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.

--

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.

--

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.

--

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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