It's been quite a few weeks for the LeBron James code breakers: a series of unusual events spiked with the flammable mix of free agency futures and superteam aspirations. Regardless of where on the spectrum you reside -- from as close as a James teammate or coach to a fan to self-professed hater -- there was something there for all.
Amid the rush to conclusions from a collection of tweets, out-of-sequence quotes and body language, there are a few things about James that are helpful to understand:
He's an only child.
He's been playing dominant basketball over the last couple of months.
It's true James has been sullen at times over the past few weeks and has seemed to seek solace in friends and ex-teammates -- all while appearing to run through hot and cold patches with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. It's easy to forget now that famous friends James and Dwyane Wade had nights during their time together in Miami when they irritated each other too.
Sometimes James gets somber. Sometimes he gets so happy that he's bubbly for weeks on end, arranging elaborate costume parties for his current teammates, whomever they happen to be. Sometimes he wants to create 10-step handshakes at introductions. Sometimes he wants to walk out to the center of the court without a single high-five to start a game.
Sometimes he uses social media to gather teammates for a postgame group photo. Sometimes he uses it to be cryptic and passive-aggressive. Sometimes he films commercials hailing the city of Cleveland. Sometimes he gives interviews in which he leaves the door open to leaving it again.
Sometimes he'll aggressively bump his coach. Sometimes he'll hug his coach. Sometimes he'll reach out to peers like Kobe Bryant, calling him up to seek advice. Sometimes he'll be in a blackout and virtually unreachable by almost everyone in his life.
Sometimes when you're talking to him, there will be a light in his eyes and he will be engaging and deeply involved in the conversation. Sometimes his focus will wander and he'll fall into rote answers, all his cues telling you to go away.
So to judge a moment or two in time, a social media post, a quote, a face made on the bench can be misleading. Try him later -- a day, a week, a month -- and he might be different, way different. He'll remember what he said and what he did, but he won't always remember his motive.
If there were a handbook given to James' teammates and coaches over the years, all this would be in it. But there isn't and so often they have to learn through experience. And there's been some of that happening recently for sure. It hasn't been the finest period for leadership in James' career, but it's also probably a mistake to think any of this is written in ink, that he's leaving bread crumbs for later.
Also useful for the handbook would be how much James likes attention. So much of it comes his way naturally, but there are times when even that's not enough: when he will walk up on teammates being interviewed so he can edge into the picture; when he will loudly sing bars of rap songs in otherwise quiet rooms just to let everyone know he's there; when he will pop up in front of tens of millions on social media with a message that will create an instant and wide-ranging buzz. It's all part of the James package.
That's why this season has likely been a challenge for him at times. Seeing the eyes constantly focused on another player like Stephen Curry -- he's not used to that. James has been the game's signature star for nearly a decade. Bryant always owned some corners, but since James first made the Finals in 2007, it's been his league. He's been the marquee Christmas Day attraction.
His free agencies have captured fans like nothing that's come before. He got the most magazine covers. He got the best shoe contract. He got the most time on SportsCenter.
Until now. Until this magical season that Curry and the Golden State Warriors are having. Thousands of fans don't come to see James warm up. When Curry and James both have great nights, it's usually Curry who gets top billing. This is a new world for him.
When James was a rookie, he was stung when he wasn't named to the All-Star team. He was so upset that he said he wouldn't even accept an invitation as an injury replacement.
"I'm an only child and I never want to be picked second," James said then. "I don't come second."
He was 19 then; he's too savvy to say something like that now. But his feelings haven't changed much. For a long time, his coming second on the NBA's attention meter wasn't much of an option. But that's no longer the case and, at moments recently, James has shown an inkling to yank at the spotlight. And it's worked, especially over the past few weeks.
This seems like a lot of put up with for those in his life. For his teammates and coaches and even his theoretical bosses like general managers and owners, it can be an unnecessary distraction. The road to the top in the league is so tough, why open up potholes along the way?
Because, bottom line: James is worth it. He always has been worth it. And even in these past few turbulent weeks when he's acted out and created angst, he's been worth it.
Maybe it's been easy to miss, but James has been dominant over the past six weeks. He's shooting 52 percent since the All-Star break, 57 percent on shots inside the 3-point line. In March, he's averaging 8.5 rebounds per game, his most prolific rebounding month in four years. After finishing eighth in player efficiency rating last season and lagging outside the top 10 as he hit the new year, James is up to fourth. He was the Eastern Conference Player of the Month in February and has a strong chance of winning it again in March.
Most importantly, the back injury that caused him to get an injection in the preseason has been kept under control. He looks rested and explosive. He has not missed a game this season with injury. After last season, when he was beat up more than any time in his career, that's a real accomplishment.
In the end, this is all that will matter. When the season is on the line and James is carrying the heaviest burden, all the other noise from the dog days of the season will have long since turned into vapor.