'These past four years helped raise me into who I am,' James wrote. (John Locher / Associated Press)
It seems we are supposed to be rivals, Detroit and Cleveland, but Motown today can feel good about Friday’s news that LeBron James is headed back to the Cavaliers.
Oh, it has little to do with basketball. Seriously, even when your talents are so celestial you’re known as King James, reuniting with a NBA basketball team wasn’t Friday’s overarching story.
Rather, it’s about love, and estrangement, and hopefully forgiveness as LeBron and the Cavaliers have decided to again trade hugs. I can only imagine how many of Cleveland’s clergy will mention LeBron later this year when the gospel story of The Prodigal Son becomes a Sunday homily theme.
That’s good, very good. It’s healing, and we need all the honest, soulful restoration of spiritual and physical good we can muster, not so much in sports, as in this world where too much human fabric each day is shredded.
Some in Cleveland and elsewhere will have a tough time shedding their cold shoulders as LeBron returns to a town he spurned in his ultimately successful mission to win a NBA championship (two, in fact) in Miami.
But think about it, with as much empathy as one can muster. Was it such a bad thing, for James, or for the world at-large including Cleveland, that he took a four-year sabbatical from Lake Erie’s shores?
Professionally speaking, too often we hold athletes to a different standard than we hold ourselves. We all leave, and have left, jobs, and always for reasons we justified as being in our personal interests.
We expected others to understand. Even when they were hurt, or sad, or took a departure personally, we asked only that they stand in our shoes. And because our first area of responsibility in any job is to ourselves — sometimes even ahead of family, given the necessity for being at peace with one’s work — we have come to accept that ethic as something of a mandate.
But too often, and too unfairly, it sometimes works differently for athletes. They play for a community. The community adopts them, believes, in fact, it owns them and that the athlete likewise feels a kinship with their souls and fate. And we can’t fathom that a personal career consideration would trump all that worship from below.
James gets it. He got it, to a degree, when he left four years ago. But now he truly knows what that goodbye to Cleveland, made garish by a god-awful ESPN show, did to a town he did, in fact, care for mightily.
Give him credit for not taking the subsequent recriminations as personally as fans reacted to his Heat romance. This reunion never would have happened. This rather clumsy expression of love, made possible by dollars Cavs owner Dan Gilbert has agreed to pay, is nonetheless just that: a genuine bow to affection a man has for a team and for his relative hometown.
Of course, for forgiveness to be extended and for love to reconnect following injury on the level Gilbert and his Cavs fans felt, there had to be penitence on the part of the man who set it all in motion.
That act of contrition, heartfelt and poignant, came by way of his public announcement in a Sports Illustrated essay told to and masterly written by Lee Jenkins.
'Who am I to hold a grudge?'
In his plea for re-acceptance, James wrote of personal resentment that, finally, yielded to this amazing reconciliation.
“It was easy to say, ‘OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again,’” he and Jenkins wrote. “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?”
James, though, also talked about his motivation for leaving Cleveland, and, to be fair, this was not the Prodigal Son leaving to squander his share of a father’s estate. LeBron was entitled, and remains entitled, to view his Miami sojourn as meaningful and enriching. As being true to dreams and desires anyone is free, and even urged, to pursue.
He said it very well in Friday’s release of the SI story.
“These past four years helped raise me into who I am,” James said. “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.”
He is, as he said in his closing remarks, back home, back in Cleveland, ready to do his part in crafting a better team and time than could ever have been realistically envisioned on that evening four summers ago when he and ESPN could never have been more gauche in announcing his abandonment of Cleveland.
But it wasn’t very smooth when a son, long ago, left his father for an experience that, unlike LeBron’s sojourn, was wasted. This one was good for a man keen on knowing championship fulfillment. Now that he has had the best gratification sports can offer, it is time to pay attention to that other area we all yearn to satisfy: the heart.
Happy for you, Cleveland. Happy, too, for you, King James.