It’s official. The prodigal son has returned. LeBron will be taking his talents away from South Beach and back to his home state of Ohio. It truly is the Return of the King.
James obviously has learned a lot in the four years since he made that infamous announcement live on ESPN, an announcement which shook the NBA to its core and fundamentally changed many peoples opinion of basketballs biggest star.
While “The Decision: Part 2” didn’t have the same glitz, glamour and cringe inducing, egotistical nature of its predecessor, the ramifications on the league will be just as widespread. Miami will drop back into the doldrums, while Cleveland can dream big once again.
In the next few weeks and months much will be written and discussed on what the future holds for James, Irving and the Cavs as a franchise. However, with the Miami chapter of LeBron’s career now at a close, the time is right to reflect on that announcement of four years ago and its effect on the King’s legacy.
Rarely in the world of professional sports has a single decision had such an impact on a nation’s consciousness. Apart from the Florida city which would be his new home, LeBron was vilified from coast to coast. The streets of New York, Chicago and Los Angeles castigated the Ohio native for not choosing them.
In Cleveland, effigies of their greatest son burned across the city, with fans seeing the decision to leave as traitorous. LeBron had turned his back on his own people, choosing to chase glory with a different team as opposed to working towards it with his own. While the decision to bolt to Miami may still leave a bad taste in the mouths of some, the intervening years have allowed for perhaps a fairer reflection on James’ thoughts behind the move.
From the moment he entered the league LeBron was the star, and he has relished in this stardom from the outset. Whether it’s his signature pregame ritual of throwing powder in the air, or his media-given nickname of “King James”, he has revelled in the limelight.
For LeBron it has always been about his legacy, a fact he has not been afraid to hide. To be comparable with the best of all time, LeBron knew he had to achieve more than just individual awards, of which he has countless. He needed a ring; after all, those who he was looking to emulate and perhaps even surpass all had them. Jordan has six, Kobe and Magic have 5, Bird has 3, and when it’s all said and done, these are the names James wants to be associated with.
So he took the opportunity to realise his dream of being a champion. With Pat Riley at the helm and bona fide stars in Wade and Bosh already signed, LeBron knew that his signature was the final ingredient needed for Miami to have a championship-winning formula. Four consecutive Finals appearances and two championships later and it is hard to argue with the King’s decision.
While the back to back finals victories, over the Thunder and Spurs respectively, are vindication alone for his decision, perhaps even more notable is the fact that he has managed to win over many of his critics by his on court leadership and professionalism.
In Cleveland, LeBron was heavily relied upon for the vast majority of the team’s offensive threat; something which he felt took away from his ability to influence the game by other means. With one of the league’s premier scorers in Wade, along with a very strong third option in Bosh, LeBron now had the support he needed and despite losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the finals, their first season together showed that LeBron and Wade in particular had an exciting chemistry.
Into his second season in Miami, and James continued his maturity, becoming more effective in clutch situations and he saw his efficiency ratings skyrocket.
After securing his first championship in the lockout season of 2011-2012, James continued to thrive; however in the 2013 Conference Finals against a tough Indiana Pacers team, it was becoming clear that James’ supporting cast, who had functioned so well previously, were beginning to falter. Once again the scoring burden fell on his broad shoulders and the Heat’s reliance on him became reminiscent of his outings with Cleveland.
Following Miami’s comprehensive loss at the hands of the Spurs in this year’s Finals, it was blatantly obvious that the era of the “Big Three” was in steady decline. Wade’s knees were clearly hampering the former Finals MVP and his influence on proceedings was conspicuous in its absence. Bosh had become nothing more than a role player and the rest of the cast simply were not providing the service needed to beat a team of the Spurs experience and calibre.
Once again LeBron found himself in a similar position, with a decision to make. This time though things were different. The proverbial monkey was now well and truly off his back and with two championship rings on his fingers the importance of bringing success to Cleveland became his primary goal.
Clouded by his understandable desire to succeed, LeBron did not realise previously just how much loyalty meant to him,
“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
In 2010 LeBron’s decision was governed by an immediate need for success. This time that is not the case. He is now, and always will be, a champion, a fact not even his greatest critics can deny him.
While Chicago or Houston may have offered James stronger chances of immediate championship glory, what Cleveland offers is now more appealing than that; redemption.
With a young and exciting core of players, headed by Irving and the recently drafted Wiggins, LeBron now has the opportunity to build a new and, long term, championship contending team, and perhaps even a dynasty. While it already looks like the 2010 decision was unquestionably the right one for James himself, it may yet transpire that his four years away from Cleveland could prove to be a positive thing for the Cavaliers as well.
After four success laden years in Miami and still only 29 of age, the future for LeBron James and his new/old team looks very bright indeed.
Brian Bowler, Pundit Arena.