— The player who delivered "The Decision" in July 2010, brought you "The Change" in 2011-12.
No more black hat. No more playing the villain. There would be a smile. There would be, to use his word, joy.
There also would be a new publicist and a carefully organized series of interview availabilities to create as much distance from Jim Gray and "... not two, not three, not four ..." as possible.
To a degree, LeBron James still was playing the game, still attempting to dictate the image, the comments about being a changed man turning into comments that varied little from interview to interview. They may have been sincere, but it all came across as scripted.
Good-guy LeBron certainly also seemed more at ease than villain LeBron. He was fun to be around in the days, weeks and months after the lockout. His game was even better. There no longer were moments to manage.
And yet, it's as if he knew that none of it truly mattered, that an image makeover in the NBA requires more than sincerity and smile. It also requires substance.
So there he was, on the Washington Wizards' practice court at the Verizon Center on April 25, pretending to prepare for a regular-season finale the next night that he already knew he would be missing.
Moments earlier, before the gym doors swung open, before the WNBA Washington Mystics prepared to claim their practice time, the Heat already were in playoff mode, preparing for the only two months of the season that truly would matter to James, particularly because of how the previous postseason had fallen apart.
The media contingent was particularly small that afternoon, as if they knew the following night's game would be so inconsequential that Eddy Curry would start at center.
And that's when James opened the curtain to what would follow, what is following.
Playoff Lent was about to begin.
In a corner of the gym, as several Mystics players waited for autographs, James addressed an impending state of mind.
Already the pregame chalk tosses had ceased. Instead, over these past six weeks, there merely has been a simple march to the court for the opening jump, often bypassing pregame introductions, a spotlight left without a player to chase.
"I don't know," he said when asked why he was discontinuing the trademark toss. "I'm a little more focused."
Moments earlier he spoke about the beard, one so Lincoln-like it had stood as a facial monument for almost the entire season.
"There's really no inspiration, honestly," he said, stroking it for effect. "I just grew it out throughout the summer and just kept it. I don't know. I guess it was like, I liked it, Savannah (Brinson, his fiance) liked it and I just kept it. As long as she said I could have it, I kept it. No inspiration, though."
He paused a knowing pause.
"I might trim it down some. I may even cut it off," he said.
Three days later the playoffs would begin, with much of the beard gone.
And two days later, one day before the start of the playoffs, another sign of singular championship focus:
James' most recent post on his Twitter account, dated April 27, one that began, "Thanks to my fans for the support all season."
Because he now would be alone, again, in pursuit of the singular validation that not even the MVP trophy he would receive two weeks later would deliver.
So yes, LeBron James, as he enters these NBA finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder is a changed man.
But not because of the image makeover so artfully, and apparently sincerely, crafted in the wake of perhaps the most stressful season of his career.
But because of the focus.
There have been no slip-ups during these playoffs, no sitting in front of a podium microphone alongside Dwyane Wade and joking in Boston about how a question was "retarded," as was the case a year ago.
And it's safe to say if a Thunder player comes down with the flu during this impending two-week series, as Dirk Nowitzki did last season, there will be no hallway mockery of the illness, as was captured between Wade and James in the hallways of the American Airlines Center in Dallas, as the Heat's season was going up in flames.
Instead, this postseason there has been measured thought both in play and comportment. Pregame and postgame in the locker room is spent turning pages, now completing the "Hunger Games" trilogy.
Some, and plenty skeptics remain, see it all as for show.
Yet this season the family is alongside in South Florida, not back in Akron. The mother of his two children, a companion since high school, is about to become his wife. He is grounded, more like us at least in disposition. He actually just might be taking out the garbage on the occasional night.
A year ago, when he was tearing through the playoffs at a pace even more substantial than what the Heat have accomplished over this season's first three rounds, it was as if a championship wouldn't be enough.
Too many simply didn't like who he was.
Now? Now he comes off so much more as who we want him to be.
A year ago, if there was a championship, validation would not have been complete, because LeBron James has always been about more than his craft. Icons almost always are.
Now with a championship, he can walk off the court and away from this season as both who he wants and who we want him to be:
Respected and a winner.