ARENA: King returns home, and rightfully so

Published 11:45 pm Tuesday, July 15, 2014

I loved it.

Everything about the LeBron James return, from the sudden announcement Friday afternoon to the heartfelt first-person account written to Sports Illustrated and especially to the very fact that it happened.

LeBron James returning to Cleveland, to the area he grew up and to the team he left high and dry four years ago isn’t just a basketball story. This is a huge deal with crossover appeal. James is the rare athlete who can’t really get, realistically, any bigger by going to a New York or L.A. That spotlight is most helpful to players like Carmelo Anthony, who are strong players but not transcendent ones. James needs no extra hype. He didn’t need it the first time in Cleveland. Heck, he didn’t even need it at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. 

This was a chance for James to right a wrong. It wasn’t so much that he left Cleveland but how he left Cleveland: stonefaced, robotic, broadcasting his intentions worldwide over ESPN’s airwaves. 

But one thing you could see etched on his face the entire time during The Decision was discomfort. James is no stranger to the spotlight; yet you could feel a distinct tension within him, like even he didn’t totally buy into the choice he had made. He wasn’t leaving the Milwaukee Bucks or another random team that drafted him. He was leaving his home, and leaving behind rubble where a successful basketball team once laid. 

Some may question his choice on the merit that the Cavaliers have never shown themselves to be an organization run to championship standards. Honestly, though, the Cavs were clearly one of the best choices from a basketball sense, for one big reason: he gets to stay in the Eastern Conference. 

Headed out to a Western team, he could have played on a much better roster. Yet you’re still swimming in the shark tank. In the West, even the 9th best team challenged 50 wins last season. In the East, nobody seriously threatened Miami, and if Cleveland can add a piece or two, the same will likely be true of the Cavs.

I’m not sure that this was a chief consideration for James, since by some accounts he’s had this return to Cleveland planned for awhile. 

But staying in Miami seemed like a fool’s errand, with Dwyane Wade’s health deteriorating and the Heat’s flexibility to add pieces in major question. James averaged 28 points per game on 57 percent shooting in last year’s finals. 

He hit nearly three 3’s a game, eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. He couldn’t have had a more efficient series; his team was blown out four times and KO’d in five games.

It was time for a change. 

As of now, James has Kyrie Irving as a sidekick and a slew of young, promising players around him; the Cavs did, after all, win three of the last four lotteries (And, on that subject … do you think people in Cleveland wonder why they just HAD to miss the Anthony Davis lottery win? I wouldn’t trade Davis for all three of those other top picks. Eh, I’m sure Cav fans are managing fine these days, but imagine had that happened … a James/Davis tandem … wowzers). 

If Cleveland trades for Kevin Love, as heavily rumored, new coach David Blatt will be able to pull off some of Coach K’s Team USA Olympic tricks. In that tournament, Krzyzewski often went with James at power forward and Love at center, giving up much on defense but daring other teams to defend the U.S. with five floor spacers and James there to penetrate. Other teams scored plenty, but nobody could outgun them.

James made the sports world a lot more interesting over the weekend. He may well have won himself plenty of lost fans, too, even outside the state of Ohio.