Editor's note: Every day this week—heading into the start of free agency at 12:01 a.m. ET July 1—Bleacher Report will look at every angle of LeBron James' upcoming decision with reports and features from our most plugged-in NBA reporters. Today, B/R looks at how LeBron's potential suitors could most impress him by appealing to his sophisticated tastes off the court.
Part 1: LeBron's On-Court Options Are Limitless
Part 2: Ripple Effects of LeBron's Decision
Part 3: Would Anyone Really Be Mad at LeBron If He Left Again?
Part 4: How to Wine and Dine Your Way into LeBron's Heart
Part 5: B/R Staff Predicts Where LeBron Will Land
We are once again in a Summer of LeBron, in which NBA teams hope for the chance to wine and dine the game's best player, and to convince him to leave his home team a second time to extend his run of eight consecutive Finals appearances wearing their uniform.
ESPN's Ramona Shelburne reported that James is not looking for elaborate pitches. But what if you got the chance to prepare a meal for him that would show, with every bite and sip, just the kind of franchise you run? What would you serve? And how? And where?
In talking with some of his past and present teammates and coaches, two things became clear: One, that breaking bread with LeBron is so enjoyable no one wanted to risk their seat at the table by being identified. Two, if you want to impress LeBron, you have to appeal to more than his taste buds. In fact, don't think of it as a meal at all. Think of it as an experience. According to his friends, LeBron fancies himself as much a connoisseur of fine dining as he does an NBA historian. So there has to be a story behind what you're doing. There has to be music with it.
It also wouldn't hurt to have an illustrious stranger or two partaking in it.
Depending on what meal you're serving him, there are a few staples. If it's breakfast, there have to be waffles made to order, something the Cavs have had wherever they go since since LeBron's first turn with the team. The inspiration: He would burst into post-shootaround brunch meetings and yell, "Let me get a waffle, my man!" Several current players had no idea a joke inspired it; they just figured it was a team custom.
Understand this: It's not just about the waffles. It's knowing that made-to-order waffles are a thing for him.
"Having that information will mean something to him," one former assistant coach says. "He likes to be important. He'd take that as, 'You took the time to know what I like.'"
If it's a late lunch or early dinner, sweet potato fries should be part of the fare. Don't think about sneaking them into a more traditional evening dinner. Yes, LeBron can be that particular.
"He loves sweet potato fries and he'll grub with the best of them, but that doesn't say 'formal' to him," the former assistant coach says.
To put the best possible bow on a formal dinner, warm chocolate chip cookies crumbled over a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream have to be the closer.
"You can have three or four different desserts," a current teammate says. "He's a sampler. But bringing out the ice cream and cookies at the end would be a good move."
Beyond that, use your imagination. A restaurant that has a private room is a must, as is one with a TV screen if there's a game to be watched. Setting up in a unique spot—the beach, a hillside, a forest—could be worth the gamble if it affords privacy, as long as "there are no championship games on," a former teammate says.
An Italian restaurant is a safe bet, but the most important ingredient is that the food be rare and unique. However, don't introduce a $26,000 Yubari King melon or Swedish moose cheese just to show you're willing to open your wallet or be exotic; there has to be a reason behind it. If you're trying to lure him to Houston, say, you might want to enlist local James Beard-nominated chef Bryan Caswell. He can serve a sophisticated dish of Texas blue crabs and tell the story of catching them in the bayous as a kid and elevating humble ingredients into fine dining—similar to how LeBron elevated himself from his own humble beginnings in Akron to the upper echelon of the NBA.
Whatever it is, it can't be on the menu. Dishes should be made specifically for this particular meal. Family-style service is the way to go, with multiple dishes for each course and all the courses looked upon as stops on a carefully laid map.
"Specifics of said meal would vary," a former teammate says, "but it has to include exclusive items hard to get in the U.S."
The current teammate agreed. "He would appreciate something unique. He'd want to know where it came from, why it's the best this area has to offer. Have the chef build a meal that's a journey."
As anyone who has followed James on Instagram the last few years can attest, choosing the wine to pair with the meal could be the greatest challenge of all. LeBron, as he even mentioned during the Eastern Conference Finals, prides himself on his ever-expanding knowledge of wine. Cabernet Sauvignon is a favorite, the former teammate says, but sticking with one type would be a mistake.
"He doesn't pigeonhole himself to one particular meal or type of wine," the current teammate says. "He likes Italian, but he also likes sushi. Variety would be important. He doesn't just want a 30-ounce steak. He likes reds, but I'm sure he'd also appreciate a really good glass of white wine."
Knowing the wine's history is important, too, as LeBron noted on Instagram: "Don't talk to me about wine like u know it if you really don't know what you're talking about. Seriously! Thank you!"
That point can't be underscored enough: If you offer a story that doesn't add up or contradicts what he knows about anything, you've blown your shot—although he won't necessarily tell you that.
"You can't be phony," the former assistant coach says. "He's not going to show his cards, but if there are holes in your presentation, he's going to know it."
Apparently LeBron isn't much of a coffee drinker, so don't worry about an espresso made from beans grown inside a Hawaiian volcano to end the service. A liqueur or a tea—"depending on what's in store for the rest of the night," the teammate says—is the way to go. Bonus points will surely be awarded for finding one that makes sense with ice cream and warm chocolate chip cookies.
While LeBron understandably would be the focus of the evening, it's important for all suitors to understand that this can't just be about LeBron. The invitation list should include, at the very least, the other three members of his boyhood foursome: Rich Paul (his agent), Maverick Carter (his business manager) and Randy Mims, an executive administrator for the Cavs who is known for putting together the playlist and carting around a Beats by Dre Pill as an on-the-spot sound system. If you fashion the playlist, top 40 and '90s hip-hop should be part of it, but make sure there's a message behind the songs, too.
"You start by asking, 'Who do you want to come to this?' And then you send a jet to get them," a former member of the coaching staff says. "He loves everybody around. This is where Miami went wrong. After he got there, they distanced his crew."
Don't stop with LeBron's guest list; surprise him with one or two people who can provide him with unique insight. Inviting Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, or 27-year-old Norwegian chess master Magnus Carlsen would be good. Or anyone who LeBron has yet to meet with particular insight that he would find useful.
"Powerful people are important to him," the assistant coach says. "He doesn't have to be the guy with the most to offer in the room. Him getting together with Warren Buffet and Jay-Z is a perfect example. If he can glean something from whoever it is, you're going to make an impression."
Making a meal for LeBron is not all that different than building a team around him. He doesn't want to be the only powerful person on hand, and he wants everything to be unified and to make sense. He's not going to tell you directly what he likes, but he expects you to know. And while catering to his tastes is the easy way to go, you have to be savvy enough to know when to break from them and trust that if your way works, he'll be OK with it.
If all of that seems like too much trouble, think about what LeBron is capable of serving up for you and your franchise—not just once, but on a nightly basis for years. Surely the Dalai Lama would tell you the same.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @RicBucher.