It’s over, and he’s back. LeBron James is returning to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers, four years after bolting Cleveland for Miami, where he helped lead the Heat to two NBA titles and four appearances in the Finals.
“When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission,” James wrote in a first-person essay that he wrote for SI.com that announced the move today. “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.”
And suddenly, James is no longer the heel, to use the pro wrestling nomenclature, but the face, both again speaking wrestling but also tapping into what he means to the NBA. James has long been the face of the NBA, but his four years in Miami divided the NBA fan base, to say the least, among those who understood why he left Miami, to win a championship with fellow superstars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, and those who felt he copped out on building a winner around him in Cleveland.
That debate is over. LBJ is back in Cleveland, ostensibly to finish out his career, and the 2014 Cavaliers are that much better than the 2010 Cavs that he left behind. Kyrie Irving, a former #1 draft pick and the 2014 NBA All-Star Game MVP, just re-upped with Cleveland, and the Cavs were able to pick up Andrew Wiggins with the first pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
So you might not have Wade and Bosh in their primes, like James had around him when he moved to Miami in 2010, but you have an elite NBA point guard, something that Miami never had in the James era, in Irving, and you have a possible future Wade in the rookie Wiggins.
And honestly, when you look at the situations in Cleveland and Miami, the 2014 Cavaliers are more like the 2010 Heat than the 2014 Heat, easily. Wade is a shadow of his former elite self, at best a good NBA player, maybe even dipping into average-player status as his age and history of injuries has been catching up to him the past couple of years. And Bosh was also the third wheel to the Big Three, reduced to being a stretch four capable of knocking down the open three on kickouts from James and Wade drives, but not much else.
So this is a good move for James, who returns to Cleveland knowing what it takes to win an NBA title, something he didn’t know four years ago. It’s a great move for the NBA, for one, because James instantly loses his detractors among the general NBA fan base, and because even the Miami fans who would be upset can realize that, hey, he’s returning home, and also, you know, we still have South Beach.
Also great for the NBA is that now that James has signed, and is moving on, the rest of the pieces in the 2014 free-agent market can start to move themselves around the chessboard. What happens to Carmelo? What about Kevin Love (not a free agent until 2015, but likely to move entering the final year of his contract, and his expressed desire to leave Minnesota)? What will Miami do, does Bosh go to Houston, what happens to the balance of power in the East, in the West …
Final way it’s great for the NBA: it’s mid-summer, and the NBA is on our minds. That in itself is good for the NBA, which can tend to fade back into the recesses of the public consciousness even during its exceedingly long season.
– Column by Chris Graham