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 4, will focus on the divorce between LeBron James, the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland… click the following links to read Part 1 Part 2 Part 3
Heading into game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals against Boston, the city of Cleveland was optimistic. The Cavs were at home in the friendly confines of Quicken Loans Arena. Everything was set up for success. Everyone fully expected the Cavs to come out and reassert their dominance. They were the best team in the league all year. It was time they played like it.
What did we get? An effing joke, that’s what we got.
The Celtics didn’t just beat the Cavs to send the series back to Boston. The Celtics annihilated them, final score: 120-88. This was the most lopsided playoff loss in the history of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The city’s fearless leader played more like a princess and less like a king. When the final buzzer sounded LeBron James, the two-time reigning mvp of the league and author of the 48 special put up the following stat line:
3-14 shooting, 0-4 from 3 point range, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and a grand total of 15 points.
Needless to say it wasn’t what anyone expected. Not to mention a harsh reality had hit everyone for the first time. This might have been LeBron’s final game in Cleveland as a Cavalier. They were blown out, the Cavs were embarrassed, and we booed. We booed LeBron James off of the court for the first time ever.
As we all know, the Cavs would eventually fall in game 6 to the Celtics. Again it was a less than stellar performance from LeBron and the Cavs. Immediately after the game the speculation started. Will LeBron stay or go? Did LeBron choke? Did LeBron quit on everyone who had supported him for so long? There were so many questions and very few answers were being provided by anyone.
Not only were we dealing with the fact that once again a Cleveland team fell short in the playoffs, now we had to deal with the countdown to July first. July first of course was the first day of NBA free agency and the first time since he was 18 that LeBron technically had no ties to any NBA team. The end of the Cavs season was less than 5 minutes old and already the hype machine was in overdrive. According to everyone it was over. LeBron James was gone.
The city of Cleveland is resilient, defiant almost. We are considered a down on our luck, past our prime type of city. We refuse to accept this. Despite the facts and figures about overwhelming unemployment and lack of new business we refuse to admit defeat. We believe we will persevere and rise again. The same applied to LeBron. He wasn’t going to leave, he was one of us.
LeBron had said time and time again how his mission was to bring a championship to Cleveland. It was his ultimate goal. At every speech, every award ceremony, every interview it was the same thing, bring a title to Cleveland. There was a solid team built around him that on the surface looked like LeBron loved. Time and time again we were spoon fed the notion that the Cavs were über tight and seemingly inseparable. This is something that is rarely seen among today’s athletes. Why would he leave that? Why would LeBron give all this up?
Immediately, all sorts of speculation began to be reported. LeBron was going to Chicago. LeBron was going to Miami. LeBron was going to go to New York and resurrect the Knicks. New Jersey, Los Angeles, and Houston were all batted around by the national media. Even Cleveland was given a solid chance at resigning him. But he could only sign in one city. What would he do? What should he do?
Cleveland put up a fight to show LeBron that this was where he needed to be. A campaign focusing around the concepts of home and family was displayed throughout the city. LeBron was also billed as “more than a player” in an attempt to appeal to his sense of loyalty and commitment to his home. Based on all of this, no one believed he would honestly leave. This was the perfect campaign being set up for the perfect player.
As the days dragged on, sources started making noise. LeBron was gone. LeBron was staying. LeBron was gone again, LeBron was staying and recruiting Chris Bosh to sign in Cleveland. No one knew what to believe. All we knew is that we didn’t want to believe we could lose out. We had already lost so much throughout the years. Not this time. Not with this player.
Then in a whirl wind everything began to take shape. LeBron would announce his choice on a nationally televised special on ESPN and in the process raise money for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. We had won. We knew we had won. Cleveland and the Cavaliers would continue to matter. LeBron was choosing us. How could he not? There was no way LeBron was going to go on national television and announce he was leaving. It was the type of low blow that no athlete had ever done before and no one believed would actually happen. LeBron was ours…
And then the sources started making more noise…LeBron was headed to Miami.
What? But Dwyane Wade plays in Miami. Chris Bosh was signing with Miami. This made no sense. How could that work? How did it happen? From about noon on the city of Cleveland and the entire nation believed the same thing. Despite the rumors there was no way he was going on national TV and leaving. No way, no how.
Then it happened
“This fall I’ll be taking my talents to South Beach and playing for the Miami Heat.”
What… The… *@&#
Just like that it was over. LeBron was gone. We sat and watched in horror as he explained his decision. With each and every answer and reference of himself in the third person Cleveland’s anger grew. His jersey burned in the streets. Immediately stories began being published about how this was great, how this was a huge mistake, or how the hell did this happen. One thing was for certain. After uttering those few words LeBron James and the city of Cleveland were officially divorced. LeBron James was now public enemy number one.
Days turned into weeks, weeks turned into months, and eventually the season was upon us. The Cavs without to LeBron were picked to finish dead last in the NBA by everyone. The Heat were picked to be the greatest team in NBA history by everyone. We hated it…we still do.
There are no real words to describe how Cleveland feels about what has happened over the course of the past few months. We feel insulted. We feel betrayed. We want our revenge. Today is the day it all comes full circle. Today is the day we begin to make things right. The Miami Heat play the Cavaliers tonight at The Q in LeBron’s first trip back since his betrayal. It’s going to be loud. The crowd is going to be rowdy. The national media will once again have its spotlight shining on Cleveland.
Cleveland is going to give LeBron hell.
Gone is the adoration and praise, the unconditional love, and the legacy of greatness. All that remains is a basketball player, a fan base, and a city. Tonight they will come together for the first time since their divorce in what can be considered truly epic theater. It’s nights like these where I can honestly say I love sports. The same is probably true for a lot of you.
So tonight we’ll sit around the TV, or at a bar, or in The Q and we’ll tell LeBron how we really feel. We’ll get what we’ve been holding in for so long off our chests and then maybe, just maybe… we can begin the healing process. Fans are often accused of caring too much. Maybe that’s true, maybe it’s not. One thing is for sure. No one can accuse LeBron of caring too much.