INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- The satellite trucks started lining up for a spot close to the Cleveland Cavaliers' training facility early Friday morning. A huge tent was erected onsite as a temporary media workroom to accommodate the hundreds of reporters on hand for LeBron James' official return to the Cavs. He never did have a news conference this summer, if you remember. So whatever party the city of Cleveland was going to throw to celebrate the return of its prodigal son had to be Friday.
I drove around looking for signs. There was hype, all right. Local radio ads for next week's scrimmage have already proclaimed this the "most anticipated season in Cavs history." But if you were looking for a DJ or balloons or anything like the disco-fabulous light show James began the Big Three era in Miami with in 2010, you were in the wrong place. The only thing that even resembled a party was the weekly clam bake at Harry's Steakhouse up the road.
LeBron, himself, was serious as he sat at the podium for his first major interview since announcing his decision to return home to Cleveland on July 11. Enough time has passed now that folks around here have already gotten used to James' being back. Miami seems to have moved on, too. Or at least it's too proud -- or too cool -- to show any pain.
But mostly there's just nothing to celebrate yet. LeBron is back. Kevin Love is here, too. Kyrie Irving is coming off a fantastic summer with Team USA. That all made for a nice group picture on Friday -- albeit with the 6-foot-3 Irving standing on a crate to make up some of the height difference.
But beyond the lottery -- which essentially gave them the assets to trade for Love -- the Cavaliers haven't won anything yet and LeBron seemed determined to set that tone for both his teammates and the entire organization.
"It's going to be tough," LeBron said. "We're a new group that's coming together. We have a new coaching staff. It's a new system for all of us and it's not going to be easy at all. But if we're patient and we're patient with the process and everyone buys into Coach's system and the coaching staff's system, that will help us out a lot."
He'll never forget that first season in Miami, when the entire NBA seemed to be relishing the Heat's struggles. The 9-8 start. The internal friction in the locker room that nearly ended things before they began. The challenges of molding his game with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
All that could happen here in Cleveland, too. It's not easy when stars collide. When three guys who are used to being the center of their team's universe all of a sudden have to orbit around someone else. In Miami, at least, one of those stars was among his closest friends in the league.
"Obviously myself and D-Wade's relationship goes beyond basketball, to this day," LeBron said. "Our relationship would probably be bigger than anyone else in the league, besides Carmelo [Anthony] and Chris Paul.
"It's a different challenge for me here being alongside Kyrie and Kevin Love and the rest of the guys here. But there's nothing in this league that I haven't seen. Nothing. You name it, I've seen it. Both on and off the floor."
That doesn't sound like the celebratory homecoming speech many were expecting from LeBron upon his return to Cleveland. It was essentially 180 degrees different from the way he introduced himself to Miami four years ago.
But a lot has changed in four years. In the city, in the franchise, in the man himself.
"Throughout the four years, I turned my girlfriend to my fiancée to my wife," LeBron said. "We got two boys, two grown boys and my friends and family, we've all continued to grow. That's just what life is about. You have obstacles throughout your life and it's how you come out of them that defines who you are."
The Cavs have changed, too. They've lost LeBron once. They've seen him deliver the championships he'd hoped to bring to his hometown to Miami, instead. At some point most people around here came to forgive him for leaving in 2010. Not everyone, but enough.
But mostly they all learned that one big move or one winning lottery ball doesn't guarantee anything. And so Friday really was just the first day of training camp for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. They took pictures, addressed the media, went out for a team dinner and got ready for the next day.
The only people to even mention championships or the expectations of winning one -- not five, not six, not seven -- were Love -- who has never been to the playoffs in his seven seasons -- and first-time NBA coach David Blatt.
"A lot of people want to say, 'Championship or bust' and sure, that's going to be a good mentality to have because we want the pressure on us," Love said. "We want people to look at us as one of the best teams because we're going to have to hold ourselves accountable for everything that we do with our actions on and off the floor."
They started on Friday by treating the day for what it was. Not a homecoming. Not a party. Not even a new era. The Cavaliers may have wanted to turn up the volume a bit. Take their new stars for a little twirl and show off a little bit. But they've learned something these past four years, too. If LeBron sets a tone, it's best to follow.