LeBron James’s re­turn to Cleve­land proves home is where the heart is

The Covington News - - SPORTS -

The en­tire sports world waited for a week to hear those magic words from the best bas­ket­ball player in the world, and on Fri­day those words were ut­tered and the vast ma­jor­ity of NBA fans were sat­is­fied. LeBron James told the world in a hand­writ­ten let­ter to Sports Il­lus­trated that he was re­turn­ing home to the Cleve­land Cava­liers.

There are many rea­sons to why this was a great move for LeBron but the one that stands out the most is that this is about more than bas­ket­ball. This is a home- town kid re­turn­ing to his home state in a city which hasn’t won a cham­pi­onship on the pro sports level in 50 years.

Through­out his first ten­ure with the Cava­liers there were many times when we won­dered would he be able to break that curse. In 2007, which was only James’s fourth sea­son in the NBA, he put that Cava­liers team on his back and led them to the NBA Fi­nals – some­thing that fran­chise had never ex­pe­ri­enced be­fore that mo­ment.

We all won­dered, was this the crown­ing mo­ment of the NBA’s next best su­per­star and next best NBA fran­chise? That was quickly shat­tered away by the team that had cur­rently held that ti­tle. The Tim Dun­can-led San An­to­nio Spurs swept the Cavs and ended Cleve­land’s dream of a cham­pi­onship.

How­ever, LeBron was only 22 years old and he hadn’t even reached his peak as a player yet. He was just get­ting started so of course fans im­me­di­ately thought this team still has a great chance to win a ti­tle.

In 2008, LeBron be­came even bet­ter. He led the league in scor­ing and was close in the MVP race and his Cavs re­mained among the elite in the East­ern Con­fer­ence. How­ever, they would have a quick sec­ond round play­off exit when they ran into the team who would even­tu­ally be­come the new king of the East and the NBA, the Bos­ton Celtics and their trio of su­per­stars Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Gar­nett.

De­spite the play­off loss, the Cavs got a lit­tle stronger and LeBron got a lot bet­ter. In 2009, LeBron won the first of his four league MVP awards and the Cavs fin­ished that reg­u­lar sea­son in first place in the East­ern Con­fer­ence and NBA over­all. It seemed like noth­ing would stop them that year. They swept the Detroit Pis­tons in the first round, swept the At­lanta Hawks in the sec­ond round and then they ran into the Dwight Howard- led Or­lando Magic.

This se­ries saw LeBron hit his fa­mous last- sec­ond buzzer- beat­ing three- pointer in game two, but the Magic even­tu­ally took the Cavs down in six games and LeBron stormed off the court in anger and frus­tra­tion with­out shak­ing hands with the op­pos­ing team.

De­spite the loss, the Cavs were still young and so was LeBron who was only 24 and in that off­sea­son they brought in a neu­tral­iz­ing force that would all but guar­an­tee that Cleve­land would win the 2009-10 NBA Cham­pi­onship. They traded for Shaquille O’Neal from the Phoenix Suns and he was sup­posed to be the force that would help LeBron lead the Cavs to a cham­pi­onship.

How­ever, Cleve­land would quickly learn that due to his age and ail­ing body this was no longer “The Diesel” that led the Lak­ers and Mi­ami Heat to cham­pi­onships; he was sim­ply just Shaquille O’Neal, an­other NBA player.

But they still had LeBron who won his sec­ond straight MVP award that sea­son, and the Cavs fin­ished first in the East­ern Con­fer­ence and once again looked un­stop­pable. They took out the Chicago Bulls in five games in the first round, but in the sec­ond round they ran into those Celtics again.

It still looked as if it was no prob­lem though af­ter the Cavs took a com­mand­ing 2-1 se­ries lead, but the Celtics would use their ex­pe­ri­ence as their big­gest weapon to win three straight games and fin­ish off LeBron’s Cavs in six games.

How­ever, this time it was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent for Cleve­land be­cause LeBron was set to be a free agent and was free to go any­where he wanted, but there was still a feel­ing that he wouldn’t leave Cleve­land. It was his team in his home state that he was too proud of and would stick around to help bring a ti­tle home.

Then came his good ‘03 draft class friend Dwayne Wade and NBA leg­end Pat Ri­ley. Those two had al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced an NBA Cham­pi­onship vic­tory to­gether and they wanted more, but they wanted to bring LeBron along for the ride. Wade in­creased Mi­ami’s chances by bring­ing in Chris Bosh, but Cleve­land still be­lieved it would keep its prodi­gal son.

Then came July 8, the day that will al­ways be known as “The De­ci­sion” and LeBron shocked the world and formed a new dom­i­nant team in the Mi­ami Heat, and for the first time in his ca­reer he was the vil­lain of the NBA and Cleve­land felt be­trayed. They took down ev­ery poster of him and burned his jersey. The Cavs owner re­sponded with a let­ter to fans and was highly crit­i­cal of LeBron.

It looked as if Mi­ami would im­me­di­ately rule the NBA, but the Dal­las Mav­er­icks would quickly end that and NBA fans cel­e­brated as Dirk Now­itzki’s team took down the NBA’s su­perteam. Cleve­land fans cel­e­brated al­most as much as Mavs fans and cele- brated even more be­cause of LeBron’s inept per­for­mance.

How­ever, James came to Mi­ami to win cham­pi­onships and in 2012 and 2013 he did just that and in the process he cap­tured his third and fourth MVP awards. Com­ing into the 2013-14 NBA sea­son, the fo­cus was on the Heat and whether they would three-peat, but in Cleve­land, fans were hop­ing and pray­ing that wouldn’t hap­pen be­cause they knew they would have a greater chance of get­ting James back if the Heat lost.

On June 15, the San An­to­nio Spurs granted that wish and de­feated the Mi­ami Heat in five games to de­throne them as NBA cham­pi­ons and just a few days later LeBron opted out of his con­tract to once again be­come a free agent, but Mi­ami still looked like the front run­ner and then Cleve­land made two moves that made them a true con­tender to re-land the King.

The Cavs signed cur­rent star Kyrie Irv­ing to a five-year ex­ten­sion and traded away three play­ers to cre­ate enough cap space to give LeBron a max­i­mum con­tract. How­ever other lit­tle things still stood in their way, a meet­ing with Pat Ri­ley and his friend­ship with Dwayne Wade.

And then last Fri­day morn­ing came “The Let­ter” and LeBron wrote in his own words an ex­pla­na­tion, not an apol­ogy but a true heart­felt ex­pla­na­tion, and at the end of the let­ter he said “I’m com­ing home.”

Cleve­land and NBA fans are re­joic­ing all over, ex­cept for Mi­ami of course, but this isn’t a player com­ing to a bet­ter team. This is a man com­ing home to up­lift his home state to a level of glory it has never had be­fore and quite hon­estly, LeBron is ready to be that fig­ure for Cleve­land.

He de­scribed his ex­pe­ri­ence in Mi­ami as a kid who goes off to col- lege. He was there for four years and it shaped him into the per­son he is to­day. He is the head am­bas­sador of the NBA, he is a busi­ness­man, he is a bet­ter player and a bet­ter man be­cause of it. And now is the time to bring that back to where it all started for him.

This time around what LeBron brings to Cleve­land is ex­pe­ri­ence, lead­er­ship, and win­ning in­tan­gi­bles and un­like the first time he has a true star to play along­side him in Kyrie Irv­ing.

I com­pare this en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence to a pro­fes­sional wrestler who be­gan his ca­reer as a hero that ev­ery­one loved, but one day he de­cided to visit the dark side and be­come a vil­lain­ous heel. How­ever, he soon re­al­izes he doesn’t like be­ing hated and he be­comes that hero again.

How­ever, the other fact be­hind this is that his re­turn has fi­nally neu­tral­ized the NBA to the true com­pet­i­tive league that it re­ally is by hav­ing no true su­perteam bar­ring Carmelo Anthony join­ing the Chicago Bulls with Der­rick Rose and Joakim Noah.

Wel­come back LeBron James, and wel­come back true com­pet­i­tive NBA, you have both been greatly missed.

XAVIER MCKNIGHT

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