Originally written on July 12, 2014:
I know we here at MajorLeagueFantasySports.com are fantasy writers and players. But we’re also fans. So I’m stepping a bit outside our bounds to talk about what everyone is talking about today:
LeBron James is going home.
I have to preface this by saying I’m not a Cleveland fan. I’m not a Miami fan. I’m a LeBron fan. LeBron’s been my favorite player since he was a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. I had never seen someone with those kind of physical gifts as well as the basketball acumen he possessed. It was his vision on the court at such a young age that separated him from everyone else in my eyes.
It was his vision off the court that made today possible.
If you want to call me a bandwagon fan, go ahead. I’ve heard worse. The NBA is a players’ league and I’ve always been a fan of players before teams. First it was MJ, then Vince Carter, then LeBron. But being a LeBron fan feels almost as hard as being LeBron himself. You live and die with the ups and downs of his career. The 25 points in a row against Detroit in 2007 was awe-inspiring. The early playoff exits that followed in Cleveland were gut wrenching. His Game 6 performance against Boston in 2012 signified the dawning of a different player and a new man. Watching him lift the Larry O’Brien trophy a few weeks later was not only a huge weight off his shoulders, it was a pretty good size one off of mine as well after having touted and defended him for years and years.
It seemed like everything was trending the right direction until the Heat ran into a buzz saw known as the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals last month. That was among the most eye-opening drubbings I can ever remember watching, and it set in motion a chain of events that led us to today.
If Miami wins that title, it’s their third in a row. It puts LeBron in the company of MJ and Kobe with three consecutive championships and sets him up to surpass each of those legends by winning a fourth in a row. “Not 1, not 2, not 3…” would no longer be outlandish and boastful, it would be prophetic. Absolutely no one, LeBron himself included, would’ve given a second thought to leaving Miami.
Alas, that’s not the course history decided to take. Maybe we all as fans are better off for it. This last week and a half has been one of the most incredible studies in public fascination that I can ever remember. Almost as soon as Belgium dashed U.S. hopes in the World Cup, the entire American sports landscape shifted to LeBron Watch. As more time passed without hearing of him signing a new deal with the Heat, we started to hear whispers that it wasn’t a slam dunk he was coming back. As the silence prolonged, whispers turned into rumblings turned into speculation. Could he really be going back to Cleveland?
Before long, every little clue that could be examined was given the CSI treatment. For the past week, there has been an astute breakdown of his website source code, moving trucks outside his home, his flight schedule, a four-year old letter and an owl at the Cleveland Zoo, just to name a few. We were all so enthralled by the idea that he might actually be going back to the team, to the city he spurned in 2010.
Mind you, he didn’t spurn me. When he left Cleveland, my feelings weren’t hurt. I didn’t burn his jersey, I just hung it up in the back of my closet. I never saw him as the villain. I just thought he made a sound business decision in pursuit of championships and a legacy among the greats.
Which is why I was so surprised at how emotional I was when he finally revealed that he was indeed going back to Cleveland. And it was when I realized my fandom for LeBron came on a much more personal level.
I moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia at the age of six. By the time I graduated high school there, I, like many of my peers, was ready to branch out and discover what else the world had to offer. So I took my talents to Atlanta to go to school at Georgia Tech. A year and a half later, I came back. I tell people all the time that it was because I was changing majors and I couldn’t afford to stay and — none of that was really true. I was 19 and I was homesick. I wasn’t ready to be away from everything and everyone I had known. So I moved back. I got to go home again.
Flash forward to when I was 23 and I found myself in the same position, this time moving out to Phoenix. Except this time I knew there was no coming back. I thought it was a move I had to make, something I needed to do to for me to grow as a person and pursue the goals I had for my life. I’m now 28 and have moved from Phoenix to Lubbock, TX, to Dallas where I am now. I’ve accomplished some great things and met a group of incredible people who I wouldn’t trade knowing for the world, but I’m still searching. It wasn’t too long ago that I realized what I’ve been searching for this whole time is that feeling of home I had back in Virginia.
I choose to believe that for all the success LeBron had in Miami, he too felt like something was missing. Winning gets branded as the be-all and end-all of athletic success and happiness. We sometimes forget that these majestic athletes that soar through the air and do things with a ball that seem unimaginable are still human. They have all the emotional and psychological desires and shortfalls that we do. They still feel joy and suffer through pain in many of the same ways all of us go through.
LeBron left the only home he ever knew. He did it in a way that trampled all over the hearts of Clevelanders. He didn’t do it to be malicious. But malicious was how it was interpreted and malicious is how it will be remembered. There’s a level of guilt and regret that I can only imagine has been stirring inside LeBron for the past four years. What he had in front of him this offseason was an opportunity. An opportunity to make peace with his home. An opportunity to make peace with himself.
When he took it, I think he surprised us all a little. Secretly, I think we all hoped he would go back, but tried our damnedest not to get our hopes up. Not to be let down. This story seemed so good that, there was no way it could actually happen, could it?
Then it did, and we all scrambled to Twitter, to Facebook, to all the websites, to all the sports channels, just to make sure this was the real thing. And at some point, we all found ourselves reading his essay. That wasn’t about switching teams. That was a love letter to a town, to people who grew up with him and he walked away from. Those same people, the ones torching his jersey and cursing his name in 2010, are the first ones who are going to open their arms to LeBron and welcome him back because he is one of their own. He is the Prodigal Son of Cleveland, returning to deliver them the one thing they’ve never had: a championship.
Now the paradigm of LeBron’s legacy is forever changed. The idea of chasing titles and counting rings, while still important in the grand scheme, takes a backseat to getting one of the league’s most dormant franchises atop a mountain they’ve never scaled. In my immediate reaction, I said winning a title in Cleveland for LeBron would be like winning five of them in Miami or elsewhere. He’s attempting to carry not just a team, but an entire downtrodden city to heights previously unattainable. Not just any city, his city.
Jordan, Kobe, Russell or Duncan never had a script like this in front of them. They never had the opportunity to do what LeBron is about to embark on. Not only is he back in the good graces of the people of Cleveland, he’s almost immediately become the feel good story of an entire sporting nation. I’ve rooted for LeBron his entire career but I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to see him win, to see him be successful, more than I do right now. He gets to go home and be around the people and the fans who have loved him since the beginning and give something to them that is bigger than himself and bigger than the game.
For that I am incredibly envious of LeBron. I don’t have the chance to go back to Virginia. I don’t get to decide to go back to the place I knew, the place I grew up, the place I still call home. To see my favorite athlete do it under these circumstances is absolutely incredible. I think we all as sports fans live somewhat vicariously through our favorite players. For me, I’m living more vicariously through LeBron than anything I ever thought possible. Like him, I won’t guarantee he wins a title this time around. But I want to see it as much as anything I’ve ever wanted to see in sports. And if it does happen, if LeBron carries the Cleveland Cavaliers to a long-awaited NBA championship, you can bet there will a tear in my eyes as that trophy is raised.
You can probably bet on LeBron having a few of his own, too.
Follow me on Twitter @sharpshot3ball for all kinds of sports takes and opinions. Always happy to converse and discuss with other great sports fans.
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