The return of Lebron James to Cleveland was an enormous story for Lebron, his legacy, Cleveland and for Bro Jackson too. Varoon Bose and Jared Mintz have covered the NBA for Bro Jackson all year, and Shane Morris scooped Lebron’s return to Cleveland story by hacking his website a few days before the big announcement (and he pulls back the curtain on how he did it). Here, we weigh in on the biggest story of the year.
The imagery of July 8th, 2010 was unforgettable for any sports fan, particularly if you lived in Cleveland. A Boy’s and Girl’s sports club filled with scores of children sitting on bleachers. Two directors chairs, one with veteran sports reporter Jim Gray and another with an 25-year-old giant fitted in a checkered red shirt uncomfortably shifting back and forth. Finally, after several minutes of banter, LeBron James spoke the word everyone had been waiting for, but not necessarily anticipating.
In the weeks that followed, the visuals continued. A wine and gold 23 jersey with engulfed with flames. Distraught bar patrons staring into their half empty glasses. The Heatles sitting next to each for the first time all wearing Heat jerseys counting “not 2, not 3, not 3…” to the laughter of the Miami fanbase. A letter penned infamously in Comic Sans by a bitter Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.
I could go on, but I’m sure you have your own distinct visual memory of that summer. Each and every image was so striking, so poignant, and so strong to the point that you never believed LeBron James would ever return back to Cleveland. In fact, most of Cleveland didn’t want their prodigal son to return. Sure we can all look back and say that as “Miami” left the mouth of LeBron, he felt he had committed a certain injustice to the city of Cleveland, hurt them to the point that he felt he owed them something. But bridges had been burned and doors had been shut and locked. I knew there was no way LeBron James would ever return back to Cleveland in my lifetime.
I knew the rumors of him considering a return to Cleveland after 2 titles, 4 finals appearances and 2 regular season MVP trophys were all a rouse.
I knew the secret meetings with Gilbert and legendary Cavalier center Zydrunas Ilgauskas never took place.
I knew Pat Riley had a few tricks left up his sleeve.
I knew he wasn’t going back home.
And on July 11th, 2014, I knew I was wrong.
The imagery did a complete 180 degree turn. Hysteria on Twitter. LeBron’s final goodbye to Dwyane Wade after exiting his charter jet. A giant mural of the King hanging from the Quicken Loans arena. Fans running, crying, and rejoicing on the streets of Cleveland.
But most importantly, a cover of Sports Illustrated. A superstar dressed in a black suit, a stark contrast to the boyish checkered red button down he wore in 2010. His hands remain gently folded, a championship ring on his right as if to commemorate the past. His eyes glare directly into the camera, ready to take the massive challenge ahead. A timid smile with both anticipation and caution. And finally, three words to commemorate the most historic moment in both NBA and sports in 2014.
“I’m coming home.”
The most surprising sports story of 2014 for me was easily LeBron James deciding that he was going to pick up his ball and head back home to Cleveland, after just four seasons in Miami.
In those four seasons, LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh made four Eastern Conference Finals appearances, won two championships, and were the talk of the league through and through. However, it became apparent that LeBron wound up being “Cleveland LeBron” more than a superstar with other superstars taking the pressure off of him at times, with the situation escalating as the Heat were embarrassed by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals.
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Even though there were instances where LeBron looked disinterested during the Finals, I didn’t think there was a chance that he would bolt from Miami, as the overwhelming consensus seemed to be that the Big Three were in line to restructure their contracts to make room for an additional All-Star caliber player, with Kyle Lowry and even Carmelo Anthony emerging as the front runners to be The Big Fourth.
Well it turns out that Melo wasn’t going to take any kind of pay-cut, and neither would Bosh, Wade, or James, as the trio broke up after the news that LeBron let bygones be bygones and felt indebted to his home state and the professional basketball organization that accompanied it. LeBron was over being a villain, he wanted to be a hero, and what better way to save the day than to leave an old broken down Wade to play for a team with three of the last four number one overall picks and a ton of cap space?
Whether or not the Heat were in a better position for LeBron to win immediately than the Cavs was almost debatable, as we knew Cleveland wouldn’t just be heading into the season with LeBron and Kyrie Irving. They shipped prodigy Andrew Wiggins and a few other pieces to Minnesota for Kevin Love shortly after acquiring LeBron, and have since added decent role players to the mix, as they await Ray Allen’s decision on where he’ll go to try and win another championship.
I don’t know that the Cavs are in a position to win big immediately, and early results would agree with that assessment, but I do still think that they have two of the ten most talented players in the league in LeBron and Love, and that Irving isn’t too far behind. In a conference that has a lot of competitive teams but not really one world beater, I don’t see how the Cavs won’t find their ways to at worst the East Conference Championship.
But the story here is less the Cavs, and more LeBron and Cleveland. It’s amazing that the greatest player that the city has seen since Kenny Lofton – ok, James Brown – was booed away when he chose “winning” over “sticking it out with crappy management,” and he decided to come back so quickly. If I was LeBron I’d forever be pissed at Dan Gilbert, I’d want to go play wherever I can win with elite talent, and I wouldn’t want to go back to a place where people burned my jersey and cursed my name after I gave them the best years they’d ever see.
But I’m not LeBron, and no other professional athlete ever has been like him. He didn’t give a shit what you’d think of his legacy when he joined with Wade and Bosh, and he can live with his four MVPs and two championships regardless of anyone’s narratives about what he is or isn’t.
We’re always looking for athletes to be role models, and LeBron – although it’s incredibly narrative friendly – chose to be a role model to a situation he related to over chasing Kobe and Magic and Jordan. LeBron may never win another championship, but his prime has been as good as anything we’ve seen in the NBA, and he’s choosing to focus on a different aspect of his legacy:
What he can do for the community – and surrounding communities – that raised him.
That’s pretty dope.
Lebron’s return trip to Cleveland also served as one of Shane Morris’s more impressive hacking accomplishments. A few days before Lebron appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated announcing he was coming home, Shane took a sneak peek at the source code on his website and found hints that Cleveland was in his future. He posted both the scoop, and the methods behind his hack on Bro Jackson. You can see both of these posts below.
It’s always trendy to hate on the best. Soon as a new talent surfaces, gasping and choking, from the acidic cesspool that is humanity, it will face a life of constant besiegement from the scum below. Our job used to be to raise those people up, give them what they deserve, but in these cold days, we find ourselves falling back on our worst instincts more than we should be. LeBron’s story is no different: Once-in-a-generation talent tries to forge a life on the path of glory while the slings and arrows of the lesser assail him from all sides. It started as, simply, “LeBron ain’t all that,” morphed into “LeBron chokes when it counts,” and then to “LeBron’s only about the money,” before going back to the easy route with “LeBron’s lost a step.” It’s all been horseshit, but it’s something he’s used to by now.
Let’s break down his abilities over the years, starting when he first got to the NBA:
That’s your first hit of the man’s potential. Here we all are, waiting impatiently for the man to wow us, but he’s not going to give us what we want just because we think we deserve it. His patience here shows maturity well beyond his 18 years of age.
Here’s where you start to really see LeBron’s ability to carry a team. He does it all in that clip. Still a little rough around the edges, but he’s polishing up into the diamond we all know he’ll become. Speaking of which:
That was 2013, the year he won his second NBA championship. The man is alone up there, in the swirling darkness. Nobody else could even come close to him.
Except, maybe, the Spurs.
The only thing better than one amazing talent, it seemed, was five of them. The Spurs beat LeBron with teamwork, plain and simple. But LeBron, upon his return to Cleveland, hasn’t just learned from his own mistakes last season; he also learned from San Antonio’s successes. Their selflessness. Their humility. In Cleveland, he wants to build a legacy that outlasts him. He’s not doing this for himself anymore, or even just his team. This time, he has help from his whole city.
Yeah, there are gonna be rough spots along the way. Yeah, there are challenges to defeat, obstacles to hurdle. And yeah, there are always gonna be haters. But this LeBron? The LeBron in that clip above? That’s undeniably the best we’ve seen him yet.