CLEVELAND — It's been said that kids say the darnedest things, and kids with famous parents are no exception. So when LeBron James first discussed returning to Northeast Ohio from sweltering South Florida, and not just for the summer, LeBron Jr. and Bryce provided some comedy along with their blessing.
"I didn't explain to them. They explained it to me," James revealed Friday, at his first media day as a member of the Cavaliers since the 2009-10 season. "I was like, 'What do you think about Daddy going home to play?' "
"They were like, 'OK, you get to play with Kyrie Irving?' "
"They were like, 'We get to go back home to our house? And I get to go back to my old school and my old friends?' "
"OK, you can do it," they told him.
James laughed at the recollection.
"And that's how it went," James said.
That anecdote starts this report for two reasons.
First, it was one of only two sequences during his 13-minute group-interview session in which James cracked a broad smile. The other came at the end, when he joked that he should have written a letter about his weight loss to accompany the one about his free-agency decision, "just to stop the speculation about why I did it."
(He insisted that he cut many foods from his diet merely to challenge himself, not because he was worried about whether he could still soar above the rim at age 29).
In fact, some of his answers were clipped, and most of his longer ones, either by design or by mood, were rather serious. Most were notable only for his frequent reiteration of Big Three of principles—principles that, perhaps coincidentally or subconsciously, came straight from his former coach Erik Spoelstra's not-so-super-secret "Spoism" playbook: preparation, patience and process.
When asked about the unique challenge of this Cavaliers team, James replied:
"The challenge is that every single day, we have to understand we can't waste that day. We have to prepare each and every day to month, and if we don't shortcut the process, we're going to give ourselves a good chance of competing at the end of the year.
"It's going to be tough. We are a new group that is coming together, we have a new coaching staff, it's a new system for all of us and it's not going to be easy at all. But if we are patient, and we're patient with the process, and everyone buys into Coach's system, the coaching staff's system, it will help us out a lot."
When asked what he learned from his Miami experience, James offered this: "Uh, patience. Be very patient with the process—and understanding. Everyone always wants to see the end result and what's at the end of the tunnel and don't quite understand what goes on from the start to the finish and what's in-between that. And I understand that, and I know that. So patience is the biggest thing that I've learned."
As for the former Heat star's personal expectations, he went beyond explaining, as he typically does, that they are higher than what anyone else has for him.
"But I'm more patient now than I was four years ago," he said, bringing to mind a 2010-11 season in which the Heat started 9-8. "I understand what it takes to win a championship. And I understand it's the hardest thing that you could ever do in your basketball career is to try to win a championship. And I've been two up and two down in four years. So I went from crying tears of joy and tears of frustration. Two up, two down.
"So I know. I know it all. I know what it takes. I'm a guy that my expectations are still high, because I believe in this team; I believe in what we can ultimately get to, but I also understand that it won't be easy. And we can't try to play November to get to May or get to June right now. We have to go from November to December and the rest of the calendar year just to have a chance."
After all of that, it was hard to mistake the message, one that the media are unlikely to heed—since the Cavaliers will surely be scrutinized significantly if they struggle as the 2010-11—but one that seems mostly intended for his youngest new teammates to hear. He wants them to understand the need to work hard from season's start and work harder if that isn't enough.
But now, back to the opening anecdote, the one that made him smile, the one about his two sons who will have a little sister soon.
That story stuck out for another reason:
James sought others' input before making a major decision.
It is clear that, when it comes to his old-but-new workplace, he will expect that same collaborative principle to apply—with Cavaliers' coaches and officials welcoming and even soliciting his suggestions.
While Heat president Pat Riley was adamant in late June that James' liking of Shabazz Napier wasn't a primary factor in the Heat selecting the UConn guard (but simply proved that he and James had the same taste in players), Cavaliers GM David Griffin was effusive in his praise of James' offseason influence: Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones all pointed to James' presence and interest as a key factor in their coming to Cleveland.
Marion flatly answered "no" when asked if he would have joined the Cavaliers if James hadn't first, though he added that the Love trade sealed the deal for him.
Griffin said, "You couldn't have a better recruiter than LeBron James. And he's got such an incredible basketball IQ; he's certainly somebody whom we're going to share vision with and talk about ideas of where this thing needs to go.
"We're trying to build a family here. We're trying to build a culture that's all about us, and we're going to take a lot of thoughts into consideration. And, again, when you cut LeBron James loose in the free-agency path, you tend to get results you don't get otherwise. To say he's been an amazing partner this offseason would be a gross understatement."
What about during the season?
On the court?
That may prove to be more of a partnership than a traditional coach-player relationship as well, especially with David Blatt—for all of his overseas success—still an NBA neophyte as the season starts, and thus, somewhat of a mystery in terms of how he'll approach things stateside.
"Fortunately I've been through the summer league and got a feel for different aspects of the NBA game," Blatt said Friday. "I've yet to be in the multiple-timeout environment. I've yet to actually coach in the 48-minute game. I have been through several seasons with close to 80 games, but 82 games in a short span of time that we find in our league is something that does require a special emphasis on sharing minutes and keeping my pulse on the player and the team in terms of load and in terms of fatigue.
"I really think the game of basketball is pretty simple, and, from that aspect, I'm not worried about making the adjustment. But there are a lot of things that go into the NBA game that aren't like any other league in the world. And I'll go through my learning curve, and I'll go through my adjustments, but I certainly feel up to the task."
James didn't question that, and sources close to him continue to indicate he's intrigued by Blatt's intelligence and creativity. Still, everything's an unknown until it's not.
"I look forward to getting out there (Saturday) to see what system is going to be implemented to our team," James said. "And as the days go on, and as the weeks go on, as the months go on, I'll be able to continue to break it down and see how it fits us as a team, how it fits me from a personal standpoint and I'll be able to give my inputs."
That will be the give-and-take of this season, as he learns this new team and it learns him.
He promised to lead by example, by voice, by command and sometimes just by presence.
"That's what I'm more excited about than anything, is leading these guys every single day," James said, before later adding, "There's nothing in this league that I haven't seen. You name it, I've seen it, and that's on and off the floor. So I have a lot of knowledge to give to those guys."
About this and much else, he won't be shy to share.
Ethan Skolnick covers the NBA for Bleacher Report.