LeBron de­cides to re­turn to Cleve­land

The Standard Journal - - Sports - By TOM WITHERS

CLEVE­LAND ( AP) — LeBron James re­turns older, more ma­ture, a pol­ished cham­pion. He’s got a lit­tle less hair, and a ton more ex­pe­ri­ence.

Like any­one, he changed in four years.

The NBA’s big­gest star left four sum­mers ago on poor terms, de­spised by fans who burned his jersey and scorned by an owner who felt be­trayed. Cast as a vil­lain, James was on a mis­sion to win an NBA ti­tle — “not just one, not two, not three ... “— in Mi­ami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and he got two rings.

James has come back home to do some­thing big­ger, to do some­thing no one has done for nearly 50 years. He wants to do some­thing that would stamp his legacy and just maybe sep­a­rate him from bas­ket­ball’s im­mor­tals.

He wants to deliver a cham­pi­onship — to Cleve­land, the city where sports heart­break is as pre­dictable as cold win­ters.

“Our city,” the Akron na­tive said, “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.”

Four years af­ter he an­nounced his de­ci­sion to leave Cleve­land on a poorly con­ceived, hour­long na­tional TV spe­cial, James told the world he was go­ing home in a pow­er­fully writ­ten es­say for Sports Il­lus­trated. It wasn’t about “tak­ing his tal­ents” any­where this time. It was from the heart.

James said it all in three words.

“I’m com­ing home,” he said.

And with that, the bal­ance of power shifted in the East­ern Con­fer­ence, other free agents started look­ing for new teams and Cleve­land, with­out a pro sports ti­tle since the Browns win it all in 1964, is again home to the best player on the planet. James knows noth­ing is given, and the Cavs have a long way to go be­fore they can chal­lenge for a crown. But he’s join­ing a young team with an All- Star in Kyrie Irv­ing, No. 1 over­all picks Anthony Ben­nett and Andrew Wig­gins and plenty of po­ten­tial.

The Cavs, too, might look to add an­other star and have had pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sions with Min­nesota about for­ward Kevin Love, who played with James on the U.S. Olympic team in Lon­don two years ago and has just one more year on his con­tract with the Tim­ber­wolves. Love can be got­ten, but it might take Wig­gins to get him.

Cleve­land also may try to land sharpshooters like free agents Ray Allen and Mike Miller, who both played with James in Mi­ami.

How­ever the ros­ter ends ups look­ing, James needs to help the Cavs grow up.

“I see my­self as a men­tor now and I’m ex­cited to lead some of these tal­ented young guys,” he said. “I think I can help Kyrie Irv­ing be­come one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help el­e­vate Tris­tan Thomp­son and Dion Wait­ers. And I can’t wait to re­unite with An­der­son Vare­jao, one of my fa­vorite team­mates.”

Vare­jao is the only Cavs player left from 2010, when James bolted af­ter his sev­enth sea­son in Cleve­land. He had promised to deliver a cham­pi­onship, but came up short af­ter one trip to the fi­nals in 2007. He was un­der pres­sure, and buck­led. He wasn’t ready. He needed some help.

But af­ter ma­tur­ing as a player and per­son, and learn­ing un­der Heat pres­i­dent Pat Ri­ley’s tute­lage, James feels he knows what it takes to do it this time in Cleve­land.

“I’m not promis­ing a cham­pi­onship,” he said. “I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m real­is­tic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My pa­tience will get tested. I know that. I’m go­ing into a sit­u­a­tion with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head.

“But I get a thrill out of bring­ing a group to­gether and help­ing them reach a place they didn’t know they could go.”

Be­fore he de­cided to come back, James said he met with Cavs owner Dan Gil­bert, who had evis­cer­ated the four-time MVP on his way out of town in 2010. Gil­bert had writ­ten a let­ter to Cleve­land fans, call­ing James a nar­cis­sist, coward and “self-pro­claimed King.” But the two re­port­edly cleared the air dur­ing a meet­ing in Florida last weekend.The back­lash of his de­par­ture scarred James.

“It was easy to say, ‘OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.’ But then you think about the other side,” he said. “What if I were a kid who looked up to an ath­lete, and that ath­lete made me want to do bet­ter in my own life, and then he left? How would I re­act? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, manto-man. We’ve talked it out. Ev­ery­body makes mis­takes. I’ve made mis­takes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?”

Charles Cherney/ AP

In this April 22, 2010, file photo, Cleve­land Cava­liers’ LeBron James dunks against the Chicago Bulls dur­ing the sec­ond quar­ter of Game 3 of a first-round NBA bas­ket­ball play­off se­ries in Chicago

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