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Waiting for LeBron (From “The Comeback” by Terry Pluto)

Book Excerpt

From The Comeback: LeBron, the Cavs & Cleveland, © Terry Pluto. All rights reserved.

This excerpt describes the tense time while Cavs owner Dan Gilbert waits to learn whether LeBron will choose to return to Cleveland or go elsewhere.


Dan Gilbert was worried.

The man who started a mortgage company called Quicken Loans hates to wait. And he hates to feel that everything is not in control.

But it can be argued that Gilbert had been waiting for four years for a chance to bring LeBron James back to Cleveland, four years to “make this right,” as the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers characterized his relationship with LeBron between 2010 and 2014.

It was the morning of Thursday, July 10, 2014. This was four days after Gilbert had talked with LeBron in what I called the “Kitchen Table Meeting.” That’s because it took place at the kitchen table of a home in the Miami area. It was the first time Gilbert and LeBron had spoken since The Decision.

“I really thought it went well,” said Gilbert.

The meeting was on a Sunday, July 6.

Monday came, no decision.

Tuesday came, no decision.

The days, the hours, even the minutes seemed to crawl by for Gilbert and the Cavs.

They kept wondering, “What does LeBron have to think about? It’s Cleveland or Miami, he knows both situations very well.”

But anyone who knows LeBron knows something else. LeBron is careful. LeBron does his homework. LeBron takes time to consider every angle. LeBron wanted to make sure that wherever he played in 2014–15, he had a chance to win a title.

Now, it was four years later. Now, LeBron had been to the NBA Finals four years in a row with Miami, winning two titles. Now, he was 29 bearing down on 30 years old . . . not the 25-year old who had left the Cavs in 2010.

LeBron was still in his prime, still the best player in the game in 2014. But he also knew that he had already played 11 years in the NBA, and more of his career was over than was to come. He wanted more titles. He needed more reasons to return to the Cavs other than that he loved Northeast Ohio.

* * *

The Cavs kept in touch with LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul. They boldly made trades to clear even more salary cap room. Paul was friendly, “but he made no promises,” said Gilbert. As time passed, the Cavs felt very good about their chances with James on some days — and very worried at other times.

After hearing nothing on Monday . . . Tuesday . . .

There was news on Wednesday. LeBron and Paul met with Miami Heat President Pat Riley.

The Cavs became nervous. Very, very nervous. LeBron respected Riley. It was Riley who recruited LeBron to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Heat in 2010.

LeBron left the Wednesday meeting and made no promises to the Cavs or Heat.

Then came Thursday.

LeBron runs a skills camp for young players. He was in Las Vegas for that. Wade showed up. They talked. Then LeBron left with Wade, and they took a flight to Miami.

Why was he going back to Miami with Wade?

LeBron had left Las Vegas with Wade. But Rich Paul was staying in Las Vegas. The Cavs were in Las Vegas because they had a team in the Las Vegas Summer League.

That Thursday evening, they had a meeting with Paul. LeBron was not there. He was with Wade.

“Rich spent about two hours in our suite,” said Gilbert. “I was almost interrogating him, wanting at least a hint about what they would do. He wouldn’t show us any of their cards. He kept saying they were ‘in the decision bunker.’ So I tried to at least find out when they’d make the decision — and he would not say when, either.”

Gilbert thought it could “go on a few more days.”

But on Friday, July 11 — about 12 hours after his meeting with Paul — Gilbert’s phone rang.

“LeBron’s coming home,” Paul told the Cavs owner.

Gilbert asked about how to announce it. Paul said, “It will be on the Internet in about 30 seconds.”

That’s when James revealed his decision in a Sports Illustrated letter written with Lee Jenkins.

Right then, everything changed for the Cavs.

[End of excerpt.]

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