It’s a little harder to hate LeBron James now
BY RICK MORRISSEY firstname.lastname@example.org | @MorrisseyCST July 12, 2014 6:22PM
LeBron James, dunking here for the Cavaliers in 2010, will be back with his hometown team in the fall after four seasons with the Miami Heat — a pain for the Bulls in the Central Division but a classy move by the four-time NBA MVP. | Charles Cherney/AP
Can we get a little bit of love for LeBron James? Just a smidge? Is that asking so much from you King James haters?
What he did Friday demonstrated courage, loyalty and a nobility not often found in the NBA.
He announced he was going back to Cleveland, to the very people who wished serious harm on him four years ago. Some of those same people will still be armed with pitchforks.
True, there might not be anyone more forgiving than the American sports fan, especially one about to be reunited with the greatest player on the planet, but returning to an owner who publicly called your departure ‘‘a cowardly betrayal’’ takes an uncommon person. A single-minded one, too.
Go ahead and say it’s easy to be noble when Kevin Love might be joining you on the roster. I understand your cynicism. But LeBron has unfinished business with the Cavaliers. That’s his doing, of course. He’s the one who took advantage of the system and bolted to Miami, where he won two titles, leaving Cleveland to its congenital loser-ness. But now he returns to a team on its way up. He’ll immediately make it a contender. That’s how good he is.
For the last few weeks, an entire league held its breath as it waited for James’ decision, small ‘‘d.’’ No one else in sports can do that the way he can. No one has that much talent and that much power. Once he made his announcement, the rest of the big-name free agents could make their decisions. Not a second before.
Carmelo Anthony was still deciding whether to stay with the Knicks or join the Bulls, who never seem to win at these things. Chris Bosh reportedly was in the process of re-signing with the Heat. Love to the Cavaliers? That, too, would be so like Chicago’s luck.
James can’t stop being a pain in the Bulls’ necks. He stepped on them on the way to his first NBA title. Now he’s going back to his home state, and the balance of power shifts farther away from Chicago.
With a healthy Derrick Rose (and no Melo), the Bulls very well could be the third-best team in their division next season, behind the Cavs and the Indiana Pacers. There’s no shame in that. Even if Anthony doesn’t sign with the Bulls, the Central will be the best division in the NBA.
No other team had a chance at LeBron besides the Cavaliers. That was clear after his comments Friday. All those weeks of discussion and conjecture on ESPN about what he might do seem silly now. Actually, they seemed silly at the time.
‘‘Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio,’’ James told SI.com. ‘‘It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can.’’
Twice now he has gone to franchises that offered him less money than he could have made elsewhere. I wish that the system were different, that players would stay with teams longer than a fruit fly’s lifespan. But that’s not reality. You can call James greedy for doing what he wants. You can’t call him greedy in terms of grabbing money.
Two LeBron-related fictions to clear up:
† Those of you who believe the story line that Michael Jordan, given the chance, never would have sold his services to anyone other than the Bulls didn’t pay attention to his Hall of Fame speech. This is a man who remembered every slight, and there were many perceived ones over the years involving the Bulls. His signing with another team in a fit of pique isn’t so hard to imagine.
† The notion that the Heat were going to be in a freefall even if James, Bosh and Dwyane Wade had stayed together is a fallacy. Wade looks beaten down, but James, the Great Healer, makes everything and everyone better. The Heat would have remained contenders for a title had he stayed.
But we’ll never know. All we know now is that he didn’t choose the easiest route. Good for him.
So a little bit of love for the hated one?
Didn’t think so.