Jeremiah Short, Feature Columnist
“I’m coming home.”
With that simple statement, LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers. It’s a startling reversal for a player who jilted his home-state team just four years ago…taking his talents to South Beach.
Great players have returned to the cities where they made their name before. Allen Iverson. Jason Kidd. Shannon Sharpe. Scottie Pippen. But none of those players were at their peak and darn sure weren’t the best player in their league. James is 29 and has four to five years left in his prime. And he’s returned to lead the Cavaliers to the promise land.
It’s the sports story of the year and possibly decade. The only story that compares is, well, The Decision. The original Decision led to the formation of the “Big 3”: James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
The threesome did what they joined forces to accomplish–making four NBA Finals appearances in four years and taking home two NBA titles.
That era has come to an end, though, with the Decision 2.0. James’ deciding to return to Cleveland is surprising, but it’s the right move for several reasons.
1. Basketball: James is being viewed as noble for returning to Cleveland. But his return to the team that drafted him makes the most basketball sense.
The Miami Heat made it to the NBA Finals but were an aging team with limited avenues to improve a roster in much need of improvement.
The Cavaliers are young, but they give him something he started to have little of with the Heat: help.
He has an All-Star wing-man: Kyrie Irving.
He has several young pieces around him: Tristan Thompson, Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters and Andrew Wiggins, the top pick in the 2014 NBA Draft.
Not to mention Anderson Varejao, one the holdovers from his first Cavs run. Ray Allen, Chris Anderson and Mike Miller could be on the way, as well.
James will lead this team the next five years and will be able to ease into a secondary role as Kyrie Irving takes the reigns from him.
2. Restores Competitive Balance: The East was the Heat and everyone else the past four years. With LeBron returning to Cleveland, that’s no longer the case.
The East will now break into three tiers.
The Contenders: Cleveland, Chicago and Indiana
The On The Verge Teams: Miami, Washington, New Jersey
The Young Guns: Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Boston
The West has dominated the East for close to a decade. But I foresee the East returning to its glory years of the late 90’s in a few years with James now in Cleveland.
3. Branding: When James made the original Decision his “Q Score”, which measures the popularity of public figures, took a major hit. Likability is a major factor in an athlete’s off-the field and court endeavors. Returning to the Cavaliers makes James likable again and gives him the derived credibility he lost after deciding to break up with his team on national TV.
For an athlete who’s planning on becoming the first Billionaire athlete, this move was crucial. He’s no longer viewed as the villain who turned on his friends and family to join up with rivals. He’s now the conquering hero who’s returned to vanquish all that oppose him.
4. Legacy: James stated before last season that he wanted to become the greatest to ever play the game of basketball. That was never going to happen in Miami. He’d always hav
e that asterisk: LeBron not as good as Jordan, Magic or Bird. They never joined up with each other to win rings.
No one cares that they didn’t have to join up with anyone because their teams were loaded in a pre-Salary Cap Era. Jordan had Pippen and Rodman. Magic had Kareem and Big Game James. And Bird had The Chief, McHale and Dennis Johnson.
James now has an opportunity to win a few rings with the team that he started with and put his face on the NBA Mount Rushmore.
5. Redemption: Not only does James have a chance at redemption but Dan Gilbert has a chance at redemption, too.
Gilbert overreacted and got all in his feelings when James departed four years ago–writing a scathing letter excoriating James. He’s stated that he regrets letting his emotions spill over–as he’s known more for the letter than for his philanthropy now. With his apology to James and the superstar’s return, Gilbert gets a rare chance to rebuild his public image. If James has forgiven him, then everyone else will follow suit. It won’t make him more money, but he’ll regain respect that he had lost.
James return to Cleveland reminds me of the “ The Parable of the Prodigal Son” (Luke 15:11-32). In the parable, the son decides to take his share of the inheritance and travel to a land far away. The son subsequently loses everything and returns home to submit to his father. Instead of admonishing his son, the father embraced him and cooks a feast for him.
When his brother complains about the adulation the father is showing the returning son, the father says: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
James narrative doesn’t directly parallel the parable but has similarities. He didn’t know himself when he took his talents to South Beach. He hit bottom after his first year there. After some soul searching, he became a better player and man. He got married. He became a leader of his team and NBA brethren.
The four-time MVP referred to his time in Miami as a college-like experience. What do children go to college for? They go to find themselves and then they return home.
Cleveland’s prodigal son has returned home for not one, not two, not three years but forever. Embrace him. He was lost but now he’s found.
Catch me on the “SportsKrib” on Wednesday’s 8-9 Central and Thursday’s 8-10 Central. Follow me on social media @DaRealJShort or check out my facebook page JShortJournalist or my Google Plus page J.Short- Journalist.