CLEVELAND (AP) — There was no eye contact, nothing to indicate any reconciliation. The breakup of LeBron James and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was beyond bitter.
But now, as James considers a return to the team he abandoned four years ago with an entire region breathlessly awaiting a homecoming it couldn’t imagine in its wildest dreams, it appears there has been some healing between the NBA superstar and his former boss.
Once aligned as basketball partners, James and Gilbert could barely stand the sight of each other during Miami’s games in Cleveland the past four years. It was an intense standoff, awkward and seemingly irreparable.
Time may have fixed their fractured relationship.
Most of the rest of the city has already forgiven James.
Cleveland, without a major sports championship to celebrate in almost 50 years, is praying for a reunion. On Sunday, Cavs fans flocked to social media to feverishly track one of Gilbert’s private jets as it flew to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where the plane’s occupants dodged reporters and TV cameras with some deception.
It’s not known if Gilbert was on the jet — or if the trip was even NBA-related — but that didn’t douse the free-agency firestorm. As James’ decision nears, there’s a renewed hope the prodigal son will come home.
But in the backdrop looms the James-Gilbert relationship.
James is giving serious thought to returning to Cleveland, to going home and making amends with the city for the one misstep in an otherwise impeccable NBA career. Tuesday is the four-year anniversary of announcing he was “taking my talents to South Beach,” and the city is once again on hold. James is set to meet with Heat president Pat Riley, who was able to lure the four-time league MVP to Miami in 2010 but could be running out of time to convince him to stay.
Two people familiar with the situation said James will meet with Riley “in the next two or three days.” The people spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because neither the team nor James announced their plans publicly.
On Monday, the Heat announced they intend to sign free agents Danny Granger and Josh McRoberts when the league’s moratorium ends later this week. Riley must hope those moves, and maybe another couple, are enough to keep James. The time and place of their critical meeting remains unknown.
James holds all the cards. It’s his choice.
It was the same four years ago, when James ended his seven-year run in Cleveland by linking with All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The “Big 3” went on to win two titles and appear in four straight NBA finals, getting crushed by San Antonio this year.
The trio could be splitting up. Wade and Bosh have been waiting to see what James will do, and it’s possible he’s going to go it alone.
On July 8, 2010, “The Decision” played out in a national TV spectacle and was a blow to the collective psyche of Cleveland. Fans here couldn’t understand why James, Akron born and bred, would intentionally embarrass the people who say they loved him most.
In those early hours afterward, some Cleveland fans burned his No. 23 jersey in streets near where his larger-than-life figure towered on a building billboard. It was an ugly scene.