Four years ago this week, LeBron James turned what should have been a simple news conference into a made-for-TV circus in which he announced he was signing with the Miami Heat. If you remember The Decision, he kept the world waiting and wondering and talking about all things LeBron.
The charade was described many ways at the time, none complimentary outside of the celebration that took over South Florida. The whole thing was self-serving and immature and nauseating. After all, it wasn’t as if James had cured cancer or brought peace to the Gaza Strip or even invented the remote control.
More than anything, it was an insult to Cleveland and the Northeast Ohio region that raised him like a son. He listened to the wrong people. He rationalized he was bigger than his hometown. If he needed to win a championship and thought it would happen elsewhere, fine.
But the song-and-dance with ESPN?
That was a slap to the face of his community.
In the years that followed, James repaired his image. He carried himself with class and revealed a homespun persona. You didn’t hear about him getting into trouble in South Beach or mouthing off in the media. He came off like a humble, selfless family man who appreciated his blessings.
LeBron is 29 years old. He’s married and has two sons. He’s the most dominant player in the world and could be the best ever. It was always a shame that he had that black mark, that error in judgment that came with how he handled, or mishandled, his departure from Cleveland.
You have to believe that he learned a few life lessons in Miami. The fact he moved away from home for the first time should not be underestimated. He was forced to take a step back and examine Cleveland from afar. Age and experience helped him gain a broader, more intelligent perspective.
James won two championships with the Heat. He led them to four trips to the NBA Finals. They were the best team in the East while he was there, because he was there. He made $64 million in salary alone in Miami. Forbes estimated that he has pocketed $450 million in his career.
He made his point.
Now, it’s time for him to make amends and reconcile with the Cavaliers and their fans, even if it means hugging out his differences with owner Dan Gilbert. Gilbert sent LeBron through the public shredder four years ago, which should have been expected considering LeBron ended their seven-year partnership.
James opted for free agency this year under the guise that he was keeping his options open. In fact, he was buying time to see if he could make it work in Cleveland. The Cavaliers created $22 million in cap space Wednesday, which would cover the $20.7 million maximum salary allowable for James.
The Heat’s Pat Riley was making a Hail Mary attempt to keep LeBron during meetings in Las Vegas that reportedly included Dwyane Wade. Overrated center Chris Bosh had a four-year offer worth $88 million waiting for his signature. It appeared they were waiting to see if Riley could convince James to come back, which seemed unlikely.
James isn’t making a basketball-only decision. If he were, he would have signed an extension in Miami long ago and waited for Riley to arrive with the cavalry. Meanwhile, the Cavs reportedly were looking to add Ray Allen and Mike Miller, two integral but underappreciated components of Miami’s title teams.
LeBron isn’t making a lifestyle-only decision, either. People from Cleveland go to Miami for vacation, not the other way around. The weather is better in Miami. The city is bigger. The sun shines brighter. The opportunities away from basketball are greater. That much cannot be disputed.
Add it up, however, and Cleveland appears to be the better fit for the King and his court. The Cavaliers are an up-and-coming team. Too often, we hear about great players – Manny Ramirez, Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, LeBron – leaving Cleveland rather than players staying or coming to the city.
Kyrie Irving, who has emerged as a star, could have become a free agent but instead agreed to a five-year deal worth $90 million. The Cavs selected Andrew Wiggins with the first pick overall. Anthony Bennett had a disappointing rookie year, but the former No. 1 pick is loaded with talent and athleticism.
They added Luol Deng last season. They have a terrific shooting guard in Joe Harris, another rookie who will add depth. It’s a team on the rise that will become exponentially better if LeBron shows up with Allen or Miller or both and more. They can bring a championship to long-suffering cousins in Cleveland.
LeBron has an opportunity to have it all with the Cavs. He can right a wrong from four years ago. He’ll be the highest-paid player on his team for the first time in his career. He’ll have a chance to lead his team into the playoffs and could turn the Cavs into a contender. He can return home and improve his legacy.
At this stage, his address doesn’t really matter. He’s the biggest thing in basketball since Michael Jordan. The difference this time is that he’s not too big for his britches. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t turned the next stage of his career into The Decision. It’s just a decision. And, to me, it’s an easy one.