Still, Riley knew he needed to do more to connect with LeBron and make sure they were on the same page. On June 28, he attended the wedding of LeBron's trainer, Mike Mancias, in Coconut Grove. But when Riley tried to speak to LeBron, the conversation was again short. Despite Riley's hopes, the only thing James signed that night was Mancias' marriage certificate as the official witness to union.
This was not an indication of anything amiss. LeBron has always liked to keep a distance from management. He was like that in Cleveland, too. The Cavs would want to consult with him on personnel moves, but LeBron requested they communicate those items through Paul or his other associate, Maverick Carter.
Riley preferred a direct audience. He is persuasive and charismatic in person. But LeBron didn't grant that to him until July 9, when they met in his suite at a hotel in Las Vegas. By then, James had already had a face-to-face meeting with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert in Miami. Meanwhile, the free-agency market ground to a halt as the rest of the league was paralyzed in wait of LeBron's decision.
The meeting with Gilbert was in Miami for a reason. LeBron and his advisers were rightly sensitive to leading the Cavs on, and no one would have known about the meeting had fans not started tracking Gilbert's private plane over the Internet. Gilbert had just recently bought the plane and was surprised it was able to be monitored. He had it removed from tracking services the next day.
But the visit, which included Paul, Carter and attorney Mark Termini, had been fruitful. Gilbert left his meeting with James much like Riley did, with no assurances about the future. But there was no doubt he boarded his jet to Michigan feeling optimistic, while Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg left Vegas concerned about the silence.
Gilbert apologized for writing a letter ripping LeBron's decision to leave in 2010. LeBron apologized for the way in which he left, but not for leaving. He hadn't wanted to leave, but he needed to and was stronger for having done so. They didn't exactly hug it out afterward, but they left knowing they could coexist again if the opportunity arose.
When you call the Akron office of LeBron's marketing management firm, LRMR, whoever picks up the phone will greet you with, "It's a great day in Akron."
"Six out of 10 calls that come in," Michele Campbell said, "will respond by saying something to put Akron down."
Campbell has been the executive director of the LeBron James Family Foundation since 2006. She left a job at the University of Akron to help James and his childhood friends, Paul, Carter and Randy Mims, get their company off the ground before the 2008 Olympics.
The offices are immaculate. Inspirational quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. are on the wall. Everything is in its proper place, in keeping with James' fastidious nature. His office is next to Maverick's and Mims'. Employees eat lunch together and do puzzles when they need a break.
"He's behind all of this," Campbell said. "We just help him to have more hands in the pot because he only has two."
The year James left for Miami, he had Campbell reach out to the Akron Public Schools to start a program with at-risk third-grade students that would have a lasting impact on the dropout rate.