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The King Returns Home To Cleveland

Miami Heat free agent LeBron James is going back to Cleveland, agreeing to join the Cavaliers franchise that drafted him in 2003, he announced in a story on Sports Illustrated.

Miami Heat free agent LeBron James is going back to Cleveland, agreeing to join the Cavaliers franchise that drafted him in 2003, he announced in a story on Sports Illustrated.

Don’t try to analyze what he’s thinking or plotting or why he did it. Dipping on Cleveland and destroying an entire culture and deflating the economy of an entire state – the state that gave him life – was the most ruthless decision Lebron James has probably ever made. He was always known as a people’s person and a beloved, clean-cut figure.

He became hated in some sectors of the world and labeled a quitter and trader by team owner Dan Gilbert. Most heads thought the vicious open letter Gilbert released to Cavs fans, slamming LeBron James for his national television appearance announcing his decision to leave, would permanently sever ties between the two sides. But LeBron has shown us this offseason that his Ohio roots run deeper than any anger-instigated rant by a disgruntled team owner. He knows that he owes it to the city to return home and revive basketball. His past decisions were made for money and accolades. He's straight with the legacy and the paper. Making that Mt. Rushmore discussion is about as good as it gets. 

In today’s world where everyone has an ulterior motive, it will be hard for some cats to understand that LeBron’s return is really just the right thing for him to do.


When I wrote the story, “Five Reasons Why LeBron James Might End Up Back In Cleveland,” back in March of 2013, most heads laughed at me, but if I worried about every sports nut that couldn’t see beyond the basket and the bugatti and peak into the soul of a person, then I’d be admitting that my job is easy. It’s my job to see beyond the numbers and the glitter and what people think should happen. Sure, most people in the celebrity-driven sports, entertainment and music cipher didn’t want the Miami party to end. The "Lebron" brand is like a disease and everyone within its vicinity from the local residents to the trend setting, jet-setting tourists and entertainers flocked to the city in record numbers when he owned the town. They all wanted to be part of his court and immerse themselves in the excitement and winning and colossal magnitude of LBJ’s moment in South Beach.


But it was just that. A moment that has now passed. I won’t miss it. It just didn’t feel authentic. It wasn’t basketball as I knew it, in a true basketball town with fans who could appreciate four straight trips to the NBA Finals and holding sole possession of the greatest player on the planet.

The c’hips are legit. The players who comprised The Big Three will forever go down as multi-champs and supreme ballers, but regardless of the forgiveness and excuses people make for him bouncing on Cleveland like a thief in the night and the success that followed, LeBron always knew it was wrong.

Besides for the fact that I saw the deterioration of that Miami team coming from 1000 bikini miles away, studying LeBron over the past few years gave me the impression that after he finally got that albatross off his back and silenced his critics and won a couple of c’hips with Miami, his desire to be liked and the conflict he undoubtedly experienced when deciding whether or not to leave Cleveland in the first place would eventually lead to his Ohio return.


In March of 2013 my piece made the following argument for James’ inevitable return home:

Despite his recent success, some cats feel LBJ has an unfulfilled debt to the city of Cleveland, and it’s a good bet James is one of them. The contract he signed in ‘10 allows him to opt out in ’14 and his contracts up in ’16. We’ve already heard rumblings about a possible Ohio return. Granted, it’s early for this conversation but it’s, surprisingly enough, on the table as a consideration.


Here are The Shadow League’s five reasons why LBJ might end up back in Cleveland.

1. He owes Cleveland a ring.

He knows it. No amount of winning, money raised or donated to Akron youth charities can erase feeling of abandonment James’ home state of Ohio feels. There are still heads that just won’t let him live that down. LeBron has earned a champ’s respect, but people still look at him a bit shifty-eyed about how “The Decision” went down. It pisses certain dudes off like Kanye’s skirt did Brand Nubians’ Lord Jamar. It’s got to bother him.

2. Kyrie Irving and Dwyane Wade are moving in opposite directions.

Dwyane Wade is getting older, and by the time he’s done with this deal, he’ll be 34 with mad mileage and frame damage. That’s a few more chips for the “Big Three” if everything is everything, and should take Wade to the brink of peak performance levels.



Kyrie Irving is trying to single-handedly revive a broken franchise. He’s busting more ass than Wilt Chamberlain at a King Magazine shoot. The young blood is just waiting for Cleveland’s prodigal son to return in a space ship and help lift him to iconic status the same way Shaq did for Kobe and Wade. Shaq could’ve stayed with Kobe and collected more hardware; instead he bounced to Miami and helped unleash the legend of Wade. Irving (thought he is admittedly, so far in his career, injury-prone) is a decade younger than Wade and he’s burning it up the NBA player-rankings. If LeBron is looking for career extension, the best wing man is swooping and swerving Irving.


3. He doesn’t want to be a villain. Doesn’t want his lasting NBA legacy in Ohio to be The Decision.”

Mending shattered relations with Cavs owner Dan Gilbert will be rough, but it would be a story for the ages. If LeBron’s PR "Cream Team" is on point, they’d know that a move back to Cleveland would further immortalize LeBron and finally endear him to everyone. Then instead of just dominating like Jordan, he can really experience that Jordan love. No one could be mad at LBJ if he bounced back to home base. Miami would be gravy. The endless publicity, financial windfall and credibility James brought to that area is ridiculous. He’s got nothing to prove there. Potential big-city suitors like the Knicks and Lakers need to fall back and understand that after years of battling for love and supremacy—The King is coming home a hero.

4. If he’s going to keep flamming on the Slam Dunk Contest , this is the next best thing.

LeBron has seen success on South Beach, but he still doesn’t strike me as a Miami dude. He’s more hometown than that. If the conversation is going to be between Jordan and LeBron for G.O.A.T. status, then LBJ needs every split-haired advantage. Winning the dunk contest would be epic. Getting his Bone Thugs on, by seeing Cleveland at the crossroads so they won’t be lonely, would put LBJ in a class for dolo. James needs to keep this in mind as he plans for the future.


5. Opting out in ‘14 and re-upping with Miami for more cheddar would be too easy.

James started this dramatic, free agent roller coaster max-money players enjoy now. He better not leave us hanging come free agency and do the easy thing by re-signing with the Heat. The op –out clause and mega luxury tax increases lurking could be a saving grace for Cleveland. Maybe Miami won’t be able to afford him. We need more suspense. Maybe even another “Decision.” But this time it’s on the sands of South Beach and LeBron says: “I’m taking my talents and my three chips back to the hood.” That would be a mythical ending to James’ storied career. It just feels right, like when EPMD got back together for some Unfinished Business. When NWA came together for the “Up in Smoke Tour” and Eazy-E’s son was doing his parts. It makes sense and it’s easier to stop and mend a broken fence when you have already built a castle.

Looks like we had it nailed.

Four years and three days after The Decision aired, James is leaving South Beach, choosing to join a rising Cleveland team rather than stick with the one that has been to the NBA Finals every year since he arrived. James explained his decision in an essay.


“When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn't had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what's most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.


I always believed that I'd return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn't know when. After the season, free agency wasn't even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn't going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”

In the story, by SI's Lee Jenkins, James elaborately addressed his decision and the effect of Cavs owner Dan Gilbert's infamous letter.

“To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned — seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. 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?

I'm not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We're not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I'm realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I'm going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn't know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I'm excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can't wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.”

Let’s not forget dynamic Andrew Wiggins, the NBA’s No 1 pick in 2014 and All-star point guard Kyrie Irving. Humility wasn’t Lebron’s strong suit when he made his first free agent escape. This time around, he’s not promising six c’hips. He’s not promising anything, but effort and sharing his many talents and experiences with younger heads. That's what basketball ambassadors do. That's a decorum that players like Allen Iverson and Kobe Bryant never cared to explore. Humility aside, NBA Nation knows better. The prodigal son has returned home to make Cleveland a basketball powerhouse again.



JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The Deputy Editor and Senior Writer is in his 23rd year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, magazines and national TV.

His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.