Forgive me for not being romantic about LeBron James’ decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Because I’m not. At all.
That’s not to say that I have any problem with the King’s homecoming. His return should be fantastic for the sport and, of course, the city of Cleveland. But I don’t buy for a second the narrative, so willingly lapped up by the media, that LeBron presented in his exclusive Sports Illustrated letter. James and the press have framed the move as one eclipsing basketball motivations, a mature decision to return to one of America’s most forsaken cities out of a combination of altruism and good ol’ American hometown pride.
In his SI feature, LeBron states “this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball.” I’m calling BS on that one, LBJ. If the Cavaliers had the roster of, say, the Utah Jazz or Orlando Magic, I have a tough time believing James would be heading back to the shores of Lake Erie. LeBron is returning to a franchise that has a top flight point guard in Kyrie Irving and the top pick from this year’s draft: the prodigiously gifted Andrew Wiggins. The Cavaliers represent a beautiful landing pad for James while his old supporting cast in Miami has aged somewhat ungracefully in the past couple of years.
I’m not doubting that location played a role in James’ decision. It would be outrageous to suggest that it didn’t. Of course he wants to bring a ‘ship to Cleveland. And I also am willing to believe that it was, as he says, always his plan to return to the city on the Cuyahoga. By the same token, he must also have seen appeal in the sunny beaches of South Beach when he made his decision to head south in 2010.
LeBron James is a basketball player. He’s a very good one–the best one on earth and probably one of the two or three best in the history in the game. I’m here to tell you that his decision to return to Cleveland, much like his decision to leave, is motivated by one thing more than any other: basketball. The Cavs have a basketball future as sunny as the Florida coast. After the aging Heat got dominated by the Spurs in this year’s NBA Finals, their future looked as clouded as the Cuyahoga River. Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh are beyond their best years. The Cavs are young and talented.
I’m a fan of LeBron James. He appears intelligent, articulate, and a selfless teammate. He’s a tremendous ambassador for the game of basketball and one of the most enjoyable athletes to watch in any sport. I’m looking forward to seeing him don the maroon and mustard yellow jerseys of the team that plays their games about 40 miles north of Akron.
That being said, just as he was excessively criticized and maligned for moving to Miami, James has received more praise for returning than he deserves. The pendulum has swung the other way.