LeBron James, The Two LeBrons And Why Returning To Cleveland Is Both Sad And Happy At The Same Time

Feb 24, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving (2) and Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) during the second half at the American Airlines Arena.  MIami won 109-105. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Kyrie and LeBron together will be fun, but James’ decision is still somewhat bittersweet. (Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports)

I did not want LeBron to sign in Cleveland.

I am happy that LeBron signed in Cleveland.

That might seem like a contradiction, and it might in fact be one. I still haven’t worked everything out in my brain yet. But for right now, that’s how I feel.

I wanted LeBron James to leave Miami.

I wanted this for selfish reasons. Not because I was opposed to the idea of the Big Three, or because I was opposed to the way they came together during the summer of 2010, or because I was opposed to how they carried themselves over the subsequent four seasons. But because I want LeBron to win titles. I don’t particularly care where he does that. I don’t have allegiances to cities or teams – I have allegiances to players. I like *my* guys. And LeBron is one of my guys. It might seem easy and convenient to say that the best player we’ve seen since Jordan is one of my guys, but I legitimately love the dude – it’s not some begrudging respect for his greatness that you see coming from a lot of people. I’ve been on Team LeBron since the beginning.

So I wanted him to leave Miami, because I want him to win titles, and it seems like the Miami train had run its course, no matter what machinations the Heat seemed to pursue. LeBron wanted the max; Houston offered Chris Bosh the max, so it would have taken a significant investment for Miami to keep him (not the ~$15 million per year pay-cut that rumored at briefly). From there, the only way for Miami to add another significant player would be if Dwyane Wade took a substantial pay-cut himself, and that didn’t (and doesn’t) seem likely. Miami lost in the 2014 Finals because roster spots No. 3 through No. 12 just couldn’t hack it, so it would be tough to imagine them as the favorites for the 2015 title without considerable improvements, but their cap sheet didn’t seem to allow that this summer. LeBron’s best chance to win more titles was somewhere besides Miami.

Cleveland doesn’t offer LeBron the best chance to win titles.

They have a decent young team, but that’s all it is. They’ve had five top-four picks in the last four years, but to date only one of them has panned out. Dion Waiters and Tristan Thompson are reasonably productive young players, but not anywhere close to title-contending running mates. Anthony Bennett just finished up the worst rookie season a No. 1 pick has ever had. Andrew Wiggins is certainly promising, but he’s a rookie. The one who has impressed is Kyrie Irving, but he’s a defensive liability who has missed 49 games in his three seasons and hasn’t really progressed in any tangible way since he entered the league. Do they all have potential? Yes. But outside of Irving, that’s really all it is. Potential.

LeBron’s best chance to win titles would have been in Chicago or Houston. With all the money that those teams cleared out for Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh could have just as easily went to the best player in the world. Teaming LeBron with Dwight Howard, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, and a pace-and-space offense, or Derrick Rose, Joakim Noah, and Tom Thibodeau’s defensive system would have given either team a sure-fire leg up on the rest of the league. Even teams like the Clippers and Warriors could have cleared enough cap space for him without gutting the core of the team and transformed into an instant championship favorite.

LeBron James The Basketball Player signing in Cleveland makes me a little sad and disappointed.


LeBron James The Person signing in Cleveland makes me happy.

Here is where I think the divide in my brain occurs. When I think about LeBron, I almost think of him as having a split personality – two halves of him traveling on parallel, but decidedly separate tracks. First and foremost, there is LeBron James: Basketball Savant. I love that guy. I spend hours and even days at a time thinking about him. It borders on weird sometimes, but I’m okay with that. I have never enjoyed watching another human being play basketball as much as I enjoy watching LeBron. The other side of that coin is LeBron James: Human Being. This is the side of him that has a wife and kids, grew up in northeast Ohio and still feels a great deal of loyalty towards his hometown. More or less, this is not someone I spend a great deal of time thinking about.

LeBron James: Basketball Savant is someone that matters a great deal to anyone who considers themselves a “basketball analyst” (which, if we are using the term generously, I qualify as). LeBron James: Human Being is not. LeBron James: Human Being matters to people who care about stories and narratives (and I’m not using those terms pejoratively – those things do matter to a lot of people). And despite how much I try to segregate my brain when I think about basketball (the left, logical side of my brain cares about LeBron James: Basketball Savant; the right, emotional side of my brain cares about LeBron James: Human Being), and despite how much I push my thoughts toward the logical side, I found myself happy that LeBron James: Human Being was making the decisions this time around.

In 2010, LeBron James: Basketball Savant chose to move on, to play in Miami. And he made the right choice. His team made four consecutive Finals appearances and won two titles. In 2014, LeBron James: Human Being chose to come full circle. His essay in Sports Illustrated highlighted this point. He said, “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.” For reasons that went beyond the best interests of LeBron James: Basketball Savant, he chose to return to Cleveland. This made me happy. It’s a nice story. I never expected to have such a reaction to a “story,” but I did.

I didn’t want LeBron James to sign with Cleveland, but I was happy he did. That’s a contradiction I can live with.

Jeremy Conlin

Jeremy Conlin writes for KnickerBlogger.net of the ESPN TrueHoop Network and for The Cauldron, Medium's sports collection. He spends his days influencing the youth of America as an after-school teacher. He probably knows more fifth graders than you do.