This time around, James returns for the fans
Two major news stories have emerged from Cleveland this week.
One could affect the future of the nation. The other has to do with hosting the Republican National Convention.
Though it’s not clear what LeBron James’ political backings are, he won’t be running for president in 2016. But look out John Kasich, he could run for governor and win.
James became the most popular man in Ohio on Friday, four years after he was the state’s most hated enemy. He announced he was coming back to Cleveland to play for the Cavaliers after a four-year stint with the Miami Heat.
With the help of Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins, James penned a beautiful, heartfelt message to make clear his career choices and show remorse for his decision to leave the team that he watched growing up, the team that drafted him and the team he took to two NBA Finals.
James’ article was mature, thoughtful and admirable – something that didn’t take a four-year journalism degree. Maybe turning pro right after high school would’ve been a smart move for me, too.
No, probably not.
James didn’t apologize for leaving Cleveland in 2010 because he didn’t have to. He didn’t owe anything to the fans or the organization. At the time, he paid his time. James sought championship rings and he accomplished that twice with the Heat in back-back-back style in 2011 and 2012.
James did opt to forgive and forget with the way he was treated upon his departure. Fans famously burned his jersey and Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert wrote an infamously shrewd commentary, in Comic Sans font no less, chastising James while guaranteeing that his team would win an NBA Championship before he did in Miami.
We all know how that turned out.
Now, Gilbert and James are joining forces to bring a championship to Cleveland and make Northeast Ohio basketball fun again.
In the 2002-03 season, the year before James was drafted No. 1 overall by the Cavaliers out of Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, Cleveland was last in attendance averaging 11,496 fans per game. That’s just 55.9-percent capacity.
In James’ seven original years with the Cavs, they ranked in the top 5 of all NBA attendance in all but two seasons.
The season before he left for Miami, Cleveland was second in the league with a 20,562 average attendance, which is a sellout of all home games.
Without James these past four years, the Cavs have ranked 19, 18, 22 and 16 in attendance among all 29 NBA teams.
Butts will certainly be in the seats again this year and for the foreseeable future.
Cleveland wants a winner and frankly needs a winner. The city has gone 49 years since winning a major sports title. The Browns won a pre-Super Bowl NFL title in 1964 and the Indians last won a World Series in 1948. The Cavaliers have never won a title.
They certainly have a shot with James back in town.
He’s not joining a stacked team, talent-wise, like he did in going to Miami with Chris Bosh and Dwayne Wade in place. James does have one of the best young point guards in the league with Kyrie Irving. Tristan Thompson and Dion Waters have potential to be great complements, while Anderson Varejao has been one of the most consistent big men around.
James also has the chance to mentor newly-drafted Andrew Wiggins – that’s if he’s not traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love – which would give the Cavs equatable star power to what James was used to in Miami.
James is still the trophy-hungry player he was in 2010. This time around, though, he wants to win it for where it matters. In his letter, James preaches about the importance of Cleveland and the entire Northeast Ohio region. He wants another ring and he wants to do it with his friends and family by his side.
You don’t have to be a blood relative, nor did you have to be on James’ first tee-ball team to be part of his camp. The entire Buckeye State is where James rests his fate.
Professional athletes owe nothing to the fans that worship them, no matter how much we want to believe that they do.
But James feels that he does. He’s going to win for himself, his team, his wife and kids and even for the lunatics who burned his jersey and swore him off four years ago.
James is coming back for the fans. If only politicians could be just as giving.
(Peaslee, a Youngstown native, is a sports writer for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @thempeas)