Five years ago Thursday, the city of Akron, Ohio, held a welcome-home celebration for LeBron James, officially welcoming the four-time MVP back to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Some of the 30,000 fans waited six hours outside the University of Akron football team's InfoCision Stadium, trying to get as close to the action as possible.
There were fireworks, a performance by Skylar Grey singing "Coming Home" and James himself giving a speech, surrounded by his wife, three children and mother.
For James, it was a huge image restoration, one that helped erase memories of his "decision" special just four years before.
For a while, it was flawless. And then James messed up.
"I'm not going anywhere ever again," the then-29-year-old forward proclaimed. "I don't have the energy [for free agency]."
James didn't need to bring up a verbal lifetime contract with the Cavs. He didn't need to justify signing a "one-and-one" deal. He didn't need to make any promises regarding his future. Just being back was enough.
As it turns out, James did have the energy for free agency again. His reversal of his word after taking his talents to Long Beach to join the Los Angeles Lakers leaves an unnecessary blemish on one of the greatest players of all time.
Herein lies one of the major issues with the NBA today: Be it players, coaches, general managers or team owners, promises continue to be made all the time. James wasn't the first to do this, and he won't be the last. When players of his stature make promises, however, it rarely ends well.
The NBA is developing a major trust issue between its key members, and it's easy to see why.
Player movement has become rampant in the league, especially among its stars.
All four free agents who were named to an All-NBA team this past season chose to join a new franchise. Two others were later traded at their requests. That's six of the 15 total players, enough to double the previous NBA record set back in 1998.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Players are free to sign wherever they want, and trade requests happen for a variety of reasons.
The trust issue begins earlier than this.
Kyrie Irving announcing to a Boston crowd that "If you guys will have me back, I plan on re-signing here" should have never happened. It wasn't fair to Irving to announce what major life decision he was going to make in a year, nor was it fair to Celtics fans who would later hear their franchise point guard change course and say he didn't "owe anybody s--t" just months before leaving for the Brooklyn Nets.
Paul George taking the stage next to Russell Westbrook outside an Oklahoma City mansion party and announcing that "I'm here to stay" seemed like a solid commitment at the time, especially given the four-year, $137 million contract he would sign.
George forgot to mention that his version of "staying" meant for just one more year, as he requested and was granted a trade to the Los Angeles Clippers this summer.
The list goes on.
LaMarcus Aldridge claimed he wanted to be "the best Blazer ever" and was "looking forward to signing the five-year deal when the chance comes" in the summer of 2014. When unrestricted free agency hit just a year later, Aldridge left Portland for the San Antonio Spurs.
Carlos Boozer and agent Rob Pelinka reportedly had a promise with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2004 for general manager Jim Paxson to decline Boozer's $700,000 team option and instead sign him to a six-year, $41 million deal. That would have given Boozer a significant raise while providing the Cavs with a rising star to pair with James for years to come.
However, he backed out of the supposed commitment, leaving the Cavs to sign a six-year, $68 million deal with the Utah Jazz. The fallout was so bad that Boozer's agency, SFX, dropped him as a client while Pelinka resigned as his agent.
Promises aren't only broken by players, of course.
In December, New Orleans Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry was dead set on the franchise keeping Anthony Davis.
"No, we're not trading him," Gentry told reporters. "We're not trading him under any circumstance. You can move on from that one."
You know how that ended.
Davis formally requested a trade just a month later and would eventually be dealt in June.
Before Davis, the Orlando Magic told Dwight Howard they would trade him prior to the start of the 2011 season, even advising him to tell his teammates goodbye. As Howard told Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated in 2017:
"They said they were going to try to move me. I thought it was going to happen. They came in and said, 'We're going to trade you.' They shook my hand and said, 'God bless you. You were here for eight years, and you did a great job.' They asked me to go shake my teammates' hands. I went and shook their hands and told them that the team was going to trade me. I woke up the next day, and they said, 'We're not going to trade you.'"
The Magic would eventually send Howard to the Lakers in August 2012, a full season after originally mentioning the move.
Owners can mislead players and fanbases as well, highlighted by Dan Gilbert's guarantee to Cavs fans that Cleveland would win a championship before James.
James, of course, would go on to win two titles in the next four years, while the Cavs posted the NBA's worst cumulative record over that span.
No wonder trust issues exist, but this can all be easily fixed.
Players, coaches, general managers and team owners need to stop making promises. This isn't an attack on anyone's integrity—it's rather that teams and situations in the NBA are just too fluid.
The Golden State Warriors looked like an unstoppable dynasty last summer and could now struggle to make the playoffs, with Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, DeMarcus Cousins, Shaun Livingston and others gone and Klay Thompson expected to miss most of the season with a torn ACL. The Clippers went from surprising playoff team to title favorites overnight with the additions of Kawhi Leonard and George.
Players are empowered to dictate their teams and contracts more than ever, which is great. They've earned that right. Star players are the suns of the NBA universe, with everyone else revolving around.
Because of this, however, saying less may mean more.
Davis recently set the blueprint for what those in the league should now do. When asked by Rachel Nichols on The Jump about his future with the Lakers with just one year left on his contract, he replied:
"Honestly, I'm just focused on this season. I don't know what's going to happen. I have one year here, so I'm going make the best of this year, and when that time comes around in the summer or, you know, whenever the season's over—hopefully around, you know, mid-June after we just had a parade and I need a couple days to think—then we can talk about that. But until then, I'm trying to do whatever I can to help this team win this year."
Davis could have made a promise to stay for the rest of his career, as James did with the Cavs. He could have said he planned to re-sign, a la Irving in Boston.
Instead of setting himself up for scrutiny later, he did the smart thing and didn't look past this season. This noncommittal attitude may not be what teams want to hear, but it's better than being misguided. It also puts more pressure on the organization to make the player want to stay by improving the supporting cast around him.
Player movement and empowerment is here to stay. Promises sound good at the time but only end up hurting fans, players, teams and reputations. Players shouldn't feel pressured to make predictions or promises for their future to try to appease a fanbase and should instead be focusing on the present.