How longtime veteran Channing Frye bonded LeBron, Kevin Love and the Cavs

Channing Frye sensed a level of disconnect when he joined the Cavs in February 2016. His solution? A team text thread. John G. Mabanglo/EPA

THE CAVALIERS' GROUP TEXT chain is aptly named BORED. Channing Frye's nimble mind requires constant stimulation, so he instituted BORED shortly after he joined Cleveland in February 2016, contacting the entire roster and encouraging all of his new teammates to share random thoughts.

Last week's BORED text chain, on the eve of the NBA Finals, tackled the burning question of which muscle man is the most iconic.

"The Rock or Arnold Schwarzenegger?" Frye texted. "I'll take The Rock."

The rebukes were fast and furious. LeBron James and Kevin Love, fervent Schwarzenegger backers, immediately fired back with a slew of insults directed at Frye.

"They were killing me," Frye said, grinning. "So let them have a little fun at my expense. It gives them common ground.

"And that's good."

There was a time when neither James nor Love could have envisioned joining forces as a tag-team texting tandem. Their relationship was stilted, uneven, awkward. It wasn't a matter of dislike, but more a disconnect between two talented players who were struggling to establish a healthy communication on and off the court.

Cavs players say Frye is the one who changed that.

"We were a good group before Channing got here, but he came in and connected some important dots," said Cavs forward Richard Jefferson, who signed with Cleveland in August 2015. "He found a way to have LeBron and Kevin see each other in a different manner."

Just days before the NBA trade deadline in February 2016, James got word that the Cavaliers planned to swap one of his favorite teammates, Anderson Varejao, to acquire Frye. Though Varejao had played sparingly that season, James had concerns about losing such a positive locker room presence.

"Hey, RJ," James asked Jefferson. "What about Channing Frye? How's he going to fit with us?"

"Man, you are gonna love him," Jefferson said. "He will bring us all closer. You'll see."

"That," James says now, "was all I needed to hear."

Frye, a stretch big man, proved to be a valuable role player in the rotation, but his influence extended far beyond that. He quickly emerged as the "glue guy" in the Cavs' locker room, a man who bonded the team and helped lead the Cavs to their first championship in franchise history last June.

"Channing is the middle man," LeBron says. "He bridges the gap. He's perfect for our culture.

"We needed him."

GLUE GUYS TAKE ON many forms. Sometimes they are the best players, redoubtable both in performance and preparation (see: Tim Duncan). Sometimes, more than one player cements team chemistry. The 2015 Warriors, for instance, relied on the whimsical lightness of Leandro Barbosa to infuse the team with energy and play the role of the Draymond Green whisperer. Golden State also leaned on the experience of Andre Iguodala, who, when situations called for a little more gravity, exhibited an invaluable edge.

More often, though, glue guys are the veterans who have been there and done that, imparting their wisdom, toughness or positivity to a team.

James says Udonis Haslem kept the Miami Heat on course during their 2012 and 2013 title runs. Haslem endeared himself to teammates, James says, with an unparalleled work ethic and a willingness to challenge everyone, including the elite stars. "Guys like him are so important," James says now. "When UD spoke, we listened, because it always came from the heart."

It wasn't Haslem's first Heat rodeo. Shaquille O'Neal also singles Haslem out as the player who kept the Heat's 2006 champions in line. Shaq recalls a 24-point, late-season loss to Chicago that led to a "mini-tussle" in the locker room. Haslem and Alonzo Mourning, Shaq says, quickly called a meeting. "We had some guys -- Antoine Walker, GP [Gary Payton] -- who were partying a little too much in the streets," O'Neal says. "Udonis told us, 'Hey, knock it off. You guys better get serious or we're not going to win anything.'"

The glue that held the 2011 NBA champion Dallas Mavericks together? Veteran point guard Jason Kidd, says Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle. During a nine-game stretch when Dirk Nowitzki was sidelined with an injury and the team went 2-7, Kidd called a players-only meeting, scolded his teammates for feeling sorry for themselves, and then galvanized them going forward. "He was already acting like a coach, both on and off the floor," Carlisle says.

James Posey cemented his status as the glue guy of the 2008 Celtics when, during the team's preseason trip to Rome, the players were scrimmaging in a tiny gym and the second unit scored a string of baskets. Kevin Garnett, Posey says, cheated the second-teamers out of a point and declared the starting five the winners. Posey called him out and wound up chest to chest with Garnett. "I don't care how good you are," Posey growled, "you have to be accountable like the rest of us."

"It was the moment," says former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, "that set the tone for the entire season."

Posey, now an assistant coach with Cleveland, says he was impressed with how deftly Frye was able to engage James and Love in dialogues ranging from the pick-and-roll to the latest blockbuster film -- or the science of the human spirit.

"Channing didn't hesitate to tell LeBron and Kevin, 'We need you guys on the same page. We need that trust,'" Posey says. "Their relationship improved so much after that. They stopped taking everything so personally. It became: How can we win together?"

WHEN CLEVELAND ASSEMBLED its championship core in August 2014, it centered on three alpha males. James, the undisputed leader, was the extrovert. Kyrie Irving, the young upstart, was the introvert. Love, who came from Minnesota, where he was the focal point of the offense, was the newcomer who initially kept to himself.

"There was a lot of pressure on all three of them," Jefferson says. "You have this situation where LeBron and Kyrie have the ball in their hands. Kevin is dependent on others to get him the ball. It was difficult in the beginning for him to navigate that."

On Feb. 7, 2015, after Love scored just five points on 2-of-8 shooting, James famously tweeted, "Stop trying to find a way to FIT-OUT and just FIT-IN. Be a part of something special! Just my thoughts." James later confirmed the comments were directed toward Love.

After a sweep of the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference finals that May, LeBron celebrated by frolicking in a hot tub with a bottle of champagne, mimicking Chedda Da Connect's lyrics in "Flicka Da Wrist." JR Smith and Iman Shumpert joined him, with Irving flexing his biceps behind them and veteran Kendrick Perkins, wrapped in a towel, holding fast to a pair of ice packs on his knees. The video went viral, with the chatter revolving around Love being noticeably absent from the scene.

"Kevin [Love] used to say, 'Man, all I do is shoot 3s.' Then Channing comes in and says, 'This is awesome! All we do is shoot 3s!' So now Kevin stops and realizes, 'Yeah, I guess we do get a lot of open 3s.'"
Richard Jefferson

Nearly nine months later, when Frye joined the Cavs, he walked into team film sessions and plopped down in the middle of LeBron and his trusted friends Smith and Tristan Thompson. "Who's sitting here?" he'd ask, then motion to Love, "Hey, Kev, there's a seat next to me." Frye rotated his position daily, elbowing up to Irving one day, Shumpert the next.

Frye was puzzled, he says, by the tenor of the group as a whole. He asked Jefferson, his friend of two decades, why the Cavs were so serious all the time.

"Channing says to RJ, 'We're the No. 1 team in the East. We have an opportunity to fight to compete for a title every year. Why aren't these guys having fun playing together?'" Love says. "RJ stepped back and said, 'You know what? He's got a point.'"

Frye was incredulous to learn the team had never gone out together for a pre-playoff meal. So, shortly before the 2016 postseason started, he booked a restaurant in the Flats on the Cleveland waterfront called Alley Cat and instructed everyone via BORED to be there at 8.

The Cavs boasted perfect attendance that night, noshing together on steaks, fish and salads, trading basketball stories and drowning out the NBA game on the flat-screen television behind them with laughter. When dinner ended at 10, Jefferson turned to the team.

"What do you guys want to do?"

Hanging in downtown Cleveland is a major hassle for LeBron, who is swarmed wherever he goes, but on this night he joined his teammates at the Punch Bowl Social a block away for a nightcap. One drink led to another, and soon the team, in unison, dropped in on another local bar.

"It was a great night," Frye says. "Guys walked out asking, 'When are we doing this again?'"

The BORED text chain continued to grow. Frye, whose corny jokes made him an easy target, managed to engage and unite the best players on his team by happily serving as their foil. No matter what subject he picked -- a favorite song, a favorite car, a favorite breakfast pastry -- his new teammates gleefully reveled in denigrating him for his choices.

Frye inundated the team with a stream of GIFs in the BORED text chain. The video clips ranged from a scene from "The Office" ("That's what she said!") to a cartoon of a skunk to footage of LeBron flopping.

The BORED chain became a place to vent after a bad game or to brag after a good one. If a Cavs player suffered an embarrassing miscue, there was a good chance it would pop up with sarcastic reassurances from teammates, such as, "Don't worry. You don't suck all the time!" Nobody was immune, but there was no doubt who wore the biggest bull's-eye on his back.

"LeBron, me, RJ, we all started feeding off the texts and turned into a 'bash Channing' session," Love says. "That was something we could all join in on."

Frye became a regular visitor to Love's house. If they made dinner plans for 7, he showed up at 3 and ate much of the food Love planned to serve. He became Love's trusted friend and convinced Love to view his role on the team in a different light.

"Kevin used to say, 'Man, all I do is shoot 3s,'" Jefferson says. "Then Channing comes in and says, 'This is awesome! All we do is shoot 3s!' So now Kevin stops and realizes, 'Yeah, I guess we do get a lot of open 3s.'"

After the opening round of the playoffs in April 2016, when the Cavs swept the Celtics, LeBron posted an image of himself, Smith and Thompson lounging on the couch in James' Akron home, smoking a celebratory cigar. The tag read, "Enjoying the fruits of our labor."

Frye, who was at Love's house that night with Jefferson, decided to counter. They squished onto Love's couch, filled their wine glasses and responded, "Enjoying the fruits of OUR labor."

Love came up with an idea: What if the whole team celebrated every series win at his house, where his chef could prepare them a private meal?

This year, after series wins over Indiana, Toronto and Boston, the team convened at Chez Love for its postgame revelry.

"It's been a real treat to have Kev open up his home to us," LeBron says. "He's a great guy."

Love insists his relationship with James was never as bad as it has been portrayed, but acknowledges the team's chemistry "is so much better now because of Channing."

Thompson, for his part, points to Cleveland's 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals last June as evidence for why this matters.

"Because Channing helped our team come together, when we got in some tough situations, like being down 3-1, we were able to band together and get through it," he says.

"Normally," Jefferson says, "guys in that situation start to splinter, they point fingers, which is 100 percent natural. But we collectively said, 'No, we're not doing that. We're getting out of this mess together.'"

AND SO IT IS that the Cavaliers find themselves in a 2-0 hole against the Warriors as they return to Quicken Loans Arena -- same as last season -- having been badly outplayed in both losses.

It has been a difficult season for Frye. Both of his parents died, within weeks of one another, leaving the man who has held up his teammates in need of uplifting himself.

Frye did not play in the Eastern Conference finals against the Celtics. He didn't play a minute in the Cavs' Game 1 loss to the Warriors and logged just 11 minutes in their Game 2 loss.

The glue guy would like to play more.

But in many ways, Channing Frye's work is already done.