Soon after seeing LeBron James’s letter in which he announced his decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, I texted a friend saying “this is one of the best sports stories ever.” The statement was quickly and unequivocally refuted, but after putting further thought into it, I have to stand by it.
Note that I didn’t say “if he wins in Cleveland, this is one of the best sports stories ever.” That’s not really the point here, as it was back in 2010 when winning was the driving force of LeBron’s leaving the Cavaliers. He went to Miami to get his ring, and ended up getting two. As stated in his letter, he doesn’t regret that, but instead how he let the world know of his choice. The hour long ESPN broadcast was a mistake, one due to his youth and lack of awareness. LeBron was 25 at the time, the entire league at his feet. Who was he to understand the ramifications of leaving Cleveland to bottom out in the lottery for the next four years on national television?
But James wasn’t the only one at fault. Dan Gilbert, owner of the Cavaliers, responded with a letter with the pure intent of publicly shaming LeBron for making a basketball decision that was – in hindsight – the right one. The letter was nothing but hateful, something you’d expect out of a teenager on Facebook, not the owner of a professional sports franchise. Fans too acted in spite, burning jerseys, creating memes and videos to share online, all with the purpose of defaming James. LeBron had every right to leave, and although his method of doing so was in poor taste, that doesn’t make it acceptable as moral human beings to spew vile at another.
The story up until this morning was about mistakes. But that changed once LeBron announced his return to the Cavaliers.
These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man.
via LeBron James announces return to Cleveland Cavaliers – NBA – SI.com
LeBron didn’t have to tell us about his maturation in Miami, we saw it for ourselves. He tried being the villain and figured out that just wasn’t him. He elevated his game to new heights. His progression as an individual was signified in how he did it right this time around, publishing a letter explaining himself and his choice. James has learned from his past mistakes.
It’s safe to say Dan Gilbert has too, with how James addresses him in the letter:
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?
The hostility once conveyed by Cleveland fans slowly dissipated as LeBron achieved his ultimate goal of winning an NBA championship, then two. Now, they and James have simultaneously forgiven one another. Both realizing their past faults and now only wanting to move forward.
You can say LeBron’s mistake ruins this story. I’d argue it’s what makes it one of the greatest ever. Sports isn’t about being perfect, it never has been. It’s about evolving, maturing. Becoming a better version of yourself. We’ve seen the league’s best talent – possibly ever – succumb to a mistake that made him the sports world’s public enemy number one. And now he’s rectified that, not out of guilt but out of growth.
When LeBron left the Cavaliers in 2010, it was to redefine his impact on basketball. He’s now returning because there’s more to basketball than just the game.