Sometimes you have to leave home. All of us know people who have done so, and if the outcomes vary widely, practically everyone who departs gains an education, formal or more of the street kind. You obtain perspective, among other things. That is why, four years ago, the choice of LeBron James to leave for Miami made sense, once clear of the fury and the ham-handed showmanship.
And now that James has chosen to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers to such broad delight? Read his explanation posted on the Sports Illustrated website, and a smarter, wiser, more experienced man is fully apparent. James became a better basketball player in Miami. He learned what it is required to win an NBA championship. Now he is ready for the next challenge, and that means coming home, where six decades have passed since the last title in professional sports.
Yet the homecoming is about more than what happens on the court. James takes seriously what he describes as “a responsibility to lead,” and he rightly has concluded that his influence will be greater in Northeast Ohio.
In that way, those of us in Akron know a substantial part of James never left home. He has been a presence all along in the community, most notably, through his support of hundreds of students in the city schools, guiding and pushing them to get the education they will need to succeed. In his Sports Illustrated post, he offered a revealing twist on those infamous words from the past, stating correctly that “our community … needs all the talent it can get.”
Much of the conversation on Friday centered on the fortunes of the Cavaliers. Who would come? Who would go? Would the superb Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves soon join? What about sharp-shooting Ray Allen? Nate Silver of ESPN calculated that adding Love and Allen would result in a championship-contending 63 wins next season.
Then, there is the new coach, David Blatt, much accomplished overseas yet an NBA rookie. And Dan Gilbert, the Cavaliers owner, author of that letter vilifying James upon his exit, condemning “our former hero” for his “cowardly betrayal.” The more worldly James asked in his post: “Who am I to hold a grudge?”
No doubt, too much can be made about professional sports, or a single star. Better to see the city become a global biomaterials hub or Goodyear locate its new tire plant here. Yet, four years later, one thing hasn’t changed: Better to have James playing for Cavaliers than for the Heat or some other club. His return even may benefit Johnny Manziel, the hard-throwing and hard-partying rookie for the Cleveland Browns. In the large shadow of LeBron James, he may learn to be less the clown.