LeBron James is leaving Miami and returning to Cleveland, proving you can burn bridges and turn your back on another city as long as the court of public opinion shouts its approval.
James broke the story to Sports Illustrated Friday in a carefully crafted letter to the fans, not with a self-serving, network television special, explaining how he’s a changed man, and a much more mature player than he was four years ago who now understands the significance of playing for his hometown team and is ready to accept the challenge of bringing a title to Cleveland.
The fan reaction has been typical of what you’d expect from our nitwit nation of casual couch potatoes, a social media orgy of ringing endorsements and backhanded compliments from mom-living hypocrites who claim they now finally respect James after 11 years of him pouring his blood, sweat and tears onto the basketball court and helping raise millions of dollars for the Boys and Girls Club of America through his charitable endeavors (including the proceeds from his television special four years ago, which totaled more than $2 million).
In our sick, twisted world in which every move an athlete makes must be done on our terms for our approval, James is being unilaterally lauded today for doing the same thing to Miami he did to Cleveland four years ago, skipping town when the going gets tough and it becomes evident his team is incapable of winning multiple rings anymore as currently constituted.
While it may seem a little harsh and a tad bit disingenuous, it’s obvious after this year’s performance in the NBA Finals the effectiveness of the “Big 3” had waned considerably since its initial trial run in 2011. Dwyane Wade is a shell of his former self and Chris Bosh is 30, plus the supporting cast has gotten progressively worse each season. This is the perfect time for James to jump off that sinking ship now that he’s already won two titles and return home where there’s less pressure and less urgency to cement his legacy.
James is a two-time NBA champion, four-time league MVP and 10-time All-Star. His legacy is set. Whatever happens in Cleveland happens, but at least in his eyes he’s redeemed himself among the fans he desperately sought approval from, because inner peace and serenity is the only scenario in which this move makes any sense. As bad as Miami might be with declining stars and an even worse supporting cast, Cleveland has fumbled its way through four seasons since James left, wasting last year’s No. 1 pick on fat Canadien bust Anthony Bennett and improving by only 14 wins in the four years without LeBron.
James will add 15, maybe 20, victories to next year’s total, and make Cleveland an instant playoff team in the underwhelming Eastern Conference, but depending on what happens with the rest of the available free agents now that LeBron is off the table – Carmelo Anthony to Chicago, or Bosh to Houston? – bragging rights are still up for grabs. If the Pacers can get a full season out of Roy Hibbert and not circle the drain for two and a half months next year, they might be the prohibitive favorite to reach the Finals in 2015. Even LeBron himself said the Cavaliers aren’t ready to win just yet, so if you think winning was, and still is, his No. 1 priority, well, he would’ve went anywhere but Cleveland.
What it ultimately comes down to is James doesn’t us anything now, nor did he owe us – or the city of Cleveland – anything four years ago when he decided to do what every other player in his position would’ve done and take his talents to South Beach. The decision in 2010 shouldn’t have changed the way you felt about him then, and this year’s revelation shouldn’t change the way you feel about him now.
Consistency and fairness are everything, and there’s little to go around when it comes to judging our athletes based on every quote, transaction or muscle twitch. When the protagonist in a romantic comedy ultimately ditches the hot blonde he ran off with and returns to the open arms of the pudgy, socially-awkward brunette he spurned at the beginning of the film, it’s still kind of a dick move, so if you thought LeBron was somewhat of a runaway nomad four years ago, it’s hard to understand how your feelings have changed now.
You can forgive and forget, as long as the guilty party repents on your terms, but you can’t unburn a jersey.
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