On a July night last year, LeBron James skipped the ESPYs award show to watch an NBA Summer League game at Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
He watched from a courtside seat — wearing a purple, tie-dye T-shirt and backwards baseball cap — as Lonzo Ball and the Lakers edged the Philadelphia 76ers.
Afterward, James posted an Instagram video of the purple Nike Kobe A.D. sneakers Ball wore. “Just. Do. It,” wrote James, who has a lifetime endorsement contract with Nike.
The sparsely attended game might have provided the first clue to James’ intentions, which were revealed Sunday when the world’s greatest basketball player agreed to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers to sign with the Lakers.
In the aftermath, the last year seems littered with hints pointing to the decision that shook the basketball world.
In August, for example, James tweeted birthday wishes to Magic Johnson. The Lakers president of basketball operations cemented James’ move to L.A. with a late-night meeting on Saturday.
“One of the few that’s always showed love from day 1 to me!” James’ tweet included. “Thank you.”
Another tweet, sent to former Clipper Jamal Crawford the same month, described L.A. as home. When Ball celebrated his 20th birthday in October, James called him “young King,” referencing his own King James nickname, in a tweet.
Was it routine banter between an up-and-coming player and a 15-year veteran? Perhaps. But the tweet ignited frenzied speculation on social media that James intended to join the Lakers. Meanwhile, his embrace of all things L.A. continued.
James paid $23 million for an eight-bedroom, 9.5-bathroom mansion in Brentwood in November, his second high-end property in the area. The 15,846-square foot home included a spa, swimming pool, elevator, home theater and ocean views, the sort of immaculate space that might appeal to a multimillionaire with a wife, three children and a burgeoning business empire off the court.
After Ball recorded his first career triple-double in November, James gushed about the accomplishment to reporters. The praise continued a few weeks later, when James told ESPN the Lakers are all about winning championships — even after their struggles in recent years — just like the San Antonio Spurs, New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
He didn’t mention the Cavaliers. Oversight? Coincidence? Or another clue L.A. was on his mind?
The comments were even more effusive after James won the All-Star game most valuable player award at Staples Center in February: “It’s built for stars. It’s built for entertainment. It’s built for cameras and bright lights …”
He was talking about L.A.
After the Cavaliers lost to the Golden State Warriors in the Finals last month, James told reporters his family would play a significant role in his free-agent decision.
Rumors swirled about whether his oldest son Bronny, a gifted basketball player entering eighth grade, would eventually enroll at state champion Sierra Canyon High in Chatsworth.
The rumors about his father’s decision didn’t linger. The would-be hints ended at 5:05 p.m. Sunday when the Klutch Sports Group, which represents James, tweeted a brief announcement. James would join the Lakers.