Home is where the heart is.
Four years after making the “decision” to leave his hometown team for the Miami Heat, LeBron James announced on Friday that he would return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the organization that drafted him 11 years ago. He returns with two NBA titles, four more NBA Finals appearances, and a desire to give the city its first title in 50 years.
As told to Sports Illustrated‘s Lee Jenkins, James stressed how much Northeast Ohio has meant to him:
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.
James said he would have still left Cleveland four years ago, presumably to learn how to win titles, but his decision would have been made in a different way:
Remember when I was sitting up there at the Boys & Girls Club in 2010? I was thinking, This is really tough. I could feel it. I was leaving something I had spent a long time creating. If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do things differently, but I’d still have left. Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go. I will always think of Miami as my second home. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.
James said he is “not having a press conference or a party” and emphasized that it is now “time to get to work”:
I’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted. I don’t want anyone thinking: He and Erik Spoelstra didn’t get along. … He and Riles didn’t get along. … The Heat couldn’t put the right team together. That’s absolutely not true.
Jams said “what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio” and he has “always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when.”
James implied that his mother may have been more upset than he was at Cleveland fans and owner Dan Gilbert for their hostile reactions after he initially left. But James writes, “Who am I to hold a grudge?”:
To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned — seeing all that was hard for them. 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.
James said that he is not “promising a championship” but it is obvious how important it is to him to lift the “Cleveland curse.” Cleveland has not won a title in one of the major sports since 1964. James will have Kyrie Irving and potentially Andrew Wiggins as teammates. The Cavaliers even have a bevy of first-round picks next year. And if the Cavaliers can somehow land Minnesota’s Kevin Love, they would be instant contenders to make the Finals:
I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested. I know that. I’m going into a situation with a young team and a new coach. I will be the old head. But I get a thrill out of bringing a group together and helping them reach a place they didn’t know they could go. I see myself as a mentor now and I’m excited to lead some of these talented young guys. I think I can help Kyrie Irving become one of the best point guards in our league. I think I can help elevate Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters. And I can’t wait to reunite with Anderson Varejao, one of my favorite teammates.
But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.
I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.