LeBron James announced yesterday that he will be leaving the Miami Heat to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers. Cleveland, of course, is his hometown (Editor’s Note: Shut up, Akron; you’re a suburb of Cleveland! – Alex) and he played the first seven years of his all-time great career with the Cavaliers. Since many of us are from Ohio, or lived there at some point in our lives, we have some thoughts.
I am extremely surprised he is coming back — Clevelanders were so angry and bitter when he left four years ago that I thought for sure he would take one look at them and be like, “Ummm, no thanks guys.” But his letter read as sincere to me, and I guess it does make sense that Northeast Ohio is still home to him and his family.
In a frenzied series of back and forth texts after the news broke, my brother reminded me that normally, the minute the city’s sports stars become free agents, they leave the Cleve: Albert Belle; Manny Ramirez; Kenny Lofton; Jim Thome; Omar Vizquel. A baseball-heavy list to be sure, he admitted, but only Lofton and Thome came back — for their final seasons, as older players. LeBron is at the top of his game, and yet here he is: Coming home. I have to give him some credit, as surprised as I am about this turn of events.
I’ve seen more than a few folks comparing the new LeBron + the Cavaliers to an unhealthy marriage or relationship, but I think that’s way off-base. Their relationship before The Decision was the unhealthy pairing. Honestly, I don’t know that the Cavs would’ve won any championships if LeBron stayed. The Cavs were way too dependent & clingy, and LeBron wasn’t going to mature & improve the way he needed to within that infrastructure. I think you saw that with how the original break-up went down: LeBron acted like a dick when he split from the Cavs, and was surprised how psycho Cleveland got after he did.
But now? Both parties seem ready for each other again. The Cavs have figured out how to build a team (more or less), independent and without needing King James. LeBron received tutelage from one of the savviest men in basketball (Pat Riley), and matured as he hit his prime. They don’t need each other like they did at the start, but now they want each other. So I toast the newly-attached couple; may you bring at least one championship to a city that truly yearns for it.
After your father and grandfather take you to your first Indians game at age five and set you on a lifelong path of Cleveland fandom, heartache becomes something not experienced suddenly but learned by rote. However, among the travails of the Indians, Browns, and Cavaliers, LeBron James gave me one of the most ferocious punches in the gut. I knew he was a player not once in a generation but once every five or ten generations…and having seen my other heroes depart Cleveland, I didn’t blame him for going. I blamed him, as many others did, for “The Decision,” theself-aggrandizing manner in which he left. It felt like a giant middle finger to the town I love. I sided with Dan Gilbert, quietly rejoiced when he melted down against Dallas in his first Finals, and initially reacted with excessive disdain at the news he was returning.
I then read his essay on what prompted him to come back, and…my attitude changed. The one thing LeBron James and I have in common is the place we call home, and when he writes “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have,” I couldn’t help but understand what he meant. There are many kinds of success, but one of the greatest goes beyond money and championships: the success of accomplishing something meaningful among the people you most want to succeed for, the people you call your family. This is a success fraught with peril because it is accompanied with intense mental pressure, the fears of failure, letting others down, and not being able to withstand the enormity of the challenge. This is a success that one cannot simply work for but choose as a conscious risk. LeBron matured enough to be “ready for the challenge,” to choose to step into a situation with an uncertain outcome because it meant the world to him. Once I realized that, it felt like 2007 all over again, when my timid, homesick self, assembling IKEA furniture in his first Los Angeles apartment, watched LeBron singlehandedly defeat the Pistons in double overtime with the kind of performance that makes you believe in sports magic and thirst for it. I’m thirsty again.
My initial reaction was legit surprise. I had assumed for a long time that the bridge between LeBron and Cleveland had been too thoroughly burned in 2010 for him to return. When the owner of the team writes a comic sans letter all but calling you the Devil that seems like a pretty final farewell. I also have some first-hand observations of life-long Clevelanders (a.k.a. my in-laws), and their vitriol towards the once and now-returned King made me think the fans would never accept him as anything but a villain. To be clear, said in-laws were almost unfailingly polite in expressing this vitriol. This is still the Midwest, after all. So perhaps the biggest surprise of all was when LeBron announced his return and Cleveland’s reaction was joyful & incredulous crying. Whoda thunk?
My other thought, of course, is fuck this new Cavs team. I was born and raised a Pistons fan and have adopted the Bulls during the late-Dumars swoon over the past few years. I legitimately love both those franchises, which means I hate this Cavs team. Chumps. New kids on the block. Underachievers, even when they have a player as good as the Pistons’ entire championship squads or the immortal Jordan. They will be good, but they don’t scare me. LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Andrew Wiggins (or perhaps Kevin Love in the near future) make them the best team on paper in the East. And? The Bulls will be around to punch them in the face and the Pistons will…tank so that they can draft better in the future. But still! My point stands! The Cavs are a second-rate franchise who have gotten ridiculously lucky to assemble this roster. (Three #1 Draft picks in 4 years…come on!) Cleveland fans generally are mopey and navel-gazing because they have dedicated their lives to losing. You know what’s better than close being star-crossed, but enthusiastic anyway? Four Stanley Cups for the Red Wings and three NBA titles for the Pistons since I was born. Since I’m a Chicagoan now, go ahead and add in the six NBA titles for the Bulls from the Jordan era, the 2005 World Series champ White Sox, and two of the past five Stanley Cups won by the Blackhawks. Meanwhile, Cleveland still kicks the dirt about 1997. THERE’S MORE OF THAT TO COME! #BOOM <drops mic>
(Editor’s Note – We’re sorry. We had no idea Alex had a pedestal. We’re seeing to him now, and making sure that he is surrounded by images of the Lions day and night. Please forgive us. – Travis)
(Editor’s Re-Note – Who gives a shit about the Lions? Cleveland has the Browns! They’re the only franchise as bad! And the Bengals! They’ve been better, but have gotten exactly as far as the Lions in the playoffs this millennium. First round and out 4ever. Or is it 49ers-ever? #SuperBowlXXIIIBurn – Alex)
(Editor’s Note – You think you can break me. But you cannot break me. – Travis)
(Editor’s Re-Re Note – Hey, is that John Candy? – Alex)
(Editor’s Note – ……………..dem’s fightin’ words. – Travis, aka Master of the Thunderdome)
(Editor’s Re-Re-Note – This battle will be fought by seeing who can watch a Browns v. Bengals game for longer. We will all lose. #MutuallyAssuredDestruction – Alex)
(Editor’s Closing Note – ………..<flip>. – Travis, aka BLARGH&*#@%*&*&$*)
Cleveland is all like, woo-hoo! Best day ever! We’re totally going to all the clubs! We’re winning ALL the Titles!
Meanwhile, the only team that really matters is all like:
That says it all.