By Peyton Fine
BY PEYTON FINE
A letter to LeBron, his haters, and supporters.
After the NBA Finals, the focus fell not on the Spurs victory. It fell not on Gregg Popovich’s mastery of pure team basketball where the ball is swung around the court and any player is likely to score. It fell not on the emergence of Kawhi Leonard as a young Finals MVP who successfully limited LeBron James while putting up multiple twenty-point games. No, the focus shifted immediately to the possibility of LeBron James leaving Miami. I have to tell you. I hated it. I rooted against him in the Finals and was angered that he still received the bulk of the media attention.
As the summer began, James’s free agency dragged on. It dominated sports talk, yet no news emerged. Speculation raged whether he would return to the aging, but proved Heat or the young, but potential-laden Cavaliers. The undertone of the debate was whether James would return home to Cleveland or remain in the bright lights and business opportunities of Miami.
Up until Friday, all we had was speculation. Then, James chose…drum roll please…Cleveland. It was not in the form of a television special, but a letter to Sports Illustrated. Much of me wanted to paint James negatively, wanted to rake him over the coals, in the same way that we did when he announced that he was “taking his talents to South Beach.” However, when you read James’s letter, you can’t fault the man in his decision.
In his letter James discuses returning to Cleveland, which is just miles away from where he was raised. He owns a home just outside the city where he spends his offseason. He wants the opportunity to raise his children in the same place where he was raised, to send his kids to that same place that he went to school. He wants to bring a championship to Cleveland, a city which hasn’t won for fifty years. He wants to go home.
As a college students or anyone who has spent time away from home, we all know the tug that comes from living away from home. We all know what it feels like to desire familiarity regardless of the fact that familiarity may mean moving away from the benefits of a big city. LeBron went so far as to compare his time in Miami as a learning experience and a time of personal growth. He even compared it to a four-year college experience.
However, I cannot anoint James as a saint — the prodigal son returning home to save a team and city. The media has been very supportive of his decision. Cleveland has looked upon him as a savior. A city and team he spurned just four years earlier welcomed him back with open arms. This characterization of James is no fairer than painting him as a devil.
Four years ago, James made a conscious decision to leave home for what he saw as greener pastures both in terms of basketball and business. He made money and won championships. His decision made a lot of sense. And, I am sure it was much like college for a man who at the time was not much older than a collegiate student and did not have any experience of college. But, LeBron James is not your average man. He chose to spurn college and enter the NBA immediately following high school. When James made that decision, he needed to understand that leaving Cleveland in the middle of his career to have some type of college experience would not be completely fair to that team and city. If he was truly as loyal to his home as he said, he would have spurned Miami and his experiences four years ago.
Second, James held the Miami Heat hostage in free agency for weeks. Not only that, the Heat were under the assumption that James would resign and shaped their offseason around him. The Heat traded up in the draft to select Shabazz Napier, a player LeBron wanted on his team. The Heat then slashed salaries, to the point where they had only one player under contract, all to accommodate a maximum contract for James. Then, James left them out to dry. If James was going to make the decision to leave Miami, he should have told the Heat before they made the free agent moves assuming James would resign.
Finally, people are praising James for forfeiting the basketball and business opportunities in Miami. Let me be very clear. The Cleveland Cavaliers present LeBron James with a better chance to win than the Miami Heat. The Cavs have three of the last four first overall picks. Andrew Wiggins has been compared to LeBron himself and Kyrie Irving is a budding superstar. Guys like Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett have untapped potential. Cleveland is a team rising toward its apex, not falling away from it. Finally, the brand and image of LeBron James is transcendent and will continue to be infinitely profitable no matter where he plays. Do NOT tell me he sacrificed anything in leaving Miami.
I respect LeBron James for his desire to return home. I respect him for his willingness to leave Miami. However, he was unable to make that decision four years ago when in my opinion it really would have said something about his character. The way he left the Heat on the hook rubs me the wrong way as well. However, LeBron James is a grown man. A man that I have never met, nor have many of the people who speak so highly or so disparagingly about him. He is neither angel nor devil. He is a basketball player — the best basketball player in the world today — but his decision did not endear me enough to root for him. However, I don’t think I will be rooting against him. I’m glad now I can just enjoy the game.
Peyton Fine ’17 ([email protected]) is just glad the LeBron James circus is over, and we are all a little closer to basketball again.