But that version suggests that the Heat had a chance to keep James. The truth is Miami was always going to be his temporary home. A place to grow, explore and test himself. Four years of sublime basketball that would change the NBA and the dynamic between owners and superstar players.
Once LeBron, Bosh and Wade demonstrated it was possible for three superstars to team up AAU-style, everyone wanted to do it. Chris Paul made his way out of New Orleans to play with Blake Griffin in Los Angeles. Dwight Howard tried to join Deron Williams with the Nets, ended up in Los Angeles with Kobe Bryant and then bolted for Houston to play with James Harden.
But LeBron, Bosh and Wade were the pioneers, and the backlash that first season was severe.
"It changed me as a basketball player," James said. "It changed me as a person."
It wasn't just the backlash that first season in Miami that changed him. He was lonely. His longtime girlfriend (and future wife), Savannah Brinson, and their two children stayed behind in Akron when LeBron moved to Miami. When the Heat started 9-8 in the fall of 2010 and the hate rained down on them like a South Florida afternoon thundershower, he lacked a support system. He fought back, he turned his anger into armor, he started playing to prove people wrong, rather than with the joy that had always imbued his game.
"He started playing from a negative emotion, and it culminated in that loss in the Finals," said Dru Joyce, his high school coach at St. Vincent-St. Mary. "He had to recommit himself to playing with love."
But how could LeBron play with love if everyone who loved him was so far away?
He came home to Akron after that loss in the Finals with a battered spirit. Cleveland was still off-limits. The wounds were still too raw for him to go back there. The Cavaliers had made it clear he wasn't welcome the previous fall, when they wouldn't let his friends come into the arena before the Heat's shootaround prior to the first post-Decision game between the teams on Dec. 2, 2010.
As summer turned to fall and the lockout threatened the 2011-12 season, LeBron used the time to heal.
He jumped into passing drills at his former high school's football practice. He invited Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant out to train, and they ran sprints up the steep hill in the back of the school that has always been the gauntlet for elite athletes at St. Vincent-St. Mary. Run down that hill too fast and you could end up face down in the parking lot below. A single misstep on the way up and you could roll back down. LeBron and Durant trained while the students in the classrooms across the way studied chemistry. One day they played a flag football game and streamed it live over the Internet.
Over time, LeBron healed. He proposed to Brinson and invited her and her parents to come live with him in Miami. The next season, with his family by his side, LeBron led the Heat to a championship.
"When someone you love is not there -- they might be a phone call away, but you can't put your arms around them -- as a young guy, it's an awakening," Joyce said. "You know that you love them, but that distance takes it to another level."
After the Heat won their second title in 2013, he and Brinson were married in San Diego.