I was once a detractor of LeBron James.
I thought he often acted spoiled when he was with the Cleveland Cavaliers; I thought the promotion surrounding “The Decision” made him look wildly self-centered; I hated the messianic worship and the media mayhem; I thought that running to Miami in order to win titles with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and Pat Riley made him appear mercenary. He wasn’t Jordan, Bird, or Magic. He didn’t stick with his team and take them to the promised land.
But a funny thing happened in Miami. I started to like LeBron.
His game evolved. He wasn’t going to be able to get away with powering to the hoop – and unlike a lot of folks in a variety of industries who think they never have to get better, LeBron knew it. So he became a deep threat. He was always a great passer – now he learned when to take control of a game.
And he seemed to evolve as a person, too. He got married to his high school sweetheart – as he should have, considering they already had kids. He became more comfortable in his own skin: he could be the biggest star in the game without coming off as a jerk.
Now he’s headed back to Cleveland. Here are seven reasons to root for him:
He Didn’t Let His Ego Intrude Into His Decision. When LeBron left Cleveland after manipulating the process and then stiffing his hometown, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote a long, angry letter – which he then posted to the Cavaliers website and left up for four years. The letter was brutal, more than a little whiny, but not without justification. “You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal,” Gilbert wrote to the fans of Cleveland. “You have given so much and deserve so much more.”
LeBron clearly didn’t like the letter. He felt betrayed. But he came back anyway, because he felt it was the right thing to do. Today, he wrote this:
The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned – seeing all that was hard for [my family]. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?
Homecomings Are Cool. LeBron in Miami never felt right. It felt manipulated, cheap. LeBron is from Cleveland. Fans burned his jersey when he left, not because they hated him but because they loved him. Nobody burned Albert Belle’s jersey when he left for Chicago, because they knew he was just Albert Belle. But LeBron was a Cleveland kid. Now he’s coming back. And that’s a great story. He wrote today in Sports Illustrated:
Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.
This Is a Legacy Decision, Not a Money One. LeBron could have made more money staying in Miami. Florida doesn’t have a state income tax. Ohio does. Miami has great weather, a thriving media market, and star power. Cleveland is, well, Cleveland. That’s what makes this cool. This wasn’t Carmelo Anthony chasing cash in New York, or even LeBron chasing rings in Miami. It was LeBron recognizing that legacy sometimes isn’t about rings but about the connection between players and fans.
The Heat Will Now Suck. This is wonderful for those of us who are fans of the Celtics, Knicks, Spurs, Raptors… well, hell, we all hate the Heat. We hate the Heat because the team seemed arrogant, slapped together with cash and swagger the way the George Steinbrenner Yankees were in the 1990s. The Heat constructed a dream team with cash, location, and Pat Riley.
Now they’ll be terrible. Which is somewhat delicious.
Dwyane Wade Will Be On His Own. Dwyane Wade is significantly more unlikable than LeBron. Aside from flopping regularly, kicking other players in the groin, and doing the Kobe Bryant-patented “I Know I’m Old And Off My Game But I’m Still The Biggest Star On The Planet And Will Never Play Sixth Man” routine, his personal history does not speak to honor. He dumped his first wife for actress Gabrielle Union, then impregnated a third woman when he and Union were “on a break.”
At the beginning of LeBron’s tenure in Miami, he seemed to pick up some of Wade’s attitude — mocking Dirk Nowitzki for being sick, for example. That made it difficult to root for LeBron. Not anymore.
Perhaps Wade can convince Shaq to come out of retirement.
Johnny Manziel. He’s about to destroy the soul of Cleveland Browns fans once and for all when he breaks both legs while riding a unicycle naked and drunk through East Cleveland. Give Cleveland fans something.
It’s Cleveland. They’ve been a joke for decades. Their city slogan is apparently “At Least We’re Not Detroit.” Their economy is, according to the producers of the brilliant tourism video linked in the last sentence, “based on LeBron James.” Give these people back their economy.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the new book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.