The Decision. It hurt so much because Cleveland fans, all of us in northern Ohio for that matter, care so much.
We are a loyal and devoted lot, if not an oft-jilted lot.
And perhaps no one ever jilted a region the way LeBron James did when he abandoned his hometown team in a televised spectacle on July 8, 2010, when he announced that after seven years with the Cavaliers he was “taking my talents to South Beach” to play for the Miami Heat.
Cleveland’s reaction was venomous, filled with bile, tears, burned jerseys, and even hatred. In a city which almost proudly lists its athletic heartbreaks — The Drive, The Fumble, The Move, The Shot — as badges of courage, The Decision became the ultimate kick in the gut.
In its aftermath, Cavs’ owner Dan Gilbert even issued an open letter to fans, and very much to LeBron, in which he called James “heartless, callous,” and called his move a “cowardly betrayal.”
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They were harsh and bitter words, so harsh that the great American novelist Thomas Wolfe would surely be proved correct. Perhaps his best work, published posthumously, was titled, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”
But what once was considered impossible, with a recent upgrade to improbable, became reality at lunchtime Friday when James announced he was returning to Cleveland to again play for the Cavaliers.
King James is again Ohio’s favorite native son.
With apologies to Michael, Magic, Bird, Kobe, and others from so many eras, LeBron is the greatest talent to play in the NBA. He is in his prime, not yet 30, and he returns not as an over-the-hill warrior fanning old flames late in his career, picking which jersey he wants to wear for his Hall of Fame induction. He comes with the most dynamic game in the game.
He was a man-child when he first played for the Cavs, and was more childish and insensitive than mannish in how he handled his first free agency and announced its outcome. He didn’t understand the shockwaves then; he does now. He returns home having manned up.
In the interim, he and a few others jobbed the system to create an all-star-type team in Miami that won 283 games in four years, appeared in four straight NBA Finals, and won two titles.
Cleveland fans, the ultimate bridesmaids in a city that has seen its pro sports championship drought reach 50 years, were left to wonder what might have been. Just maybe, LeBron did too. He chased rings and, yes, he found them, but deep down inside it may not have produced the type of joy he sought. So, now, he will chase joy in the guise of unfinished business.
James comes to a younger, fresher, more athletic team than he left. The Cavs might be sorely tempted now to trade top draft pick Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota for Kevin Love. If that should happen, it might justify the Las Vegas bookmakers’ immediacy in making the Cavaliers the favorites to win the NBA title next season.
Either way, with Wiggins or with Love, or with whoever else might be enticed to sign on as the free-agent dominoes start to follow in the wake of James’ announcement, the Cavs are poised for a run of greatness. And, so, perhaps is Cleveland.
Forgiveness was swift. The lost son returns to euphoria. We are ready to bear witness.
Mr. Wolfe was wrong. You can go home again.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.