On the night a year ago when LeBron James received the first of his two NBA championship rings, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert said he regretted his emotionally wrought guarantee in the summer of 2010 that his team would win a title before James and the Miami Heat.
“When they won, it was the end of the end of the end of that whole thing. Now there’s nothing more to talk about,” Gilbert said.
“Until he wants to come back,” I responded.
As the Cavs open the season Wednesday night at home against the Brooklyn Nets, everything they will do in the next six months will point to the summer of 2014, when James can opt out of the final two years of his contract, become a free agent and sign another max contract.
Some Cavs fans probably hate that the circus might be coming back to town, even if a more mature James orchestrates less than a three-ring show this time.
But love him or hate him, there will be plenty of Heat-watching in Northeast Ohio this season. And it raises a point to debate: Would James be more willing to return to the Cavs if he three-peats with the Heat? Or should those who want the Chosen One back in wine and gold root for the talent in South Beach to fracture and to stumble?
Would another title, which would make the Heat the first team to win three consecutive championships since the Los Angeles Lakers of 2000-02, convince James that he has achieved all he can in Miami? (It would also be the Heat’s fourth consecutive trip to The Finals, a feat last accomplished by the Boston Celtics from 1984-87.) Or would cracks in the James-Dwyane Wade-Chris Bosh triumvirate make the gregarious James attempt to patch things up and try again?
There is no clear-cut choice, but I’m leaning toward the three-peat.
A team has won at least three consecutive championships five times in NBA history. It has been done by the Los Angeles Lakers (2000-02), twice by the Chicago Bulls (1996-98 and 1991-93), the Boston Celtics (1959-66) and the Minneapolis Lakers (1952-54). But that only those legendary Celtics kept the string going past three might convince James that the Heat’s run has ended.
Ring No. 3 would also set up a euphoric departure for James that he could ride right into Cleveland. If he could deliver such success in Miami, even those who once despised him might consider him their title savior. Next summer, James will be in the prime of his career at age 29. If you didn’t think the global icon could get any bigger, imagine the adulation of a superstar who wins another championship, then comes home to try to do the right thing.
Winning a third title would also allow James to make good on his “Not one, not two, not three….” comment from that frivolous Heat pep rally when he arrived in 2010. James does seem to want to be a man of his word. On the cover of the LeBron issue of ESPN The Magazine, he’s wearing his foundation’s “I Promise” bracelets on both wrists.
On the other hand, failure might make it easier for James to flee the Heat.
In that Oct. 28 issue of ESPN The Magazine, former Beacon Journal sports writer Brian Windhorst suggests that James and Wade might not be able to coexist much longer as they fight for alpha male status. Windhorst writes that Wade and James refer to themselves as friends, but those close to them say they are only friendly. The article suggests that Wade is unhappy trying to do what’s best for the team as he steps back and lets James take over.
James tries to get along with everyone and should be able to keep chemistry solid with the rest of his teammates. But Wade could snap during another year of James hoopla, which might be like nothing we’ve ever seen with his free agency looming.
Those who despise James might love to see the Heat melt down internally. But that could be a souring experience for James and convince him he needs a fresh start in a city besides Cleveland.
I think the odds are good James will leave Miami. I agree with informal polls in magazines and on the Internet that Cleveland is his most likely choice if he does.
I don’t believe James wants to raise sons LeBron Jr. and Bryce in South Florida. I envision them following in his footsteps in the gym he’s spending $1 million to renovate at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School.
James also knows that no one has been able to “Light up the town like Las Vegas,” which he vowed to do here. The longer Cleveland’s championship drought, now assured to hit 50 years thanks to the woebegone Browns, the more revered will be the players who end it. His mansion in Bath might eventually have a Jamestown address if he brings us that long-awaited parade down Euclid Avenue.
The bottom line is James’ next team will be the one he deems best equipped to win championships. To convince him that’s the Cavs, their young players must show progress this season and make the playoffs.
But do the Heat need to win or lose the title to help the Cavs’ chances? Even the Kingmakers might not know for sure.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.