So LeBron James isn’t the devil, after all?
That seems to be the takeaway, after LeBron decided to head back home to Cleveland in what was probably the biggest announcement in the National Basketball Association since LeBron left Cleveland for Miami four years ago.
For the past two-and-a-half weeks or so the basketball world was awaiting LeBron’s decision as to whether he would be staying in Miami with his boys Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, or taking his talents to Phil Jackson and the Knicks, Kobe Bryant and the lowly Lakers, or back Cleveland, the city he burned four years ago? Nobody knew what LeBron was going to do, and during his period of indecision, the N.B.A. was basically at a standstill. It was proof positive that the N.B.A. world revolves around LeBron James.
I have no beef with LeBron James. I like the guy. He is the best player in the N.B.A., hands down, and he’s worth tuning in to watch even if you don’t like the team he’s playing for. The guy is bigger than life, and it’s no surprise that the entire N.B.A. basically shut down while LeBron worked on his big decision.
Honestly – and I had no basis for this opinion – but I didn’t believe LeBron was going to leave the Heat organization. Like most of the country, I was completely dumbfounded by his decision to do so. It’s not that I think Cleveland is a bad decision; I just didn’t think LeBron had the balls to do it. I was surprised. Had I bet on his decision, I would have lost money.
Instead of some flashy, WWE-style, ESPN “The Decision, Part II” LeBron stayed classy this time, making his homeward-bound announcement through a first-person essay on SI.com titled “I’m Coming Home.”
In what seemed heartfelt, LeBron explained briefly why he left Cleveland four years ago for Miami. Simply put, he wanted to win a championship, and in doing so, he learned how to win a championship – much like a student gets an education at a four-year college. LeBron said he wants to bring his championship knowledge back to Cleveland.
“Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids,” LeBron stated in his SI.com essay. “These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go. I will always think of Miami as my second home. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.”
LeBron went on to say that despite the perceived mutual hatred between him and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, he always believed he’d return to play Cleveland, he just didn’t know when.
And while he said it’s always about winning as many N.B.A. championships as possible, his move back to Cleveland is more than that. He wants to raise his family in his hometown. He wants to help the Cavaliers’ younger players blossom into the best players they can be. He also wants young Ohioans to be all they can be in Ohio.
“I feel my calling here goes above basketball,” LeBron continued. “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. I want kids in northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”
LeBron’s essay was his announcement. There was no party, no press conference, no stage show with his new teammates. It was a much more humble and thoughtful approach than “The Decision” ESPN special four years ago.
While heartfelt, LeBron’s decision is still a business decision. Instead of signing a four-year deal worth close to $90 million, he signed a two-year deal with the Cavaliers worth $42.2 million. If and when LeBron decides to re-sign, at the beginning of the 2016-2017 season, a new N.B.A. television contract will be in place. If that contract is significantly higher than the current contract, LeBron and other players will then be able to ask for even higher salaries.
Right now, it’s undoubtedly LeBron’s plan to play out the rest of career in his home state with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In two years, he’ll negotiate another contract with the Cavs, and become the highest player in the N.B.A. LeBron will get the money, he’ll get to raise his family in his hometown and he’ll ride off into the sunset as one of the best, if not the best, players ever to hit the basketball court. Sounds just about perfect, right?
Well, we will see. I truly believe LeBron’s heartfelt decision to go back home is just that: one that is heartfelt. But money, poor seasons, coaching changes, leadership clashes and injuries can change plans very quickly. A lot can happen over the next two years. There are other teams with big bankrolls who’d like to get their hands on the best player in the world. You just know the Lakers organization is already scheming to get LeBron in two years.
If the LeBron James legacy is a three-act play, his departure from Cleveland at the end of Act I was shocking, to say the least. His return home at the end of Act II is heartwarming, and may deserve a Tony Award. What will come in Act III, when the so-called climax of the story takes place? Maybe LeBron crawfishes the whole deal and goes back to Miami? Or maybe he becomes a Laker?
LeBron’s story is far from over. His return to Cleveland shows that anything can happen. As they say, there is no such thing as forever. I look forward to the LeBron decision, two years from now.