By Ian Thomsen
July 08, 2010

I read the anonymous reports that LeBron James will sign with the Miami Heat and I don't believe them.

Until he says otherwise himself Thursday night, I will continue to believe this entire process will steer him back home to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

I've been hearing all year long is that James alone will make this decision. He will listen to advice, he will take account of the different offers and opinions, and in the end he will make his own choice. This is what I've been told for a long time and it was spelled out most eloquently in a recent column by the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Brian Windhorst, who is plugged into James' camp.

So when I read of unnamed sources saying that James is going to Miami, I wonder: Do they absolutely 100 percent know what he is going to say Thursday night?

I also cannot understand why James' camp would arrange for this drum-roll proclamation on national television and then leak out word of the final result before the boss -- James himself -- can make his announcement. That makes no sense whatsoever. Do all of these reality TV shows -- Survivor or Big Brother -- want you to know who is going to be the winner before you watch the season-ending broadcast?

The rule of reality TV is to advertise a surprising "twist" without letting viewers know what it may be. If people who really do know what James is thinking have been spreading word that he'll sign with Miami, then I view that as another way of creating suspense and surprise for the actual announcement to have maximum impact.

If we all believe he's going to Miami, and he goes on TV to say he's going to Miami, then what was the point of the live TV show? If his own camp is leaking out the final result then there is ultimately going to be little drama to "The Decision," as the ESPN show has been titled.

Here is the third reason to wonder if we're all being played. Going back to November, on the morning of James' only game this season at Madison Square Garden, I believe I was the first to firmly predict that this entire process was set up for him to return to Cleveland. This is what I wrote Nov. 6:

I bet James already has the entire recruiting process planned out. He'll listen to the Knicks, the Nets and anyone else who wishes to speak with him. Then he'll hold a news conference on live TV and announce that he is staying with Cleveland. It will be the professional version of national signing day, when the top high school recruit announces the college of his choice.

But it will be much bigger than that. An entire city will rejoice, and its people will speak of how proud they are of their LeBron James. Casual fans who would have booed him for going to New York will now be cheering for him because he stayed in Cleveland. By showing loyalty to his hometown, he'll have a chance to become a bigger force than he could have been on the world's greatest stage. He'll be the NBA's Family Guy.

So now, as forecast here eight months ago, he is making the announcement on live TV. So far it has played out the way I thought it would. Is he really going to use this setting to say he's moving to Miami or Chicago? (And don't believe the last-minute Knicks talk -- New York has no chance.) If James uses the vehicle of a celebratory one-hour TV special to declare that he's abandoning the people of Akron and the fans of the Cavaliers, then he'll never be able to go back home again.

The Akron/Cleveland area is the only place he has ever lived. It is everything he knows. I truly believe -- as do people who know him, the same people who are saying Thursday they still don't know his decision -- that if he was going to move to Miami or Chicago, then he would have arranged the least painful exit so as not to destroy his reputation at home.

Instead, if he goes on live TV tonight to say he's walking out on the only place he's known, then he has done so in the most painful way imaginable. He has tortured millions of people who for months have had faith that he would stay -- and he has ruthlessly cut them off.

Let's give James credit for intelligence, based on the extraordinary success of how he has positioned himself in the global marketplace as a 25-year-old. He is a smart guy, and everything he has said so far suggests that he will return to Cleveland. He constantly announces to crowds in Akron how much he loves them and his home city, and he has repeatedly said that Cleveland is in the driver's seat in the race to retain him.

When he goes on TV on Thursday he'll be able to say truthfully that he himself has never indicated he was going to leave Cleveland.

A lot of negatives will follow him to Miami. His people at home will feel betrayed. He will have to change his style of play -- sacrifice is the common term -- in order to fit in with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, even though James, by his own admission, has yet to peak as a player. Shouldn't he want to explore his own potential before he begins deferring to others? And how is that Miami team going to win a championship immediately with as many as seven roster spots to be filled by yet-to-be-identified veterans on minimum contracts?

None of this Miami talk makes any sense to me. This extravagant charade is set up for James to go on TV Thursday to declare his loyalty to his hometown, to say he took a look around at more glamorous places and in the end decided there is no place better for him than Cleveland. And then he'll go into next season with a promising new coach in Byron Scott and a deep roster that has won 127 games over the last two seasons, and every time he puts on the Cavs uniform he'll be selling himself as a player who was ultimately loyal to his hometown and his franchise -- which is how every athlete who endorses products hopes to be viewed.

Maybe I'll turn out to be wrong. But if I am, then it's James who has made the biggest mistakes by deciding to abandon his hometown in the ruthless setting of a national broadcast and then ruining the drama of his live TV announcement by leaking out news that he's going to Miami.

He's staying in Cleveland, I say.

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