“There’s no place like home…”
The last week or so has seen decisions by superstars on both sides of the Atlantic shake their respective sports by deciding to return to a place they call home, or at least a place that could be considered it.
Whilst the Luis Suarez saga had been bubbling since Liverpool ended a spectacular season as Premier League runners up, it gathered serious momentum after his latest bite incident on Giorgio Chiellini. It was mooted neither Liverpool, who had stood by their man through various controversies, or the player himself, fearing a witch-hunt by the British media felt the relationship could continue. Thus, the lure of Barcelona, home to the family of his childhood sweetheart became too much ignore this time round, and the decision was made to part ways with LFC.
In the States, LeBron James, a global superstar that transcends all sports, had made a decision that that stunned the sporting world. This time however, “The Decision” was not one that made him a widely resented figure throughout the US, and hated in his native Cleveland as it had previously.
Briefly, for those of you unaware, four years ago, LeBron James decided to leave his native Cleveland, the team who had drafted him into the league seven years earlier. He proclaimed, arrogantly as many perceived, that he had decided to “take his talents to South Beach”, to the Miami Heat, forming a formidable trio with fellow superstars Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade.
James was seen as a Judas, who bailed on his own people after a run of barren seasons, the low point being the 4-0 loss to San Antonio in the 2007 NBA Finals. To compound matters, James kept the Cleveland faithful, and other interested parties in the dark until he made this announcement live on an ESPN specially broadcast show – a move that would cast him as basketball’s public enemy number one in every arena in the US outside Miami.
Now, four years later, and after four trips to the NBA Finals yielded two NBA Championships, the greatest basketball player in the world decided that for all the positives of Miami, it just wasn’t home. And it was time to return and try right the wrongs.
The talents of both Suarez and James are indisputable. The gifts they possess on the football field and basketball court respectively make the teams they play with an automatic contender in whatever the competition, and whilst Suarez ultimately fell short last year at Anfield, his haul of personal accolades were proof he could have done no more to drag his team to victory. James has two NBA rings as testament to his talent and is indisputably the finest basketball player of a generation.
However, the “wrongs” committed by both in recent years had done much to tarnish their respective reputations – though it must be said the actions of Suarez were far more grievous. The Ivanovic biting incident, alleged racist abuse of Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and other indiscretions saw him banned for over 30 games without ever receiving a red card and casting him as the most loathed player to take the field in any English ground, Anfield aside.
LeBron’s copping out on Cleveland, a sports-loving city that has been starved of any kind of major sporting championship since the Brown’s sole NFL victory in 1964, saw him derided throughout the 2010/11 season with Miami. No more so than when losing to the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals that June, where it seemed Karma had played its part in helping the title elude James. LeBron had lost. The sporting public, empathizing with their Cleveland brethren, had won.
Whilst the ill feelings towards LeBron have diminished in more recent times, the aversion to Luis Suarez has increased ten-fold, thanks in no small part to the global audience that watched in disbelief, his actions on the field of play against Italy in Natal, Brazil that recent June evening.
The possibility of Suarez staying in Liverpool became impossible. He had bemoaned his treatment at the hands of the British press previously and it was clear, despite the indiscretions being fully his own making, he would not hang around to bear their brunt again.
Damien Comolli, the man credited with bringing him to Merseyside intimated he had always expressed a desire to play in Spain, something not uncommon for South American born players. The previously mentioned link to Barcelona through his wife, coupled with the previous statements meant that the stars had aligned and the inevitability of him becoming an FC Barcelona player, came to pass officially on July 16th.
It’s a move that will be tough to take for most Liverpool fans, given their staunch defense of the team’s talisman on more than one occasion. Even more gutting will be missing the moments of sheer magic from the Uruguayan which lit up Anfield for the last three and a half years. But alas, the time had come to part ways.
The return of LeBron James to Cleveland is a story made for America. Hollywood loves its heroes and what better a story than the prodigal son returning home in an effort to finally quench the city’s thirst for that national title. The self-styled King James had better options open to him – he could have resigned and remained part of the Big 3 in Miami and no doubt would have contended for a title again next year. He could have signed with teams in better positions to make an immediate run at an NBA Championship, rather than the young, unproven Cavs. He didn’t. He wanted to go home and no other team could ever offer that.
The decisions of these two, often divisive figures, was something that even the most stone-hearted sports fan can at least try to comprehend. They had showcased their talents in other cities but the chance to do so in front of their nearest and dearest was always going to be a draw for them.
For Suarez, perhaps it’s a new slate where he can proceed to win the titles his fierce winning desire craves, although he must be in the last chance saloon at this stage.
For LeBron, it was simpler. He has matured, and whilst Miami was a hugely positive experience, it could never match the feeling of going all the way to the top in front of his home crowd. He concluded his Sports Illustrated statement saying
“In Northwest Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”
After all, home is where the heart is.
Shane Brennan, Pundit Arena.