He came in unannounced, looking relaxed and not wearing a shirt.
LeBron James is on vacation — and on his own time schedule.
A few hours after meeting with Miami Heat president Pat Riley, James’ only confirmed face-to-face with a potential NBA suitor since the NBA’s free-agent negotiation period opened, the world’s most popular and powerful free agent decided he wanted to play a little basketball on Wednesday night.
James arrived at the LeBron James Skills Academy at the Cashman Center in Las Vegas — a convention hall turned by Nike into four basketball courts for the week — smiling, followed closely by high school teammates Romeo Travis and Dru Joyce. James eventually put on a shirt, then grabbed his mouthpiece, then negotiated spots for himself, Travis and Joyce on one of the eight teams playing on those four courts in the high school session of the annual camp.
He missed his first shot and threw the ball away on the next possession. After the player he was guarding, Esa Ahmad — who happens to be from the Cleveland area and grew up wearing No. 23 because of James — scored at one end, James got a basket of his own at the other.
First came a powerful dunk in transition. Then, an up-and-under that showed he wasn’t taking it easy on anyone.
"Probably not coincidence he did that right after I scored," said Ahmad, who admitted his "eyes got really big" when James approached him for a pregame handshake.
It was the world’s best basketball player against kids who idolize him. It was, subtly, a message that James isn’t much concerned with who or how many people are waiting on the four-time NBA MVP to make a decision on where he’ll play basketball next season.
Neither James nor anyone from his inner circle has said anything on the record about his plans. When a reporter approached James upon his entrance to the camp Wednesday evening, he cordially deflected a free-agency question by asking, "You mean this camp? It’s good."
Then he broke a sweat, shared some conversation with familar faces that included Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, then disappeared into the Las Vegas night. An ESPN report late Wednesday said James plans to take no more meetings; about all that’s known is the Heat have plenty of salary-cap room after James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh opted out of their contracts, and the Cleveland Cavaliers created room Wednesday with a three-team trade that created enough room for James’ former team to take on a max contract.
The Twittersphere would indicate that fans in both Cleveland and Miami are very much on edge awaiting James’ decision, but his demeanor in about 90 semi-public minutes — the camp is open to college coaches, media, selected guests and the approximately 30 college players and 80 high school players participating — Wednesday night indicated James is not.
James played for about five minutes in the first game, then made similar appearances on each of the three other courts. He playfully begged officials for calls, picked up his teammates after they were knocked down and did more passing than anything else. He then jogged back to the first court, placed himself on Ahmad’s team the second time around — namesake makes the rules at the LeBron James Skills Academy, apparently — then exited to a nearby training table.
Surrounded by a small army of camp workers, James got both of his hamstrings stretched out, then spent about 20 minutes on his back watching the games, his head on a towel.
It looked like he was living a vacationer’s dream.
He eventually got ice wrapped around both of his knees, had another wrap around his stomach and got off the table to walk across one of the floors and spend about three semi-private minutes with Krzyzewski, who’s coached James with USA Basketball. When the games ended both the players and college coaches dispersed, and after spending a few minutes on the floor with some of his Northeast Ohio-based friends who are hanging with him in Las Vegas this week as well as former NBA players including Damon Jones and Tim Hardaway, he was gone.
In and out of NBA circles, the wait continues. In Las Vegas, James appears to be having fun.