Choosing Cleveland makes James’ story bigger, better than basketball

Because of his connection to Ohio, LeBron is heading back to the Cavs (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images).

LeBron’s connection to Ohio is the driving force behind his return. (David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Root for the story. It’s an ethos of this sports media business that gets neglected too often in these modern times, what with the fan blogs and team-specific Web sites. But it’s a line straight and true to covering this stuff professionally, avoiding any partisan tilt and occasionally having something special about which to cover, report and write.

LeBron James choosing to leave Miami and return to the team for which he previously played is the better story because…

Cleveland.

And home.

And loyalty and identity and a few other things that lift this beyond basketball.

Who chooses Cleveland? More specifically, who among the sports and entertainment world’s biggest names and brightest stars chooses Cleveland? The shore of Lake Erie in northeast Ohio is the place you take your talents from, whether you take them to South Beach or not.

Miami will always have the 2012 and 2013 titles and four Finals in four years. As Dr. Seuss said, “Don’t cry that it’s over, smile that it happened.” But Cleveland is home for James (well, Akron but close enough). And home was where James’ heart was when he announced his decision Friday in a letter on SI.com to return to the Cavaliers next season in search of NBA glory, yes, but something even greater.

Immediately when the news hit Friday, an increasingly anxious but committed sports fan base in Cleveland erupted in joy, excitement and redemption – counterweights, all, to the angst, sadness and anger left in James’ wake when he exited four years ago.

And because he was one of them, James had context to get over Cavs owner Dan Gilbert‘s heated, foolish, mocking public letter in the aftermath of “The Decision” in 2010. He so identified with the people whose hopes and dreams were invested, probably too heavily, in him and the Cavaliers that he could look past the flaming jerseys, the snarky placards and the boos that descended on him each time he played at The Q.

James even told those people that in his expressive, heartfelt letter on the Sports Illustrated Web site, a far classier way this time to make his free-agent decision known to the world:

It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?

So much for those clinging to hope, in the media or out, inside the Heat organization or out, that hard feelings from Gilbert’s silly Comic Sans rant would trump the big-picture values James wrote of (with the assistance of SI’s Lee Jenkins). Petty in the first place, that sort of outlook on life or even just business seems childish next to the things that helped make up James’ mind. Of the folks back home:

I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.

James knows all about the love those Cavaliers fans – and those of the MLB Indians and the NFL Browns and Ohio State and more – have for their teams and sports stars. He knows well the suffering they have endured, with no major sports title since Jim Brown ran the Browns to their 1964 championship. He took heat for rooting for the Dallas Cowboys and the New York Yankees, looking like a frontrunner but easing the frustration of the inevitable letdowns closer to home.

James knows this too:

These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man.

That’s something Cavaliers fans really need to chew on, especially the last part. They might not have liked what they would have gotten over the past four years had James stayed in Cleveland. The pressure to win there, and presumably futility similar to what he and they went through from 2007 through 2010, slowly and surely could have wrung the fun out of 156 more regular-season home games of LeBron. So, too, could the pull from other teams trying to pry him loose, the incessant questions from media at every NBA stop.

The drum beats of bigger markets and something akin to the “Big 3″ maneuver – had that particular “Big 3″ version not happened – might have swamped the basketball and been too much for that guy to handle. They would have not been the best of years with LeBron in place.

These have a chance to be the best of years, now, with LeBron back home. The siren song of free agency is over. He needs to go nowhere. James has his rings and the Cavs have their pieces for a real future, thanks to the heights-to-depths dynamic that seems the surest way to NBA rebuilding.

James’ omission of No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins‘ name in his published explanation Friday was a little curious, leading to instant parsing (and rumors that Wiggins might be traded for, say, the immediate help of Minnesota’s Kevin Love). But taken in whole, it is nothing short of a mission statement for him and his career going forward.

James sounds like he’s not going anywhere. Friends, rivals, All-Stars, they’re all welcome to join him as he chases as many rings in Cleveland as he can. But the work he has staked out for himself goes far beyond the Larry O’Brien Trophy he wants to deliver:

I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.

In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.

I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.

The NBA is going along for the ride, and gets itself the better story.


VIDEO: David Aldridge on LeBron returning to Cleveland

45 Comments

  1. Max says:

    I feel that anyone can say OK to LeBron, who just wants to finish at home. A stand up MAN!

  2. j says:

    He’s smart he went back to join 3 number 1 draft picks with him that’s 4 they’ll win championships once there game has developed

  3. Person says:

    Lets not forget that athletes are people too. If LeBron was chasing rings he could have gone to numerous other teams and neither Cleveland or Miami would have been the frontrunners. The letter reads like he’s wanting to help boost his community and the overall economic stability of his hometown, while also trying to build a potential championship team (build being the operative word bc in no way are they ready yet). Get over your need to hate this guy, the man just wanted to go home and repay a community that was there for him for most of his life. HIs arrogance got the better of him when he was 25, at 29 he’s grown up and repaired the damage he did four years ago.

    But I suppose there will always be haters looking for reasons to dislike LeBron. Let me ask you this question, could he have made any decision without getting your scorn? If he had chosen Miami, people would rant he spurned his hometown again and he waited too long to decide where to go because he wants the attention. If he went to any team in the West, he’d be accused of chasing rings and depending on others to win. If he signed on a team with Melo, he’d be accused of selling out Dwayne Wade for someone who is currently playing better than him.

    Everyone deserves a second chance, I think he’s earned it. I may be a Rockets fan for life, but I wish LeBron and Cleveland all the best.

  4. Aaf of Apopka says:

    I was an anti-Lebron since he started nba,;much more when he left cavs to form big3. I am a new Lebron fan now bec of his decision to come back home.
    He is matured enough now to fix what he has done on decision1.

  5. Roger says:

    James is off chasing another title. Every time the water gets a little rough he looks for an raiser ride. The great ones say build around me and I’ll lead you to the top of the mountain. The ones who desperately want to be great run around looking for the eaisest path to the top.

  6. Brou Haha says:

    Not sure if I should say it, but these people, the reporters, just play dumb or pretentious naivety to chew on every words from the athletes, or celebrities, for that matter.

    The truth is, anyone can say anything they want. Their purpose is to line people in their corner. There’s no sincerity in any of that sheet. More often than not, the rogues are the ones with most moving words.

  7. Knupxfon says:

    “And loyalty and identity and a few other things that lift this beyond basketball.”

    Court Jester James(he’s no king) showed SO much loyalty to his hometown when he dragged out the last “decision”, and made a spectacle of it on ESPN. He knows that Wade is no longer a superstar, and Bosh isn’t really as good as people make him out to be. He carried Miami to their championships.This is all about money.Not just his NBA contract, but how much more he’ll make in endorsements. I’m glad Bosh rejected the Rockets offer. They offered him way more than he’s worth.

  8. ayy lmao says:

    He didn’t do it to be a good person, he did it because he knew the Heat weren’t going to be championship material the following years, and he knew he could get MAX money from the Cavs, and on top of that have everyone praise him for returning to the team he left 4 years ago.

  9. Flex says:

    Wow, thats all I got to say. I don’t know whether to respect the move or take it as a boy thought he was the man, had all the wisdom in the world, who went out into the world, found some success, then got whipped, and ran back home to his momma cryin for not listening the first time.

    You brought something magical to Miami for the last 4 seasons, and I thank you very much for that. However, it feels like you’re leaving in the same fashion that you left the Cavs, except this time your friends aren’t going with you, and its not as big of a circus act. Yet still we have these articles to read, so maybe it just is. Still not a man, still running from challenges, and now its just easier to play the blame game on rookie players.

    • Roger says:

      He is just chasing championships. Miami fans such and don’t even deserve a team after booing their team off the floor during the finals.

  10. ericman1949 says:

    So the only reason he won’t sign a long term contract is because he thinks he can make more in 2016 when/if the salary cap goes up? he will make $20,000,000 this year. Tim Duncan makes half that much so the team has more money to bring in quality players. But, not everyone can be a team player in all respects. Maybe it will work out better than MIami (where the big 3 fell 5 NBA titles short of what Lebron promised). kinda funny that after things fell apart in Miami Lebron decided to return home but only if he can squeeze more millions of dollars.

    someone had to play devils advocate.

  11. manduca says:

    I don’t know how he forgot all the things those fans and the owner said about him,and how this city provided him the opportunity to win to rings something that he needed that time to put his name with the greastest players and that never was able to accomplice on seven years there and it will t

  12. Sandra says:

    Thank LeBron Jame for the 4 year in Miami.King JAME any wheare do you go.

    • Roger says:

      He’s not a King , just a vet good basketball player a a very average person who is chasing a championship by positioning himself in a better situation every few years. When the water gets rough he always bails.

  13. Bedrock46825 says:

    I’m a devout Lakers fans and a new LeBron James fan. His returning home has absolutely nothing to do with winning any championships.He will try to bring the city of Cleveland a title but if he fails he owns two already.LeBron is a major boost to the economy as well as the morale of a city who has been championship deprived since the days of Jim Brown. Thank you LeBron for coming home best of luck as well.

    • Roger says:

      He is a joke. When it’s time for some heavy lifting to help his team he quits and looks for the easy road. None of the truely great ones have ever done that. Just a very good BB player and a lest than average person .

  14. Big fan says:

    Not taking anything from James but does it not make sense basketball wise too for him to go back?
    Irving as PG, Dion Waiters, couple of high draft picks. Cleveland has a young group with big potential.

  15. Shane says:

    4 years ago LJ sat down with the Cav front office and said what next…Gilbert and LJ and all others involved agreed that after 7 years they were just a playoff team. Small market and zero chance to bring a championship home. They concluded that LJ should leave in free agency so they could tank and get a few lottery picks. After a 4 year max contract and ideally with a few championships himself come home and be a hero on a team with two high draft picks and salary room to start something special. Something better than if he would have stayed with the team with no talent. To sell this Gilbert wrote the letter knowing once the 4 years were up they would make up and LJ becomes a fan favorite for being the bigger man.

    I’ll give it to everyone involved. You sold it and it came to fruition. Enjoy the runs…You earned it.

  16. jbl says:

    choosing cavs will not give you another ring..you should join a good team in the west, to prove you are really a talent..WEST Teams are really tough to deal with as compared with the East..

    • Tony C says:

      Your comments make a lot of sense because the East has won two of the last three NBA Championships. Dude you are really smart.

      • Victor L says:

        He is talking about the west teams as a whole. Just one great team in the whole east does not make it tougher genius

  17. cbc says:

    After all, it’s only money and fame James craves for.

  18. Kome the Black Dumba says:

    Lebronze got balls to go back to a young team that accomplished nothing these past few years despite multiple 1st pick. He’ll probably have a hard time with such a young team and championship is not realistic for next year. BUT I got some respect for him going back to his hometown even they torched him bad when he left.

    • Tony C says:

      But if the CAVs get Love from MN, they have a great duo plus Irving. Irving will only get better, but nobody’s gonna be able to stop Lebron and Love together. Nobody. And the CAVs have all those young legs. To me, if they get Love, they are instantly the favorites to win the NBA title. With Love and LeBron there, that will give Irving a chance to really bloom his tallents. The possibilities are mind blowing. Spurs should be worried, because Lebron owes them a good beat down.

  19. Redd says:

    Lets see if the greatest player in the world can bring some rings to cleveland best of luck to LeBron and new cavs

  20. Celtics Fan in San Diego says:

    I have been a loyal Boston Celtics fan for over 40 years but I also supported the Cavs when LBJ started playing for them. As a former athlete, one cannot help but appreciate his talent and natural athleticism. When LBJ left in 2010, he was merely exercising his prerogative as an Unrestricted Free Agent. However, it was the manner of which he announced his departure that left a proverbial sour taste in my mouth. I believe a lot of people shared the same sentiment (to varying degrees) until the last few hours. Now that he is back, I hope the team performs well to reward their loyal followers, sports fans in general, and supporting communities all over Ohio and elsewhere. Good luck to the Cavs, I wish all of you well… but I am still a Celtic fan at heart. :-)

  21. Unkle Daddy says:

    Today a boy became a man. I would like to believe that James’s love of Ohio brought him home, but truly I believe he knew the “Big 3″ had gone as far as they could go. Wade and Bosh’s skills are on the decline. Where else would you go but home, as the Prodigal son.

  22. petmalu_19 says:

    So who’s the guy the cavs would build their team with? if its james, then best option might be a trade for kevin love and kevin martin who could stretch positions 2 and 4. That means giving up wiggins and waiters though I’d really like to see cavaliers build around wiggins and grow as a cavalier. stopper on 5 is also a concern for now

  23. Miami305fans says:

    Miami season holder, thanks for the best 4 years in basketball Bron
    We will be fine, good luck Lebron.
    Miami will still cheer for you, we will see you in the off season
    Second home South Beach.. Where your rings hang.

  24. For6iven says:

    I believe the Cavs will be a nice contender. They should start getting some deals done ASAP. If they can get a Mark Jackson to coach and some depth like Gasol, Love, Deng or Ariza they are serious contenders. I would put my money on the Cavs if they at least get Mark Jackson.

    • Pp says:

      They already have a coach. Whst are you talking about? All Mark Jackson is good for is saying ” I am Mark Jackson” and “Glory be to Mark Jackson”. Don’t forget!, he is “Mark Jackson”.

  25. Jay says:

    Man, anybody who knows sport knew he was going back home. He just wanted a ring or two to shut ppl up from saying he need a ring to be complete now he got it. So look out nba the king is coming. An in 3yrs clev will finally be a champ.

    • kobefanjay says:

      im sorry to burst everyone’s bubble but Lebron James and Cleveland will not win an NBA championship…he barely won his second one with Miami and they played no good teams to get to the finals in 4 years except the Celtics of 2012. there is no reason to think they will win…they dont have the team to do it and wont…plus the injury bug will bite. Lebron era is over things just move quicker nowadays…if anybody has read my posts i always present the brutal truth and am usually right…the league is actually responsible for this…they figure if this happens he will be marketable for decades to come like Jordan…thats why they made CLeveland win the draft lottery so many times …the only chance he would ever have of returning as they would never be able to sign a free agent…this is all a show wake up people its entertainment just like tv shows…i know the players actually play in the games and try to win but everything up to that point is guided and manipulated…the axeing of the chris paul trade is in my eyes the biggest screw over in the history of sports and was only done to ensure Lebron championships as the lakers would have just won and won with kobe dwight and chris paul…im not a crazy laker fan this is the truth…now the lakers are screwed for years…unless of course they get Love somehow

      • zfibster says:

        It’s always hilarious listening to Lakers fans gripe about things not being fair. Kobe has had a ridiculous amount of help virtually his entire career. Only years he didn’t the Lakers had less than no chance. I do think CP3 and a healthy Dwight Howard would be very dangerous, however throwing an over the hill Kobe in the mix? I’m not sure him jacking up 20+ shots while shooting 43% would really help the situation. Especially with him degrading his teammates more and more lately.

      • LBJthaking!!!! says:

        THEY BARELY WON CUZ BOSH AND WADE ARE TERRIBLE. CAVS HAV YOUNG FRESH GUYS

  26. A Fitting Resolution says:

    It was the only way it should end by Hollywood standards. My “dislike” for Lebron has mended over the years, and has completely dissolved now with this decision. I disliked Miami more then I did him, my team living in the shadow of it’s cousin (Orlando). I truly feel like he was frustrated 5 years ago and needed some new scenery, both for himself and for his goals. I also believe that he has realized now, having two rings under his belt, where his true heart lies. That drive to compete can sometimes skew your priorities. I’m not saying being competitive is a bad thing, or even that he should have stayed in Cleveland all along, but it really seems like finally getting what he was chasing made him step back and realize what was more important in the long run. He doesn’t have to worry about championships or history anymore, and can go back with the goal of winning them a ring (not himself) but more then that giving heavily invested fans a lot of hope. It may not be the healthiest thing to be so dependent on something as trivial as entertainment, but it happens, and those people are being understood and helped by this decision if not elsewhere.

    So basically, I’m happy for everyone involved (I feel the worst for Wade personally). This certainly makes the storyline much sweeter, but also makes the league that much more interesting as well. Can the young core in Cleveland mature under Lebron and become true contenders this upcoming season? If not them, then who will come out of the East? The East is just as open as the West now (albeit still weaker) and that makes for excellent anticipation.

  27. Wow says:

    Now I can actually respect Lebron James again. I don’t even like the cavs, but I do hope they go well with Lebron there again.

  28. Shawn Kemp no. 1 says:

    Heat fans > Cavs fans

  29. mel says:

    How could he say he made a mistake going to miami and he won 2 titles?

    • bballwiz says:

      He didn’t say going to Miami was a mistake, it was the way he left Cleveland. He said, “If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I’d still have left.” Leaving Cleveland and going to Miami was “like college for other kids”, and he learned so much there. Now, he’s home.

  30. Richard says:

    Congratulations to LeBron for his decision to go home where he has a unique opportunity to do much good for a lot of people in many ways far more important than just basketball. I have been a Piston fan since the fifties and have rooted against Maimi for four years. but I may just root for the Cavs this year ( except when they play the Pistons).

  31. Rico says:

    No mention of Wiggins in his essay, so Kevin Love deal soon?

  32. TerryMcGinnis says:

    Steve Aschburner <3 LeBron James