Nothin' but Net: The homecoming King

The Sports NetworkJuly 11, 2014 

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - Score one for hometowns everywhere.

Even the world's most famous team-sport athlete isn't immune from the allure and comforts of familiarity. You only have one place you grew up.

LeBron James is once again a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

At least he didn't make this decision on television. Instead, he opted for a poignant essay written to Sports Illustrated with an assist from Lee Jenkins.

"I'm not having a press conference or a party. After this, it's time to get to work," he wrote.

This time, James made his choice based on a higher purpose. Money, fame, endorsements, he has them by the truckload. Providing his city with something magnificent, that's what he wants. It's as admirable as it is a lofty goal.

"My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question," James told Jenkins. "But what's most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio."

James spurned Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Pat Riley and all of South Beach to right a perceived wrong. He elated Akron, Cleveland, millions of jaded sports fans souls, Dan Gilbert and most in his own family and friends when he came back to the Cavaliers four years after he left.

This is sort of like the guy who dates a girl in high school, then decides he wants to sew his wild oats, does so, returns to the girl and she takes him back with open arms.

It's called unconditional love. Or something else. I'm not sure.

Cleveland deserves this. The way James left the organization, with that horrible idea now immortalized as "The Decision," and no phone call was regrettable.

But be clear, James truly owed the city nothing.

He exercised his contractual rights and left a team with no supporting cast, to go play with two Hall of Famers in a beautiful city, with strong ownership and upper management.

That is something for which James owes no apologies. Yes, the manner he did it left most with a collective bad taste, but he did nothing to the city of Cleveland that warranted riots and James jerseys burnt in effigy.

All is forgiven.

Hometowns are powerful places. The old pizza place or the playground, those places carry more weight than any beach, restaurant, Dwyane, Chris, Pat or climate can offer.

There are so many emotions present with a decision like this. After James left, Gilbert wrote a nasty letter about James and apparently, the four-time MVP could forgive enough to deposit the man's checks every two weeks.

"We've talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I've made mistakes as well," James wrote. "Who am I to hold a grudge?"

Money is no factor here. Cleveland and Miami would both pony up huge sums for James. The Heat could have offered a longer contract, but clearly, this wasn't about bank accounts. It wasn't even about the sport.

Even if this was strictly a basketball decision, there are ways to justify it, although James is pragmatic.

"We're not ready right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I'm realistic," he told Sports Illustrated. "It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010."

Kyrie Irving is a two-time All-Star, signed a five-year extension and is so young, he still can't rent a car legally.

Andrew Wiggins was the first pick in the draft and unleashing James and Wiggins on the opposing wings might be deemed unfair.

Tristan Thompson and Anderson Varejao are hard workers and good rebounders. Dion Waiters has a lonely fan club, but he can score.

And all of this enticed him, if the Cavs stay pat. Think of the possible though.

Know what would be a good way to lure Kevin Love out of Minnesota? LeBron James. Know what would be a good way to lure the Minnesota Timberwolves into a trade for Kevin Love? Andrew Wiggins.

It was interesting that James singled out Irving, Waiters, Thompson and Varejao. There was no mention of Wiggins or Anthony Bennett, last year's No. 1 overall pick, in his essay. Maybe he knows what's coming.

A James/Irving/Love nucleus would be the new Big Three. In the watered-down Eastern Conference, that is the team to beat. It's pretty good in the West, too.

The reality is, any Eastern Conference team that could get James to commit would be the favorite, including the Heat, the heartbroken in the 2014 edition of this tale.

Bosh will most likely become a Houston Rocket very shortly and also will become a very wealthy Houston Rocket.

Wade is probably screwed.

But what did James owe anyone in this scenario?

James gave the Heat four Finals appearances and two more titles. He won a pair of MVPs and rejuvenated basketball in Miami in a post-Shaquille O'Neal world.

He did not fulfill his ultimate goal. There was mention once of something about not one, not two ... who remembers what the final landing number was. Yet, there is no feeling this time around like James is abandoning a city. Miami was just a pit stop, a fun diversion.

James had his fun. He sewed his championship oats and he's back with his high school sweetheart. The king and the queen of the prom reunited and now, James must produce rings for these Ohioans. He feels that sense of purpose.

"My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now.

"In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.

"I'm ready to accept the challenge. I'm coming home."

Hometowns, they're powerful places.

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