They called him a traitor.
They cursed his name.
They burned his jersey.
Now, all Cleveland fans will say, through toothy grins and gleeful giggles, is “welcome back.”
LeBron James is going back to Cleveland.
Sports Illustrated broke the news via an exclusive story penned from James himself (and told to Lee Jenkins). James explained his love for the city he grew up in, how important it was to return and bring a Championship to the city, and his desire to finish his career there.
It’s inspiring stuff.
It’s a totally understandable move for him and shows just what type of player – and person — he is and how deeply he cares for the fans in that city.
Four years ago, Cleveland despised him.
Their vitriol was championed by Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert. When LeBron broke Cleveland fans’ hearts by bolting to Miami, Gilbert comically wrote – in comic sans – a letter that read like a scorned lover.
Now he’s a hero, the hometown boy coming back to make good to the city he abandoned. It’s a great sports story, worthy of a screenplay and movie ending.
But going home means playing for a boss who ripped your integrity, painted you as a villain and disrespected you in the most public way possible. Gilbert wanted to embarrass LeBron four years ago. He wanted fans to think he was just another selfish, entitled athlete, who thought he was better than the blue-collar fans in Cleveland. And largely, he succeeded.
And now LeBron is ready to just forgive and forget? Every time he cashes those max salary checks with Gilbert’s signature, he’s not going to feel a tinge of anger towards someone who tore him to shreds four years ago?
Maybe playing for the city he first loved, in front of friends, family, and forever-grateful fans, will be enough to tolerate playing for Gilbert.
LeBron did his part. He’ll play the prime years of his career in a small market city with little meaningful basketball history. Since his one fatal error – The
Decision – he’s been the consummate ambassador for the NBA. He has the appeal that Michael Jordan had, without the prickliness, and is willing to help grow the game in anyway he can.
He should be celebrated for that, and this decision should be universally praised. Now it’s time for Gilbert to hold up his end of the bargain.
Along with paying him a max salary — which is about $50 million less than what LeBron is actually worth — Gilbert should make a public apology. He should state he was wrong, admit he overreacted, and thank whoever he prays to every night that LeBron is going to triple the value of his franchise.
This was the most followed story all year. Twitter nearly blew up daily (and is probably blowing up as this story is being posted). The amount of attention this decision got will now transfer to the Cavaliers, and they’ll suddenly become one of the high-profile teams in the NBA.
Good for Cleveland to get their homegrown star back. Good for NBA fans, for getting this much excitement in July. Good for LeBron for showing that his love for Cleveland wasn’t just talk and backing up his words about wanting to finish his career there.
And good for Gilbert. You got the “coward” back on your team. Still feel the same way about him?
Yeah, I didn’t think so.
(Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter @StefenLovelace.)