Years in the making: LeBron left 'so many clues' that he would return to Cleveland

There's no doubt that LeBron James' return to Cleveland is one of the biggest stories in sports this year. It's also one of the most surprising. But was King James dropping hints that he'd come home all along?

Tristan Thompson and LeBron James' close friendship has been well-documented for years. Thompson said that James kept a close eye on the Cavaliers' young players even as a member of the Miami Heat.

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There's no doubt that LeBron James' return to Cleveland is one of the biggest stories in sports this year. It's also one of the most surprising. But was King James dropping hints that he'd come home all along?

Looking back on it now, it sure seems that way.

SI's Lee Jenkins, who broke the story of James' decision to return to Cleveland, thinks that LeBron had been leaving clues about his desire to come home for about two years.

"I think he's been working towards this for a while. He made the decision Thursday but I think for a few weeks he'd been thinking about it. I almost think it goes back a few years," Jenkins said in an interview with Jim Rome on Showtime.

"When you look back at little comments he's made -- really since 2012 -- I think he's been setting the stage in many ways for this."

As the guy who co-wrote LeBron's I'm Coming Home essay, Jenkins is obviously someone who James trusts professionally. So with Jenkins pointing out all of the "clues" LeBron has dropped about Cleveland over the past couple years, it's a wonder why his decision came as such a shock, especially to the national media.

"There were so many clues, so many quotes he gave about how much he missed the Cavs announcers and the fans and 'oh how much I'd love to see a parade in Cleveland' after [the Heat] won it in Miami," Jenkins told Rome.

"I remember interviewing Tristan Thompson in early 2012 and he said 'LeBron keeps calling and he's keeping tabs on the younger guys' and I asked him 'do you think he comes back?' and I'll never forget what he said: 'the King returns? Yea I could see it.'

I once saw him and he was watching the Ohio State-Michigan State game and he was rooting for the Buckeyes and he couldn't believe how many of his teammates were rooting for the Spartans.

...All of these little moments, if you add them up you see essentially a guy who missed where he was from and felt like he had unfinished business there."

Of course hindsight is always 20/20, but it's interesting to hear Jenkins' perspective on how everything unfolded.

While Cleveland fans spent the past four years slowly -- but surely -- warming up to the idea of seeing James back in a Cavaliers jersey, the idea didn't seem to gain any credible traction nationally. Looking back on it now, there were multiple occasions where James said or did something to inflate Cavs' fans hopes -- just as Jenkins pointed out -- only to have national pundits deflate them.

But that's all water under the bridge now. Because LeBron is back. He chose to come home. And whether he'd been planning it all along or not, he's fully aware of what his return means to Cleveland.

And Jenkins probably put it best:

"LeBron knows that if he delivers a championship to Cleveland, his standing in that region will be something that can never be eclipsed."

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