The NBA Finals begin tonight, and LeBron James will be there.
I’m not exactly rooting for him, but I’m certainly not rooting against him, either.
It’s time Northeast Ohio forgives James, or at least moves on and forgets him. Not in the way you forget an ex-girlfriend by burning her pictures while listening to Adele and wishing a lifetime of failed relationships on her, but in the way that her marrying a wealthy, buff and tanned Brazilian wouldn’t completely destroy your summer.
Hatred, bitterness and inferiority are too exhausting, too painful for the soul. Bury the LeQuit jokes, the Lyin’ King T-shirts and the Queen James monikers. Two years is long enough.
I write that as a native Clevelander, born and raised 20 miles outside city limits. I crumpled up the sports section in disgust and tossed it across the room the day the Indians traded Ron Hassey. Of all the guys to get worked up about, I picked a journeyman catcher who batted .266 and hit more than nine homers only once in a season, so obviously my compass has been skewed before. Not now.
I drove downtown the night of The Decision, passing the parked police cars that were guarding the LeBron mural — and the building it hung on — across from Quicken Loans Arena. The city’s despair and scorched sidewalks where the James jerseys previously burned left an emptiness inside me.
I had taken the job at this paper only weeks earlier, expecting to chronicle the Cavaliers’ first championship and Cleveland’s first in nearly 50 years. Instead I was writing another obituary.
James’ path out of town was despicable, but that doesn’t mean he is. Despicable people don’t donate so much time, money and school equipment to the children in his hometown.
His “Decision” was a public relations disaster because he ignored the advice of the professionals he hired to handle such things, but that doesn’t mean his decision was wrong. He did what he felt was best for his career. As much as we’d like, you and I can’t play judge and jury on something like that.
I disagreed with his choice then and now, but right and wrong as it pertains to his life isn’t for us to decide. I understand why he did it. He saw the years rolling over like a taxi meter, only he was caught inside the cab every summer when the championship parades marched by.
He has waited not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven, but now nine years and counting for his first championship. Surely by now, the question “Will I ever get one?” has crossed his mind more than once. He panicked.
He has since apologized for the handling of his departure from the Cavs. He has finally realized what a blunder it was. He has grown up a little these last two years.
I loved Dan Gilbert’s letter and thought it was exactly what this city needed at exactly the right time, but the one line I disagreed with was, “Some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.”
I inferred that to mean James was trying to take a shortcut to a championship, but that isn’t exactly fair. It would be difficult to find another player, outside of perhaps Kobe Bryant, who works on his body and his game more than James. Like him or not, his dedication to his craft is difficult to dispute.
He spent a few days here last summer working out with Kevin Durant in what James described as an exhaustive “Hell Week.” Both men had their seasons end against the Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs last year, and both were determined not to let it happen again.
It only seems right that they’ll face off now, with the winner earning his first championship.
James doesn’t “deserve” a ring because those aren’t handed out like gold stars on spelling tests. Michael Jordan didn’t deserve six rings; he earned them. He went out every night and took them.
Similarly, when James grows tired of the choke label, when he gets disgusted by people second-guessing every one of his late-game decisions, when he finally rises up and realizes he is the greatest basketball player on the planet and one of the most imposing physical specimens on this Earth, who has the ability to take over the basketball world, he will.
And when that happens, he’ll get that championship. Given how he closed out the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Conference finals, it might be happening right now.
If it does, I won’t begrudge him. I won’t burn his Heat jersey in protest. I’ll wish him well and turn my attention back to the Cavaliers’ draft.
I’ve moved on. You should, too.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.