well. Though he never said so directly, James began openly flirting with the thought. Other teams saw the opening and hatched the same plan.

That included the Heat...

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July-August: America Reacts, And LeBron James Goes To Las Vegas

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FEATURING (in order): The Onion, Arash Markazi, ESPN, Spencer Hall, Dan Le Betard, Henry Abbot, J.R. Moehringer

7/28/2010: After weeks of debate over their collective nickname, Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade announced yesterday that the newly formed all-star trio would call themselves the Three-Headed Shitstorm. "It was between the Three-Headed Shitstorm, Miami's Mighty Three-Way, Category 3 Hurricane Fuckface, and Super NBA Friends, which was LeBron's idea that nobody liked," Wade said during an interview with ESPN.

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7/28/2010: Bottle after bottle of "Ace of Spades" champagne is delivered to the table by a waiter flying down from above the dance floor like some overgrown Peter Pan on a wire. One time he’s dressed like a King, another time as Indiana Jones and another in a replica of James’ No. 6 Miami Heat jersey.

James, who can hardly see the flying figure through his tinted glasses, almost gets kicked in the head on the waiter’s last trip down. He looks at the girls around him and says, "I wish they’d have one of these girls with no panties do that instead of the guy."

Toward the end of the night, Boston Celtics forward Glen Davis walks past James’ party and looks at the scene up and down several times like a painting in a museum, soaking in the images of the go-go dancers, the "King" sign and the costumed man delivering bottles of champagne.

Davis shakes his head and walks on.

James dances on the couch and sings along with the music blaring from speakers all around him.

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7/28/2010: "The story should have never been published. The draft was inadvertently put on the server before going through the usual editorial process. We are in the midst of looking into the matter."

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7/29/2010: As bad as it is for ESPN, it's worse for the future of any coverage of the NBA as a whole. I know for a fact that Dwyane Wade's people will raise hell if you publish anything remotely unflattering about him (even if factual,) and have with large websites who--for reasons probably involving "editorial oversight"--pulled or edited the story. This petty middle school slambook ninnyhood only devolves into coverage becoming one of two things: 

a.) Sanitized gloss backing the creation of an endorsement-ready public image.

b.) Ad hominem dreck (see: anything Adrian Wojnarowski has written about LeBron James) when the columnist is shut out and denied access when they print something accurate. 

This is just about a story about a party, and an innocuous one at that. Even the most eye-popping detail in the story is, on further investigation, mundane: the nude ladies in bathtubs are standard at Tao, and not some Caligula touch added by LeBron for the occasion. But those nude ladies, like it or not, are part of the picture, and a writer's task is to capture an event in accurate words.

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8/1/2010: Let's be transparent, though. Objectivity is a lie, an illusion. All humans can do is aspire to it. We all have our biases. A journalism entity can't give off the scent it is being objective a subjective amount of the time, only when convenient, without harming its reputation, but you ought to know that my entire business is built atop a mountain of conflicts. All traditional journalists are partners with teams and leagues in some way. We eat their food and accept their free bags and bask in their glow and get paid to write and talk about their business.

ESPN partners with leagues while also questioning players, teams and leagues. Partnering to air games is an inherent conflict, but it's also what ESPN does best. Those games drive cable fees because you'll scream if your TV provider dumps ESPN. That gives ESPN pricing pressure, and these partnerships make ESPN a financial behemoth. And being on ESPN helps leagues, though football and baseball are trying to break free of reliance by creating their own networks.

This isn't just journalism, clean and unconflicted; it's the journalism business.

Remember, the ``E'' in ``ESPN,'' an ``E'' that comes before even the ``S'' in ``Sports,'' always stands for Entertainment. And it is, in every sense of the word, capitalized.

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8/3/2010: Writer Chuck Klosterman was fascinating on this topic in part one of his appearance on the B.S. Report. At one point he just says: "I feel kind of weird about being mad at LeBron for having a good life."

At another point, Bill Simmons says that James clearly doesn't understand "the life and death part" of sports.

Klosterman's reply is: "There is no life or death part, Bill. If you believe a sporting event is life or death, you might as well believe in unicorns."

And when Simmons points out some people believe in sports that way, Klosterman replies that some people believe in unicorns.

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9/1/2010: He can imagine, he says, playing for Cleveland again one day.

Did I hear him right? Cleveland?

"If there was an opportunity for me to return," he says, "and those fans welcome me back, that'd be a great story."

Cleveland…Ohio? Where fans at this very moment are burning his jerseys? Where fans are selling toilet paper made from his jerseys?

"Maybe the ones burning my jersey," he says, "were never LeBron fans anyway."

• James on Cavs owner Dan Gilbert: "I don't think he ever cared about LeBron. My mother always told me: 'You will see the light of people when they hit adversity. You'll get a good sense of their character.' Me and my family have seen the character of that man." He went on to say that Gilbert's post-Decision screed "made me feel more comfortable that I made the right decision."

• James on Charles Barkley, who's been hyper-critical of James's decision to share the limelight—and the scoring burden—with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami: "Charles was probably trying to be funny. It wasn't funny to me."

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October: LeBron James Plays The Race Card To His Critics

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FEATURING (in order): J.R. Moehringer, The Daily Beast, Bethlehem Shoals, Charles Barkley, Brian Windhorst, Windhorst (x2), Scott Raab

9/1/2010: There's that old journalism rule that sunshine is the great disinfectant—which is how reporters bust their way into meetings and such all the time. In sports, I really think winning is the great disinfectant. And so I think the danger is that he'll go to Miami, they will be a super team, they'll win, their fans in South Beach will love them, and he won't ever be forced to examine his choices. If he goes to Miami and it's a big disaster, then maybe he'll be forced to take a hard look at his life. But my suspicion is that he'll go there, they'll win, and there won't really be an incentive for him to look back at the last year and do any post-mortem.

Now that we've all had a chance to digest the decision, what's the biggest story going into the season?

I think it's LeBron being booed wherever he goes. This is not just a Cleveland problem. This is a guy who had a Tiger Woods-esque fall from grace, even though he didn't really commit any sins—cardinal or venal or otherwise. His sin was that he made a marketing gaffe. He presented himself in an unflattering light. That's not much of a sin on the scale of public sins. And yet he's become a villain. I don't think we've had anything like this in sports history. We haven't had a beloved sports icon become a villain for something so aesthetic. He's despised, absolutely despised, because of a TV special. He didn't cheat on his wife, he didn't drive drunk, he didn't take drugs, he didn't test positive for PEDs, and almost overnight he went from being a loved guy to being hated. That day-in-day-out condemnation is the story.

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9/30/2010: LeBron James told CNN on Wednesday that he believes his race was a factor in the backlash to his decision to sign with the Miami Heat. "I think so, at times," he said. "It’s always, you know, a race factor." Interestingly, a poll shows that James’ negativity rating among non-blacks jumped from 24 to 44 percent after his decision; among blacks, it rose just 1 percent, from 14 to 15 percent. Asked on Thursday for additional comment, James said, "I’m not going to go back on my words. I think people are looking too into it."

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10/1/2010: What's so notable here is not that James stated the obvious (if you disagree, you were likely just waiting for him to "play the card"), but that he waited until now. As Joey Litman put it, James is a smart guy with opinions who also happens to be completely tone-deaf.

My reformulation: LeBron isn't brainwashed, he just can't figure out that whole timing thing. Bringing out this side of the discussion at this point makes it into an afterthought, and yes, cheapens the entire discourse of racial discrimination. If James really felt strongly about the role race played in the public outcry against him, he could have said so at any number of other crucial junctures. Instead, it's like a last resort. Once again, LeBron daring for once to try the unfamiliar is canceled out by poor execution.

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10/1/2010: Sometimes you just say he’s making bad decisions and you’re like okay, he’s gonna get it together. Then he makes more bad decisions. The thing that’s interesting about LeBron ... Magic, Michael, and myself, we said we wouldn’t have did it. That’s not a criticism. We were asked a question. I don’t want to play with Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, or Michael, I want to beat them. That’s strictly basketball. The only criticism I’ve heard about LeBron and it was my biggest criticism, that decision thing was just stupid. It was stupid.

The second thing when they all came out there dancing around on stage, that was silly. That’s the only thing I’ve heard LeBron get criticized about. That has nothing to do with race. That’s what makes this last thing so stupid. That’s stupid. The only criticism of LeBron has been the decision and the one hour of our life that we can’t have back.

And ESPN, oh my God. Oh my God. To go down to training camp and report everyday is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen. I’m watching yesterday and one of the guys actually said LeBron looked fierce in practice. I’m like fierce in practice? What the hell does that mean? He was fierce in the second day of training camp. You’re like come on man, he really didn’t say that did he. This summer with LeBron and all the stuff that went on is like a bad movie. You just can’t make this stuff up.

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10/21/2010: James took the unusual step of retweeting some hateful Twitter messages to his 900,000 followers on Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday, the Miami Heat star said he did it to show people what he deals with on a daily basis.

James published three negative tweets on his feed including one that was racially charged.

"I just want you guys to see it also," James said after the Heat's practice Wednesday afternoon. "To see what type of words that are said toward me and towards us as professional athletes. Everybody thinks it is a bed of roses and it's not."

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10/21/2010: There's something that you might want to understand about LeBron James as he gets ready to start the season. It's something he may deny publicly but which goes right to the heart of what you can expect to see out of him on a nightly basis.

A part of James is hurting. And it is changing him. And it is driving him like he's never been driven before.

At the core, that is why this week James shared some of the hateful and racist tweets he's been getting. He wants people to know that he reads and hears the still-massive volume of venom. And he wants them to know he's going to feed on that energy.

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10/21/2010: I'd like to think that my own hatred of LeBron James is free of racism's taint, but that's bullshit. At some level, it has to be a factor, because we are products of an America where race will always be a factor. It is an undeniable factor in the relationships between white fans — and sportswriters — and athletes of color. Sometimes, it is a huge factor.

All I can say is that, thanks to LeBron, I have much richer reasons to hate him than mere racism. Some of my favorite folks are African-American, but none of them has broken my heart and shit on my hometown. Etta James came close — but that's a different story.

Continue

November-December: The Miami Heat Stumble Out Of The Gate And Into Cleveland

Lebronjamesheat_medium

FEATURING (in order): Bethlehem Shoals, Tom Ziller, Bill Simmons, Kevin Arnovitz, Mark Cuban, Shoals, Barack Obama, Scott Reiter, Wright Thompson, Jason Whitlock, and Brian Windhorst.

10/27/2010: "Sorry if everyone thought we were going to go 82-0. It's just not happening."

That was Dwyane Wade (he's the superhero, not the introspective braggart), speaking after the Heat's loss to those nasty Celtics. That said, they will still play 82 games, maybe even more. I will write about each and every one of them. After last night, I am considerably less excited about this assignment.

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10/27/2010: That the Heat would lose in Boston is not a surprise; while the Celtics weren't particularly wonderful at home last season (24-17), they lost only 70-12 in the regular season at TD Banknorth in the previous two (less injury-ravaged) seasons. Playing a team as good at the Celtics in Boston is a daunting task for any team, even one dubbed super.

That's the allure and the curse of the Heat to this point -- the team is talented enough to win 50 games in its sleep, but in doing so doesn't use the roster's unique talents in any harmonious way.

The concern is that the wins will pile up for Miami and LeBron and Wade will never become more than LeBron and Wade. The team that had the world in apoplexy all summer wasn't a sequel of the 2006 World Championship team; it was the idea that 82 games could concoct something far more epoch-changing. Based on Game 1, it looks like that while the wins will come soon, our answer as to the Heat's identity will take longer to arrive.

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10/29/10: Only a few basketball teams figured out how to balance the agendas of two superstars; every time, it took a major concession on someone's behalf. West's Lakers never won a championship until Chamberlain tapped into his inner Russell. Kareem's Lakers benefited from Magic deferring for the first seven years, then assuming command as a scorer when Kareem's game began to decay. You can't win an NBA title without someone eventually saying, "I got this" and everyone else agreeing, "You're right, you got this." Miami isn't there yet.

I thought LeBron would make that sacrifice, but upon further review, Wade needs to reinvent himself as the team's defensive stopper, facilitator, emotional leader and occasional closer (much like Kobe did on the 2008 Dream Team). Why? Because LeBron is better than him. In Boston, I was praying to myself, "I hope LeBron doesn't decide to take over." Wade was an afterthought. And yeah, he struggled that game ... but I know what I saw, and I know how I felt. The only guy on the court who could stop LeBron on Tuesday night was Dwyane Wade.

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10/30/2010: Whatever cohesion the Heat still lack on offense, Spoelstra has already instilled a fluid brand of defense that maximizes his team's uncommon quickness and smarts. Fans will tune in to watch the offensive exploits and the dazzling Top 10 fodder -- and who wouldn't -- but the Heat are going to succeed on the strength of their defensive system, one that has a chance for a historic season.

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11/15/2010: "Hallelujah, boys, is that great or what? … How cool is that? Now, they could still turn it around and win out for all that matters, but you're starting to see some of the problems. Any team with a strong, big guy that can score, they're getting abused by. Paul Millsap goes out and pulls a Tracy McGrady. What, Tracy McGrady scored 13 and 30 and Paul Millsap scores 11 in 29 seconds or something like that? They just don't have size to battle. They have the fewest points in the paint of any team and that's tough. … My buddy Dan Gilbert is smiling all the way, too. Again, it's early in the season and you never quite know how it's going to play out, but how glorious."

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11/24/2010: At least I've learned one important lesson so far. No, not that covering the Heat these days is pretty much like being a team blogger for a crappy team, as Eric Freeman put it. Remember the so-called "super-team"? Miami was the first, and there could be another one, or two, in the offing, depending on what Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul feel like doing with themselves. I used the term as recently as three days ago. I don't think that notion is going anywhere; you can always attribute Miami's problems to their particular set of superstars, or their lackluster supporting cast (yes, I realize there's a problem with that statement). I wonder, though, how many GMs — or even players — would still salivate at the chance to put together the next of these juggernauts. I still think Wade and James can play together, and yet that's only part of the puzzle here. For all the credit Pat Riley's receiving, what exactly did he pull off?

My Thanksgiving message: There are no shortcuts; the Heat are dead; and if we didn't kill them, then we might as well have killed ourselves.

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11/25/2010: "It takes some time for the team to come together," Obama said. "There’s no ‘I’ in team. So no matter how good a player is, no matter how good a group of players are, if they haven’t played together before they are not going to be as good as a team that has played together a long time."

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12/1/2010: ...in Akron they’re entitled to see the better side of the Chosen One, perhaps because he’s still just the kid who made this city so proud so early in his life, still the NBA player who asks permission to use his old high school gym with that tinge of respect that comes talking to elders, still the myth who is flesh and blood when he’s home, walking the streets unbothered.

They’re entitled, because in Akron, certainly, they simply loved LeBron.

And still do.

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12/1/2010: Cleveland used to be the center of America's rise. This used to be a factory, and these used to be jobs, and this mill used to be a future, not a silent metaphor for the past. This city used to be home to the third-largest number of Fortune 500 companies. It used to be the home of 400,000 more people. Generations of talent have left, never to return. That's what they will tell you, and you will realize that there are two Clevelands: the one that exists today and the ghost city floating just above it, in the memory of the people who've been here for a long time, and in the imagination of those who just arrived. Everything is defined by these two competing narratives. My friend, Dave Molina, who is from Cleveland, told me this: "They're both myths. The only thing that isn't a myth is the present. But it's so complicated. It's much easier to be positioned at the intersection of two impossible myths."

LeBron was part of both myths, and, even in departure, he remains so; a reminder of what could have been and what once was.

He is a 6-foot-8 steel mill.

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12/1/2010: The people surrounding and advising James are just as devoid of mature perspective as James. ... It’s the blind leading the blind. Unless one of them talks James into financing a dogfighting ring, it’s highly unlikely James will ever snap out of his cluelessness.

Seriously, that’s what it took for us to see the best of Michael Vick, another once-in-a-generation talent who never approached his potential until he sat behind bars for 19 months.

I have no interest in seeing LeBron James go to prison.

So I give up. I’m just going to accept his immaturity and stubbornness and bullying. He’s an immense talent I’ll never fully enjoy or appreciate. I’ll tune in Thursday night and root for the Cavaliers.

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12/2/2010: A thousand little pieces.

That is what it feels like the Cavaliers have become since the last time LeBron James was at Quicken Loans Arena. They were a juggernaut championship contender with a $100 million payroll, the two-time Most Valuable Player, a team with seven years of infrastructure designed to support the best player the franchise has ever seen.

Now, James is in Miami with Zydrunas Ilgauskas and one of the team's trainers. Shaquille O'Neal and Delonte West are in Boston. Mike Brown is doing television work waiting for another head coaching job. One of his assistants is working in New Orleans, another in Denver. Team executives have departed and been hired in San Antonio, Phoenix and Oklahoma City.

Simply put, the Cavaliers are a shell of what they once were. They've lost five of their last seven games -- not great timing with the country focused on James' return to Cleveland on Thursday.

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