LeBron James' Childhood Friend Romeo Travis Talks Lakers Move, Balling Abroad

Leo Sepkowitz@@LeoSepkowitzContributorAugust 13, 2018

(From L)Le Mans' US Mykal Riley and Le Mans' US Romeo Travis hold the trophy and celebrate with their fans, in Le Mans, northwestern France, after Le Mans Sarthe Basket team won the Elite French Basketball Championship 2018, in Monaco, on June 25, 2018. (Photo by JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP/Getty Images)
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On June 26, Romeo Travis sent out a public service announcement via Instagram.      

Earlier that day, James Harden was named the NBA's Most Valuable Player. Travis was upset about the choice, and he let everybody know it. In the photo he posted, Travis wore a LeBron James Cavaliers jersey, the orange cream edition. In the caption, he wrote, "They cheated my brother out of another MVP."

Then he added a parenthetical note: "I don't know where he's going please don't ask."

In the days leading up to July 1, you could forgive people for wanting to ask Travis about the free-agent status of James, his high school teammate and co-star in the movie More Than a Game. Travis himself has always embraced the connection.

"It's cool that we're tied together forever," he said, speaking with Bleacher Report recently by phone from Ohio.

But you could also forgive Travis for being focused on other stuff at the time—after all, he is a reigning Finals co-MVP.

This season, Travis carried his team, Le Mans Sarthe Basket, to the LNB Pro A title—the highest achievement in French basketball. It was a long time coming for Travis, a lefty whose approach and activity in the paint call to mind Michael Beasley. He has traveled the international circuit for more than a decade.

Le Mans' MVP player Romeo Travis (C) celebrates with teammates after winning the match 5 of the Elite Final of the French Basketball Championship match between Le Mans and Monaco in Monaco on June 24, 2018. (Photo by BERTRAND LANGLOIS / AFP)        (Photo
BERTRAND LANGLOIS/Getty Images

Travis spent his prime in Israel, where he was named All-Israeli League Player of the Year in 2012. He's played in Spain, Croatia, Germany, Russia and Italy, hopping across the globe on one-year deals.

"It's difficult," said Travis, 33. Such temporary contracts put players in a bind.

"I need to score, but I don't want to look selfish. But I want to win, and I need to feed my family, so it's like a fine line between getting yours, staying in team concept and solidifying yourself for a contract next year. You gotta mix all those things up together while being a good teammate, and you get 10 months to make that happen. It's a very difficult situation, high pressure.

"Maybe that's why I'm losing all my hair."

Next, Travis will play in the Philippines, where he spent a season back in 2015, and then search for a new European contract. (The Filipino season ends in the fall, freeing players up to sign elsewhere afterward and effectively play two seasons in one.)

Regardless of where he goes or what he accomplishes, Travis can't duck questions about his old friend, No. 23. He'll always be tracked down by curious fans—or reporters.

Travis said that even within local coverage overseas, "Every third article has his name mentioned in there somewhere, and we haven't been on the same team in 15 years. But that's fine by me because he's one of my best friends."

In 2010, when LeBron left Cleveland, Travis had mixed emotions. On one hand, he said, "I was happy he went to Miami because I was single at the time, so I was ecstatic. I get to go to Miami every year!"

Still, as a native Ohioan, Travis felt uneasy about the move. He sympathized with a devastated local fanbase, and as a pro athlete, he said, "I didn't agree with the move until I was in the same situation."

For Travis, that situation arose last year, as he weighed his contract offer from Le Mans in France. His wife didn't want him to sign there, setting up temporarily in yet another new city, but he took the deal anyway. His upcoming campaign in the Philippines is something of a compromise, as his wife loves the area.

"Until you're in that spot to make your wife and kids happy and have a good basketball situation, you'll never understand," he said.

And so when it comes to LeBron, the context is different this time. Travis has been through the wringer himself now, and things have changed in Cleveland, too.

"Now it's more of an understanding: You did what you could. We don't really blame you," he said. "I feel that. I talk to people every day. We're not mad at 'Bron; he did what he could, got us a 'ship."

LeBron James and Romeo Travis in their high school days.
LeBron James and Romeo Travis in their high school days.Courtesy of Romeo Travis

And yet, one tall hurdle remains.

"I can't be a Lakers fan," Travis said. "As much as the Lakers people love Kobe, that's as much as we don't like Kobe. It's not personal, but the way they love Kobe—the Kobe stans—I troll them as much as I can on Twitter." (For an international player, Travis talks an admirable amount of trash about the NBA.)

So, if Travis isn't rooting for the Lakers and the Cavs are no longer in contention, what's his ideal outcome this year?

"I really hope that Boogie [Cousins] implodes the [Warriors]," Travis said. "That's my ultimate hope: that he goes there and makes everyone hate each other—Klay leaves, Draymond doesn't take a pay cut and they lose."

He might have to settle for LeBron's fifth MVP—and a second finals MVP for himself.

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