CLEVELAND, Ohio – Fans can do whatever they want when it comes to deciding whether to hello or boo an…
CLEVELAND, Ohio – Fans can do whatever they want when it comes to deciding whether to hello or boo an athlete.
I start with that premise because they pay tickets. As a sports writer I do not.
So when LeBron James returns to the Quicken Loans Arena with Los Angeles Lakers, it will be fascinating to see the reception from the fans.
Perhaps some of you are still trying to decide how you feel about James.
The fact is that he chose to come to the cavalry once and he decided to leave twice.
If your rejection antenna is sensitive it may be your bottom.
“Kid from Akron”, as he called himself, has left his hometown team twice.
But this decision to leave Cavs for the Lakers in July 201
8 was nothing like the bad decision in 2010.
ESPN, in particular, the comment “I take my talents to South Beach” puts some of the worst of LeBron’s ego on display. I know that when time went on, he was embarrassed throughout the episode – but not his decision to spend four years with Miami Heat.
I heard from several people who know LeBron well.
He came home
LeBron James who left here in 2010 was not the same LeBron James who returned in the summer of 2014.
The first LeBron James was 25 years old. He had never won a title. He made it to the final one time (2007) and was sown. He was drafted by the cavalry, he chose not to play here.
I also do not think he appreciated what it meant to play in Cleveland because he had never been a pro elsewhere.
When he returned in 2014 he was 29 years old. At that time of life, four years can make a big difference in terms of maturity. He had also won two titles in Miami. He learned to be a good player when it meant the most – in the fall season.
Somehow he came home and wanted to do things right.
And he did it.
Four trips to the finals. An epic title victory 2016, Cavs, is the only team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win in the final. And they made it on the way to the Golden State.
I thought his performance in 2018 playoffs, which led Cavs into another Finals look, was perhaps the biggest career.
My guess is that he knew he was leaving and wanted to leave and knew he gave everything he could to try one last time for another championship.
There will always be some that violate LeBron.
No other athlete has used his leverage to keep his options open. In many ways he was the “franchise” and he knew it.
LeBron is also a bit of a control freak. Cav’s owner Dan Gilbert has some of the same instincts. This is part of the reason why these two mighty men collided at times.
The Athletic has published an interesting story by Joe Vardon about Kyrie Irving’s messy retirement and what role James / Gilbert played in it.
But in the end Irving suffered from jealousy about being in the same team as LeBron. He wanted his own franchise.
And LeBron will always wish he had more talent to make another title.
My thought is that the moment Kevin Durant joined the Golden State for the 2016-17 season, Cav’s title is over. The wars were too good and showed it by wiping out Cavs in five games with LeBron and Irving in the 2017 final.
LeBron spent 11 of his first 15 NBA seasons
He played more games (849) than anyone else in a Cavs uniform.
Here are the top five players: Zydrunas Ilgauskas (771), Danny Ferry (723), Bingo Smith (720) and Hot Rod Williams (661).
James never tried to force a trade in the middle of a contract, like Irving and Jimmy Butler. He waited until he was free to do his move.
In their history, Cavs has been in the NBA finals five times – all with James.
I recently spent time with Duquesne coach Keith Dambrot in LeBron James Arena on St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. We talked about LeBron’s impact on society, the Promise School is his latest project.
Dambrot was LeBron’s high school colleague at St. World Cup during its first two seasons – when he really was “just a child from Akron”.
What he has accomplished is remarkable, and he has stayed out of dire public / legal issues that have haunted many athletes.
LeBron will be 34 on December 30th.
He has much more of his career in the rearview mirror than the windshield. He has also earned the right to spend the next chapter of his life with Lakers or elsewhere.