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From “The Decision” to “The Return”: LeBron James comes home to Cleveland

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There is definitely something to be said for the unifying power of sports. At a professional level our favorite athletes become a part of our family. We cheer for them, look up to them, and just about worship them. They become something that we talk about to our friends, coworkers, neighbors, and even strangers. The psychological attachment to “our” team and players is often passed down from generation to generation.

On the flip side, athletes face immense pressure from fans to not only perform but to dominate on the field, in the water, on the court, etcetera. While we idolize our professional athletes and praise them for their god-like ability, at the end of the day they are not perfect.

NBA star LeBron James proves that everybody makes mistakes. This past Friday James informed Sports Illustrated that he will be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after leaving the Cavaliers and joining the Miami Heat in 2010. What is being deemed as “The Return,” is quickly becoming a controversial subject in the basketball world.

For those unfamiliar with the ten-time NBA All Star, two-time world champion, two-time NBA Finals MVP, eight time All NBA First Team -basically the list just goes on and on- James, you could say, is pretty good at basketball. In fact he’s spectacular at it.

James is the type of prodigy player that today’s youth dream of becoming. His wealth, fame, talent, and athleticism can be considered inspiring. Skipping college, James went straight into the NBA at eighteen years old. Directly after graduating high school, James was the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. He was selected by the Cleveland Cavaliers and soon rose to superstardom. However, in 2010, to the disappointment of many Cavalier fans, James joined the Miami Heat after becoming a free agent.

His decision was advertised on a TV special appropriately named “The Decision.” The special featured James announcing his decision to join the Heat on national television. It drew in a large audience but received much criticism as it was viewed as not only extremely unprofessional, but also portrayed James as a pompous attention seeker.

After James’ decision, Cavalier owner Dan Gilbert released a letter on the team’s website bashing James’ announcement. Writing, “As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier,” Gilbert clearly felt betrayed.

So the questions are, why the return to the Cavaliers? How did Gilbert manage to forgive James’ “shameful display of selfishness” and welcome him back to his home team? How did James manage to forgive Gilbert’s harsh words?

I was somewhat skeptical of James’ decision to return, until I read his honest letter on Sports Illustrated. Lee Jenkins, a journalist at Sports Illustrated, wrote the first-person letter after talking with James. The opening paragraph of the letter sets the tone for the entire essay:

“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.”

The rhetoric of the opening remarks is truly telling of James’ regret. Those who are quick to judge James are failing to understand the context of his situation. James is admitting that he has made a mistake and is ready to make it right again. He signs off his essay “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.”

James’ lack of college stripped him of many central experiences in his life. College is often a growing period for young adults. Looking back on the experiences that I have had my first year at DePaul, I can honestly say that I have come home as a different person.

James’ absence of this individual growth translated into an absence of humbling experiences and periods of reflection. His constant drive to become better and better put his values, ethics, and loyalties on the back burner. James had no inner-growth other than learning from his early career. As he explains in his letter,

“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.”

Miami was the turning point in James’ career and also in his life. He learned to really appreciate what he had with the Cavaliers and understand where he needs to be. He left for Miami seeking more championships, more fans, and a chance to play with other well-recognized players.

His naïve nature represented the type of onward motion that demonstrates how life can only be lived forward but must be understood backwards. He saw a chance to work with the best and possibly win time after time. This became his main focus in life.

The same cannot be said present day. James is returning to a new and somewhat fragmented team in Cleveland. He will work with new NBA players and will become a mentor, a leader, and a team player.

Gilbert has also grown from his mistake. His hotheaded letter is something that he deeply regrets. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports sums up Gilbert and James’ rekindled partnership as “James and Gilbert, older and wiser, scarred in far different ways from sport’s most spectacular falling-out.”

Wojnarowski recognizes the growth that the last four years have provided for Gilbert and James. Together they have both done things that they have regretted, and hopefully together they will prove that they have learned.

Whether you are a fan of James or not, there is no arguing that James is one of the best athletes ever to play the game of basketball. He reminds us all that we are constantly searching for what we hope to become and certainly never forgetting where we have started. And to that I say welcome home James. Your return has been long awaited.

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From “The Decision” to “The Return”: LeBron James comes home to Cleveland