Wednesday, January 24, 2018

For LeBron James, this decision feels right

This time LeBron James got it right.

He said it the right way, with class and grace.

He did it for the right reasons, such as loyalty and humility.

This time there will be no burning of jerseys or hanging of effigies. This time there will be no disparaging words or hurtful criticism.

This time he deserves our applause and admiration, our open arms, our pats on the back.

Four years after leaving, Le­Bron James is going home.

And it feels … right.

The best basketball player on the planet announced Friday that he is going back to Cleveland and the National Basketball Association's Cavaliers.

He didn't do it with a narcissistic television special that spat in the face of his most loyal fans. He didn't hold an egotistical news conference at some swanky hot spot with live music and confetti. He didn't leave a cryptic, nauseating, self-important message on Twitter or Facebook.

He wrote an old-fashioned essay with a writer from Sports Illustrated. The essay was respectful and intelligent, thoughtful and unpretentious.

In his essay, LeBron talked about growing up in Ohio and his love of home. He explained why he left Cleveland for the Miami Heat four years ago and why he is coming back now. It was like he left for college and is now coming home as a grownup, a better man.

He spoke of mistakes, regrets and how it's time to rebuild the burned bridge.

This time there were no guarantees of championships, no promises of a dynasty. He simply stated that it was his "goal'' to win.

"I feel my calling here goes above basketball,'' LeBron wrote. "I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I'm from.''

He closed his well-crafted essay by writing:

"I'm ready to accept the challenge. I'm coming home.''


This is how the story is supposed to go. This is how it should end. Cleveland is where he belongs.

He grew up in nearby Akron. He was drafted by the Cavs right out of high school, the hand-picked child chosen to lead a franchise. He made the team relevant. He made the city relevant.

LeBron gave the Cavs seven sensational seasons and pretty much single-handedly led them to their only NBA Finals appearance in 2007.

When he left as a free agent for Miami in 2010, he broke hearts and shattered spirits. LeBron overnight turned the Cavs into one of the worst teams in sports and left those in Cleveland feeling like a bride jilted at the altar. Unconditional love turned to unfading hate.

The fans had no right to feel that way. LeBron gave Cleveland everything he had. He did all he could and, as was his right, left as a free agent for Miami.

Sure, he could have done without The Decision, that embarrassing abomination of a television show where he announced he was joining the Heat and that made it seem like he was flaunting his new love in the face of Cleveland fans. But other than that hiccup, LeBron going to Miami wasn't personal. It was business.

And so is this.

Now it's Miami that should not feel disrespected or insulted. In four seasons with LeBron, the Heat appeared in four NBA Finals and won two championships. Miami got its money's worth. The fans got to see the greatest player in the world wearing their jersey and hanging championship banners in their arena.

Going back to Cleveland now isn't personal. It's business. Good business.

The Cavs' future appears brighter than the Heat's, and going to Cleveland not only repairs James' image immediately but it's the best bet for bolstering his legacy. He can revive the Cavs, win another couple of titles and get into the argument about who's the best player ever. He wrote that he is ready to get to work.

He has done plenty the past couple of weeks, which were unprecedented in sports. One player shut down an entire sports league and hijacked an entire sports TV network.

He took over sports sections and websites and radio talk shows and social media sites.

Staying or going? Blue-collar town or ritzy city? Going back to his first love or leaving it in tears again?

It sounds like a soap opera, and you know, that's exactly what this was.

Now it's settled. With a few hundred words, LeBron shifts the entire balance of the NBA. Just like that, one Las Vegas odds­maker has already made the Cavs the favorites to win the NBA title next season and the Heat's odds plummeted to a 100-to-1 long shot. The move also gives a city its self-worth back. No other player in any sport — at least in North America — has this kind of power in and out of the sporting arena.

And LeBron's decision will have an impact for years to come. It will affect franchises. It will affect other star players. It will make careers, and it will break a few, too. Some will become rich, while others will lose their jobs. It will affect the lives of billionaire owners and minimum-wage vendors and everyone in between.

The impact will be immeasurable but far-reaching.

In the end, did LeBron do the right thing? Well, there is no right or wrong here. LeBron earned the right to play wherever he wants.

But going back to Cleveland? Going back to the place he was born and raised? Going home?

It sure feels right.

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