Having lived and worked for five years in Cleveland I can tell you that Lebron James is doing the right thing by going home and playing for the Cavs. In sports it is all about the legacy and for James winning one ring in Cleveland is worth two or more rings in Miami.
With all due respect to my friends in Miami — Cleveland is far and away–one of this countries best sports towns. They deserve to have their native son back. You got four great years out of him and two NBA Championships, time for all parties to move on to the next chapter.
LBJ has a house in Miami, but he has a HOME in Akron, Ohio. It is where his family and friends live. It is where at the age of 15 when he was starting to be noticed as a high school super star at St. Vincent-St. Mary’s all of the Akron and Northeast Ohio sports fans began to cheer for him.
This deal has been brewing for a while. It was LBJ himself who said in a ESPN interview in the summer of 2012 that he hoped to return to play in Cleveland before his career ended. As for his new deal that took a little time to craft.
Unnamed sources in Cleveland told Sports Talk Florida that LBJ’s move to return to his home in Northeast, Ohio has been in the works for months. LBJ’s agent and long time friend Rich Paul, has been running point and his new maximum contract with the Cavs will be in the, $88.1 million range over four years, that breaks down to $20,644,400 this season and a $928,998 raise each year there after.
I produced and directed Cav’s basketball, Indians baseball and Big Ten football among my many assignments while living in the Shaker Heights area of Cleveland. Like most “rust belt,” cities , Pittsburg to the east and Detroit to the north and west, these once proud cities use their sports teams to rally their cities together.
In the summer of 2010 show “The Decision,” announcing that he was leaving Cleveland after seven years to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami was a PR disaster to LBJ in his hometown.
It put LBJ in the same company with the Art Modell who in 1996 moved the beloved Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore earning him the title of “Most Hated Man In Cleveland Sports History.”
It set fans and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert against the local hero and caused his hometown to turn on him. LBJ did what he felt from a professional standpoint that had to do and that was form the “Big Three,” to win NBA Championships.
After four years he had four straight trips to the NBA Finals with two World Championships. But now he was free in 2014 to begin to mend fences in his hometown, return to Cleveland and win first major sports championship for the city since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964.
In his announcement that was published as an essay in Sports Illustrated LBJ hit on all the key points. But to me this part of the essay was the most important and the most telling:
I’m doing this essay because I want an opportunity to explain myself uninterrupted. I don’t want anyone thinking: He and Erik Spoelstra didn’t get along. … He and Riles didn’t get along. … The Heat couldn’t put the right team together.
That’s absolutely not true.
I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.
When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.
I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when. After the season, free agency wasn’t even a thought. But I have two boys and my wife, Savannah, is pregnant with a girl. I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.
To make the move I needed the support of my wife and my mom, who can be very tough. The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned — seeing all that was hard for them. My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say,
“OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?
That is the statement of a mature man and someone who understands that the business of sports can at times disappoint fans and put an owner and a superstar at odds with each other.
LBJ is home where he belongs and the Miami Heat had four season’s of being the center of the basketball universe. Now it is time for the NBA to move on and to get back to seeing where all the other Free Agents are headed, this part of the LBJ Show is over.