When LeBron James opted out of his contract, I thought that was a ploy to force Pat Riley to put a better team around him and his brethren. Not once did I think he would seriously look to change his address.
So imagine my shock when the whispers started that LeBron was thinking of going home to Cleveland. Then the rumors became stronger until the announcement that he was taking his “talents” to Lake Erie. He didn’t say that, but what he did say was a mouthful.
Assuming his message was written by Lee Jenkins as related by LeBron James, it was still an essay that tugged at the heart of Clevelanders, as well as fans around the world. This wasn’t “The Decision” that made him Public Enemy No. 1 in Cleveland, and everywhere else around the NBA.
He went from a hometown hero to the most hated player in the league. It’s hard to imagine the best player in the game inciting such histrionics over a few spoken words. Fans in Cleveland burned jerseys and generally erased his presence as a native son.
Hell, the owner of the team reacted like a scorned season ticket holder with the scathing letter he put up on the Cavaliers' website.
Four years forgives many sins, and in this case, those of the star player and the owner of the team. They hashed out their differences and both took blame for their part. In other words, they both acted like adults for the better good. In LeBron’s case—he gets to go home. For Dan Gilbert, his franchise suddenly becomes viable again, and a helluva lot more valuable.
Forgiveness is based on the individual, and when I first heard the news, I thought, if I were a Cleveland fan, I would never forgive the spectacle he created when he left Cleveland for the glitter of South Beach. But as I thought about it more, I changed my mind. Not only did he admit his mistake of how he announced he was leaving, but he called himself out saying who was he not to forgive Gilbert for reacting the way he did at the time.
This was a watershed moment for me. Since his decision, I have pounced on every transgression perpetrated by him, whether real or imagined, by my hatred of everything LeBron. While I still will not forget all that has happened the past four years, I am willing to forgive.
The question fans have to be asking is, why did LeBron decide to go home? After a bad break-up, getting back together usually doesn’t work. There were reasons you broke up, and after the honeymoon period, they start to surface again.
His initial reason for leaving was because he thought he went as far as he could in Cleveland, and if he was going to win championships, he had to seek them out in foreign lands. He did win his championships—two to be exact—but did he leave more on the table by leaving Miami?
As of now, had he stood in Miami, he would have had a better chance of winning a title this year, as he seemed to acknowledge in his letter mentioning how tough it is to win a championship and it’s going to take some time.
Four years forgives many sins, and in this case, those of the star player and the owner of the team.
On the surface, it would appear that way, with Miami being a veteran team. However, when you look at an aging and injured Wade, Bosh as a supporting actor and no longer a star, and an even weaker supporting cast—was the run over in Miami? Realistically, the upcoming season would have probably been the last hurrah.
While going home seemed to be the sentiment, was this also a smart basketball move on his part?
Cleveland is a young team with some nice pieces, including Kyrie Irving and Andrew Wiggins. They were both first overall picks in the draft, along with Anthony Bennett, who went No. 1 last year. Three of the past four years, the Cavs had the first pick in the draft.
Coincidence maybe, but for those conspiracy theorists out there, was this coordinated by the NBA with the hope that LeBron would want to return to his roots? Cleveland only had a 1.7 percent chance of getting the first pick this year, but amazingly, the ping pong balls bounced its way yet again.
As things stand right now, Cleveland is in the mix as one of the favorites in the Eastern Conference. If they are able to pull off a trade for Kevin Love from Minnesota, they would likely be prohibitive favorites in the East.
Suddenly, returning home after four years away partying at “college” in South Beach looks like a much smarter basketball decision.
LeBron is about more than just winning titles. He is about the brand, and that brand was badly damaged by his decision to leave Cleveland and go to Miami. He could have stayed in Miami and continued to be hated by much of the populace. He could have played the part of a mercenary going to another loaded franchise on his chase for glory, but what would that have got him? Forever branded as a player just chasing a ring, and never good enough to earn it himself.
By going home, he accomplished both of those goals without further tarnishing his reputation. Nobody can blame him for wanting to go home, and in Cleveland, he’ll be viewed as the main reason for any success. He was contrite in his letter to Sports Illustrated. He comes across as a good guy who made a mistake, and who can blame him? After all, he was just 25 at the time, and he owned up to it.
People forget, and the fans of Cleveland have already erased the memory of 2010 like a bad dream. Did it really even happen? All that matters is that he is home now.
Even more important, it has changed his image around the world. Fans in other cities are also forgiving him. While there are still those that will always hold “The Decision” against him, the majority of the public will let bygones be bygones and give him the benefit of the doubt.
Brand LeBron can now take shape, because as I said, this is a lot bigger than basketball for him. His goal is to be a businessman and a billionaire after basketball. The world is now his oyster.
As dumb and as bad as “The Decision” was four years ago, this one was brilliant. For whatever the reason, this time he made the right choice.