This week LeBron James makes his return to Cleveland for the first time since “The Decision” back in July. Needless to say, this will be a landmark moment for the city as we officially come face to face with the ramifications of “The Decision.” Since this is such a huge event I will be focusing the majority of the week on “The Return.” Today’s entry, part 3, will focus on the separation between LeBron James, the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland… for part1 click here. For part 2 click here
The Honeymoon was officially over…
After being swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA finals the Cavaliers would never be the same. Each and every season became a chase. A do or die situation where anything but a championship was deemed a failure. At the time the city embraced the challenge of being number one. There was a target on our backs for the first time in… well forever. Led by LeBron James we saw no reason why the Cavaliers wouldn’t make repeated runs to the NBA finals and bring home at least one NBA title.
My how things work out…
The Cavs would be one of the top teams in the league over the course of the next three seasons but were never able to make it over the hump. In 07-08 the Boston Celtics and the
newly formed “Big Three” would eliminate the Cavs in the Conference Semi-Finals. In 08-09, despite boasting the best record in the league and newly crowned MVP, the Cavs would be dominated by the Orlando Magic in the Conference Finals.
Both seasons brought about dramatic changes and roster turnover in an attempt to get over the hump. Each year the hump seemingly got bigger and bigger. But the Cleveland faithful held strong. We had “The King.” It was only a matter of time until he brought home the title he had promised us year in and year out.
Along the way though, things began to change. Growing speculation regarding LeBron’s future grew tiresome for everyone involved. The team didn’t want to discuss it. The fans didn’t want to listen to it. But there it was, staring everyone in the face thanks to the most unlikely of sources… LeBron James himself.
Despite the swirling rumors that threatened to derail the city and consequently give every Clevelander some sort of mental disorder, LeBron did nothing to stop them. In fact, LeBron seemed to enjoy the rumors and the attention brought along with them. Each and every time LeBron would hold steadfast his commitment to Cleveland and the Cavaliers another backhanded compliment was soon to follow.
Whether it was standing on the Cowboys sideline at Cleveland Browns Stadium wearing Cowboys attire, showing up to Yankee games at Jacobs Field wearing a Yankee cap, or rocking special edition LBJ sneakers in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks inspired by his favorite New York burrows, LeBron was always giving the city a reason to worry. Even his friendship with Jay-Z was enough to make everyone sick to their stomachs.
Was he really committed to this relationship? Was he cheating on us with another team, city, or fan base? He was already guilty of being a shameless flirt. Did LeBron already have one foot out the door? Everything we read or listened to made us believe he was. But each and every time we asked he would deny everything and like a teenage girl blinded by puppy love we would run back into his arms.
We trusted him. We believed in him. He was one of us after all. Even entering the final year of his contract with the Cavaliers in 09-10 we refused to believe he would ever play anywhere but Cleveland. New York and New Jersey and any other NBA city could have their shameless little flirtation with him because at the end of the day he came home to us, to Cleveland. He fought for us each and every night he was on the court. How could he leave such a perfect situation? Winning a championship in Cleveland would mean instant mortality.
In 09-10 LeBron once again guided the Cavaliers to the best record in the NBA and locked up a second consecutive league MVP award. There was reason to be optimistic. The past four years of playoff disappointments were behind them. The Cavs had the experience. They had the best player in the league… and he was pissed. LeBron had said from day one he was on a mission and as soon as the playoffs started it showed.
In the first round against the Bulls, LeBron led the Cavs to a commanding 3 games to 1 lead. Then something happened in the final moments of game 5.
Did he? No he didn’t…he did… Why did LeBron just shoot a free throw left-handed?
It made no sense. Out of the blue LeBron had developed a mysterious elbow problem. He said it was no big deal and again we believed him. A few days of rest and LeBron would be fine. Besides, the Cavs had Boston in the Conference Semis. This was a rival. There was bad blood between these two teams and between their star players. LeBron was not going to let us lose this series. Not this time.
The Cavs battled the Celtics to split the first four games of the serious. Despite putting together a dominating performance in game 3 LeBron didn’t look right. He looked off. Many wondered if it was the elbow. Others pointed to something else, something much worse.
In addition to putting up so-so stats in three out of the four games LeBron looked distant, almost as if he didn’t care or want to be in the arena that night. It wasn’t the same LeBron James. None of it made any sense. We had grown used to the theatrical and dynamic. LeBron had shown time and time again that he was capable of carrying the Cavs on his own.
Despite the worries the city was still convinced that we wouldn’t be let down again. We had two out of the next three at home in the Q and we had already shown that we could dominate the Celtics in Boston. Little did anyone know what was in store. Not the city of Cleveland, not the Cavaliers, not even the Celtics could predict what would unfold over the next few days.
LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers, and the City of Cleveland were all headed for a very nasty and bitter divorce…