USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt breaks down LeBron James’ decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The words that explained it all came straight from the man himself, by way of the Sports Illustratedexclusive in which LeBron James explained his decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers: “bigger than basketball.”
James going home again is about humanity more than anything else, about a 29-year-old from Akron, Ohio, who always loved the place that lost so much love for him four years ago and was willing to do the seemingly unthinkable to right the wrong of his summer 2010. Anyone who was there Dec. 2, 2010, when James went to Cleveland for the first time in a Miami Heat uniform would have bet their mortgage that he could never return.
RETURN: More on the decision
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The venom was real, and James’ defiant ways at the time only fueled this fire that made for such a sad scene. When reporters asked him whether or not he felt the need to apologize for the way he had announced his Decision, he did not. When the boos grew louder during that game, he grinned.
Cavaliers fans were hurt, and not in the sort of faux outrage way that is so often a part of the fan experience. Their “Mistake by the Lake” city had enough problems with national perception as it was, and here came this wolf in sheep’s clothing, this modern day Art Modell, to embarrass them on national television by saying he was skipping town.
“He had no right to disrespect our city like that,” one Cavaliers fan told me at a bar outside the Quicken Loans Arena not long before tipoff of James’ first return.
“It’s a slap in the face, a joke,” said his friend who sat nearby.
From that to this? Unreal.
But it’s like his personal website, the one many expected to be the platform for The Decision II, said, “Just a kid from Akron, Ohio.” This big old kid wanted to inspire, wanted to make his family happy, from his wife, Savannah, to his two sons and the daughter who is on the way. And as he said, he’ll now go to work trying to turn the intriguing Cavaliers team into a title contender.
He will take heat for this, and we’re not talking about the kind coming from the Heat teammates he left behind. Owner Micky Arison was classy in his response on Twitter, thanking James for his time despite being “shocked.”
Around the league, though, there is concern for the message that this sends in relation to the owner who somehow gets rewarded for all his boorish behavior. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was out of line with his infamous letter scolding James when he left, and he never admitted the error in his ways to the degree that even James eventually did.
A person with knowledge of James’ situation said that was still a part of James’ decision-making process in this time leading up to his decision, that James had to reconcile that relationship and be sure he was comfortable being the bigger man by going back. The person requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the relationship
And now, remarkably, it’s real. LeBron James is a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron James, it’s safe to say, is a local hero again.