Editor's note: The story has been updated with information about communication between LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
RIO DE JANIERO, Brazil -- Before he headed to South America for another NBA globalization tour, LeBron James joked that the league wanted to guarantee he'd be on this promotional trip, so it scheduled the Cleveland Cavaliers to play the Miami Heat months before he even became a free agent.
"They made sure it'd be the two teams I'd sign with," James said with a smile.
The NBA got what it wanted. James is in Brazil for what surely will be an awkward five days. Rio is a world-class destination and many players have been looking forward to sitting on the beach and enjoying the nightlife in a rare training camp quasi-vacation, but James just wants to get it over with.
The Heat may be allegedly moving on with their lives and James may want to keep the focus on basketball business, but of course that just isn't the case. It's too easy to compare this situation to knowing you're going to see an ex-girlfriend at a party but, frankly, that's what it is like.
Just think how odd it felt in August for James when he attended Dwyane Wade's wedding at a swanky castle outside Miami. Wade is the face of the franchise and the most popular player in team history. His wedding was essentially a giant Heat party.
James flew in to be there for his friend Wade, but apparently had to play a bit of a wallflower role. Chris Bosh has also made it clear from a competitive standpoint, James is now the enemy. But from a personal standpoint, Bosh probably owed James a drink. James' decision to sign in Cleveland immediately saw the Heat increase their offer to Bosh by perhaps as much as $30 million. After saying the two hadn't spoken since James signed with the Cavs, Bosh later clarified the two did speak at the wedding.
James later told friends that having to share the same room with Heat president Pat Riley was uncomfortable that night. It stands to reason it was probably hard to make eye contact with Heat owner Micky Arison or coach Erik Spoelstra as well.
It was an interesting juxtaposition from a wedding James went to in June in Miami. At that ceremony, for James' longtime trainer Mike Mancias, Riley made it a mission to pull James into a corner to sell him on re-signing. He'd opted out of his contract just two days before and Riley's exit meeting with James after the Finals didn't go well. Ultimately, their discussion that night didn't work out well for the Heat, either.
James always knew his return to Miami would be a challenge, and the NBA couldn't wait for that drama -- scheduling the Cavs in Miami as the featured game on Christmas Day. Having this preseason contest down in Rio, well let's just say James probably hasn't been really looking forward to this trip.
He was just in Rio a few months ago for the World Cup as part of a Nike mission, taking a heavily symbolic photo in front of the Christ the Redeemer monument just two days after signing with the Cavs. On Wednesday, when the Cavs went out to see sights in Rio he had already seen, James skipped it and instead went to lie as low as he could on Copacabana Beach.
It's not like James hasn't been through this before. When he left the Cavs he had uncomfortably public breakups with former teammate-friends Mo Williams and Daniel Gibson. Now it's little things, like Mario Chalmers -- who often followed James around during his Heat years like a little brother -- referring to James as "that guy" when James was brought up in conversation on media day, that show it's, perhaps, happening all over again.
Truth be told, all this is rather simple human nature.
The remaining Heat players are hurt that James left them for a younger super-team model in Cleveland. They can talk about how last season wasn't all that fun, as Wade told Bleacher Report recently, and how the Heat are reinvigorated and all that. They can sell the passive-aggressive "Heat Lifer" T-shirts in the lobby in the space where James' jerseys once stood all they want. They're still getting over it. And who can blame them?
It's said the best revenge is living well and, in the long run, the Heat will probably get there. They always have. But in the short run, all they have needed to do is look at their dreadful point guard play so far in the preseason and be reminded of the sting of James' departure. Plenty of country music hits have been written with less material.
As for James, he's completely comfortable within his decision. He won't know for sure whether it was the greatest choice for his career but, on a personal level, he's not looking back. But that doesn't make it any easier facing the Heat, who fulfilled virtually every promise they made him.
There were moments that irked James, of course, and some of them have been well-chronicled over the past few months. There were restrictive rules he didn't like and decisions he felt were deeply flawed. But when pressed, he probably couldn't truly say a bad word about his time with the franchise. And yet he still broke that bond with a stunning blow the Heat didn't see coming. They thought he was coming back, at least for one more year. If you were in James' shoes, you probably wouldn't look forward to seeing all those faces again, either.
For all these reasons, this generally meaningless preseason game on Saturday takes on a completely different tone. The fact that it's taking place in Brazil only completes the discomfort so many involved will be feeling.
It'd be one thing if there was genuine hatred or bad blood between the sides. In a way, it makes it easier to deal with. Instead there's just that emptiness where there used to be something special.
Breaking up is, indeed, hard to do.