Good for LeBron James. Good for Cleveland. Bad for Thomas Wolfe.
Wolfe, of course, was the famous Tar Heel writer who popularized the phrase: “You can’t go home again.”
LeBron, of course, is the famous basketball player who now will attempt to do just that. Cleveland fans are trying to figure out how to un-burn their LeBron jerseys, and now it is Miami’s turn to feel spurned.
After four years with the Miami Heat, LeBron comes home to the state where he first drew national attention in high school and then began his sterling NBA career with the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was the only place he could go where he wouldn’t have been perceived as a mercenary. It was the only place he could go to close the circle.
And, most importantly, it was the one place he could go that would make him the happiest.
“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked,” James told SI.com in a thoughtful essay in which he announced his decision – a “reveal” that was far different from that misguided televised spectacle on ESPN four years ago when he said he was going to take his “talents” to Miami.
“It’s where I ran,” James wrote of his home state. “It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can.”
He will have dazzling point guard Kyrie Irving with him in Cleveland, but the rest of the team is largely an unknown quantity. Although Las Vegas sports books immediately made Cleveland the favorite to win the 2015 NBA title, I don’t think that will happen. It will take LeBron at least a season or two to get the Cavaliers where he wants them – and to get the right teammates he wants to surround him.
For the Charlotte Hornets, this doesn’t change much. LeBron is up north instead of down south, but he remains in the Eastern Conference. The Hornets will have to contend with Cleveland now but Miami – the team that swept the Hornets out of the 2014 playoffs in four straight games – will be far less of a threat and may not even make the playoffs.
What I like about this most is LeBron did what he wanted while also returning to his roots. And I like that he has forgiven Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert, who wrote the sort of angry letter a teenager would write to the first love who dumped him when LeBron left.
Gilbert called LeBron all sorts of things in that letter, including a coward, and made the silly prediction that Cleveland would win an NBA title before LeBron did. Instead, LeBron won two titles in Miami and Cleveland has done basically nothing well other than win the NBA lottery over and over.
But LeBron talked it out with Gilbert, got it solved and didn’t let that stand in the way of his homecoming.
I first saw LeBron play when he was still in high school, when I made a pilgrimage to Akron to watch him after covering a Carolina Panthers game in Cleveland. He was 6-foot-8, 240 pounds even then – just like he is now – and he could have scored 60. Instead, he was content with scoring 21 points, grabbing 14 rebounds, passing the ball constantly to teammates and doing a series of on-court pushups when he violated his coach’s “no-cursing” rule.
He was a prodigy then. He is a man now – actually The Man, not only in the NBA but in the sporting world. And like so many men, LeBron has decided around the age of 30 (he will turn that later this year) that he wants to come home.
“I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously,” James said in the SI.com story. “My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from.”
I think he’s right.