Almost four years ago, I sat in the passenger’s seat of my mother’s SUV, my mouth stuffed with red-stained tissues and napkins, sore from the early morning removal of my wisdom teeth.
As my mom sped along the highway with my exhausted sister in the backseat (she had just been through an exciting week at a tennis camp at the University of Florida), I sat in that front seat, staring at the dark, star-speckled Florida sky, wondering what I did to deserve this punishment.
An hour earlier, LeBron James had uttered those infamous words that will forever live in NBA lore, spurning Cleveland, the city that I loved and opting to play, instead, about an hour away from where I lived in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Four years later, I remember that entire day perfectly. I remember as I entered my house, with the five hour drive home from Gainesville behind me, I stormed into my closet and snatched every James jersey I had, looking to torch each of them slowly. Unfortunately, in my mind, the numerous pairs of LeBron sneakers I had worn for the past seven years would suffer the same fate.
Those sneakers and jerseys remain in that same closet to this very day, as my mom was able quell my raging anger, but nevertheless, in one fell swoop, the King went from my hero to my personal villain.
He came to South Florida specifically because I wronged him in one way or another, or at least that’s how my immature mind thought of the situation.
As I matured and time passed, my LeBron-loathing lightened to a mild distaste and it became less and less about the move and more and more about the execution of the move.
I came to admire again, as I had for the seven years James spent in Cleveland, his dominance and his reckless abandon for anyone who dared stand in his way between those painted lines.
He was no longer my favorite player – I may never have one again – but he was no longer the object of my youthful vitriol. In fact, following his second title and a couple of forgettable Cavaliers campaigns, I began to realize what so many in Cleveland had feared: the Cavs needed the one who trashed them on national television to become relevant once again.
On June 15, 2014, it seemed as if, all of the sudden, my sentiments regarding James were mirrored by the entirety of Northeast Ohio.
As James and the Heat left the floor deflated following just their second NBA Finals loss in four seasons, this dream sequence I’d conjured over the years seemed to suddenly turn tangible.
Be it the pictures of LeBron in the wine and gold, standing amidst Kyrie Irving and potential top draft pick Joel Embiid, or the way in which the Heat fell to the most underrated team in the history of basketball, it seemed as if James had already packed his bag, bought a plane ticket and was headed back home.
Everything, and I mean everything, has set up perfectly for him to come back to the Cavs, some of it due to chance, some of it planned all along.
On the Cleveland front, it’s been no secret that the Cavaliers have been scheming for the past four years, making every move in their power to lure King James back to his throne.
It’s certainly no mistake that the Cavs have put together a young, talented roster without ever filling the small forward hole in their starting lineup.
It’s not an accident that the Cavs, on the brink of the biggest summer in their existence, have hired an up-and-coming general manager and have yet to hire a head coach, perhaps in an effort to let James help them on that front as well.
It’s not a coincidence that the Cavs have an unbelievable amount of cap space going into free agency – cap space that they haven’t used much of over the past couple of seasons.
The Cavs have done their part pretty well, aside from their lack of playoff appearances, to bring James back, but there are certainly other factors that are all pointing in the Lebron-to-Cleveland direction.
Those factors start with the perfectly timed demolition of James’ current outfit, the Miami Heat.
The Heat’s problems right now are plenty.
Dwyane Wade looks to be a slightly better, slightly more creaky version of Mo Williams.
Chris Bosh is a victim of his own inability to command any respect.
Ray Allen, Greg Oden, Shane Battier and Chris Andersen could all very well ride off into the sunset of retirement.
Erik Spoelstra looked completely lost for the first time in his NBA career, or was it that the lack of production from Wade and Bosh finally shed light on his shoddy coaching ability?
So, thus far, the Cavs have set up everything perfectly for No. 6 and the Heat crumbled at exactly the right moment.
With the Heat’s run all but done, there seems to be one last factor in the formula for James’ return: a lack of other possible destinations.
If his time in South Beach has come and gone, where else, outside of Cleveland, could he go?
The Los Angeles Clippers looked to be the best place for James until the team’s owner Donald Sterling cost them that chance, so I now see only one option.
The New York Knicks could be the place for the King. An Eastern Conference team in a huge market with a new President, a new coach and a ton of talent. Yet, the cap room could become an issue. Carmelo Anthony, presuming he sticks around, would have to take a massive pay cut, as would players like J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Amare Stoudemire, to name a few.
The Knicks could be interesting, but again, no place sets up more perfectly for james than Cleveland.
Which is why he won’t return.
Something will come out of the blue – something I, or anyone else, have yet to even consider – and LeBron will turn it into reality, unintentionally letting Cleveland down once again.
Pat Riley will move some pieces around to strengthen the Heat’s struggling roster, the Boston Celtics will add Kevin Love, Jay-Z will somehow sell Brooklyn to James, something will ultimately happen that will send him to his third NBA city.
As it often does, once again, Cleveland will be left to sit in its own misery and the Cavs, despite their numerous top draft picks and overall talent, will be more effective in Seattle, as the newest version of the SuperSonics.
While all of this is nothing more than a series of situations playing out in my mind, this summer is setting up to be yet another fascinating one for the fans of Northeast Ohio.
With Johnny Football already in tow and Lonnie Baseball hitting his way into the hearts of Indians fans everywhere, a return of Bronny Basketball could turn Cleveland into the most lucrative sports city in America.
And for some reason – that same reason I tried to put my finger on as I sat heartbroken and gazing at those stars out of the window of my mom’s SUV on July 8, 2010 – it just won’t happen.