LeBron James announced today that he’d be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers, four years after leaving his hometown team for the Miami Heat. I’m not a LeBron fan, but this certainly helps.
After The Decision, LeBron’s ill-advised 2010 TV special where he announced to the world that he would be “taking his talents to South beach,” my estimation of LeBron went from somewhere around Indifferent Respect to Unadulterated loathing.
Yes, I thought leaving your hometown team, the team that drafted you, waiting to hear your decision like everyone else was unprofessional and classless. But, really, what I disagreed with most was the face of the NBA, player we were all told was going to challenge Michael Jordan for the Greatest of All Time title, leaving his teamto join forces with other superstars♦ on one of their teams.
I surely wasn’t alone in feeling this way. Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan both criticized the move, echoing the sentiment of many sports purists. We want our superstars to hate each other, at least on the court if not off of it as well.
Outrage ensued. Jerseys were burned. Open letters were penned. James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh positioned themselves as the team you hated, unless you were a Heat fan (and back then, no one was a Heat fan.) After four straight finals appearances and two straight NBA Championships, during which time Lebron handled himself with class, the vast majority of people’s stances softened (not mine, of course.) People love a winner and James was now a winner.
After the Spurs dismantled a clearly inferior Heat team in this year’s finals, and with the future of the Heat’s roster up in the air, LeBron is coming back home to the Cavs. Three years ago this seemed like an impossible scenario. How Cavs owner Dan Gilbert managed to repair, either immediately or slowly over the last few years, their seemingly untenable relationship to the point where James would have considered a return will be a fascinating story to read when the details eventually emerge.
His return makes the NBA’s landscape all the more interesting, but it also makes him slightly less detestable. The prodigal son returning from exile to bring glory to his home town. It’s an easy story to get behind. When you factor in that hometown is Cleveland, which hasn’t exactly had much to cheer about in, say, several decades.
“When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”
That’s an excerpt from LeBron’s announcement where he basically put the team, city and state on his shoulders. He’s putting the responsibility of winning on himself and himself alone. This is a move that commands respect. He may have waited until after he joined someone else’s team to win two rings to do it, but at least he did it eventually.
I’m not suddenly rooting for LeBron — having the Spurs dash another of his potential championships would be a dream scenario, but I’m comfortable saying that feelings about LeBron have moved slightly from Unadulterated Loathing to Respectful Dislike.