LeBron James dropped hints for a year that he would join Lakers
First game: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the game against the Sacramento Kings at Arco Arena on Oct. 29, 2003, in Sacramento.(Jed Jacobsohn / Getty Images)
Soaring over Tim Duncan: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers goes in for a slam dunk over Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 3, 2006, at the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas.(Stephen Dunn / Getty Images)
NBA playoff debut: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers tries to get a shot off over Michael Ruffin of the Washington Wizards in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2006 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.(Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)
First MVP in 2009: Fans show support of LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers as he holds up the Maurice Podoloff Trophy after being named the 2009-10 NBA MVP prior to playing the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland.(Gregory Shamus / Getty Images)
The decision: Eric Murosk stands in a large crowd of fans assembled outside the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich hours before LeBron James was to arrive in Greenwich, Conn. Free agent NBA player LeBron James announced live on ESPN from there that he will be playing for the Miami Heat in the coming season.(Christopher Capozziello / Getty Images)
The decision: LeBron James attends the LeBron James Pre Decision Meet and Greet on July 8, 2010, in Greenwich, Conn. Proceeds from the $2.5-million event were donated to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America.(Larry Busacca / Getty Images)
First championship: NBA Finals MVP LeBron James of the Miami Heat holds the championship trophy after defeating the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on June 21, 2012, at the American Airlines Arena in Miami.(Don Emmert / AFP/Getty Images)
Block party: LeBron James of the Miami Heat blocks the shot of Tiago Splitter of the San Antonio Spurs in the fourth quarter during Game 2 of the 2013 NBA Finals at American Airlines Arena in Miami.(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)
Return to Cleveland: A Cleveland Cavaliers fan reacts to the news of LeBron James’ return to Cleveland on July 11, 2014, in Cleveland.(Angelo Merendino / Getty Images)
Pinned: LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers blocks a shot by Andre Iguodala of the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at Oracle Arena in Oakland.(Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images)
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.
No one seemed surprised.
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