"My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now." With those words, LeBron James, the reigning King of the NBA, announced his return to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. The news came via a Sports Illustrated article with James's byline which means that, despite all the media hullabaloo, The Decision 2.0 was probably settled days ago--or much longer, judging by this Instagram post from James's wife three weeks ago.
Now if you happen to live in Cleveland, you might stumble upon individuals digging through trash cans, searching for the remains of rendered and/or torched official number 23 jerseys, hoping against hope that they can stitch them together and somehow undo the outpouring of loathing and sense of betrayal that occurred a little over four years ago, on July 8, 2010.
That was the night of LeBron James’s ill-considered, one-hour televised special, The Decision—a ham-fisted public relations nightmare in which he announced that he was leaving his hometown team to famously, “Take his talents to South Beach.”
But on Friday, it seemed as if that history might be erased entirely, as King James decided to ditch the Miami Heat, despite winning two titles over the last four seasons, and return to Ohio.
If your jaw is on the floor, I get that. For diehard Cavs fans and casual observers alike, the entire process has rapidly gone from a sad, grim pipe dream to a surreal reality, even if there have been some profoundly weird pit stops along the way.
It started innocently enough, when reports began to surface that team owner Dan Gilbert’s plane may or may not have been in South Florida, either with or without Gilbert on board, for the purpose of meeting or not meeting up with LeBron. Seriously, this was a profoundly important NBA “news” item for a good chunk of Saturday.
Then, on Sunday, the bile-filled and hilarious “open letter” in Comic Sans that Gilbert had penned and posted shortly after James’ departure was mysteriously scrubbed from the team’s official website, followed by denials from the front office that it had been removed recently at all, and certainly not because a certain ex-Cav might take umbrage with its continued online existence.
As a side note, James and Gilbert being forced to hug it out might be the most shocking twist in this entire soap opera. I mean, the latter went so far as to reduce the price tag for a LeBron James Fathead [Gilbert owns the company that manufactures these oversize accessories] to $17.41 because, as Steven Lebron (no relation) reminds us, “That was the year Benedict Arnold was born.”
But on Friday, Gilbert was singing a very different tune:
Back on Wednesday evening, all of the fog and whispers and non-denial denials began to take solid form, even if the ride did feel like taking a ride on a rickety, slapdash Rube Goldberg machine. It began with an actual basketball transaction.
In order to dump the salaries that were clogging their cap and make enough space to be able to offer $20.66 million to James, they dealt away Jarrett Jack, Sergei Karasev, Tyler Zeller, and a 2016 first-round pick to Brooklyn and Boston respectively, receiving nothing in return but fringe European prospects.
If you were following this saga, online, it felt like a seismic rumble. There was no way the Cavs would pay for the privilege of ditching functional players from the roster if they didn’t think they had a real shot.
The aftershocks followed hard and fast. That evening, though there’d been gossip about speculation, anonymous quotes from friends of friends and “individuals close to the situation” before, Chris Sheridan of sheridanhoops.com finally went on the record, stating that, “The Decision has been made. LeBron James is returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers.”
Sheridan also explained: “James met with Miami Heat president Pat Riley today in Las Vegas to deliver the news. A contingent of other Heat officials were informed they were not welcome at the meeting, according to a source who spoke on condition of anonymity.”
Now, despite one reporter’s assurances, it wasn't a done deal. James met with his current and possibly soon-to-be ex-boss Riley on Wednesday evening in Las Vegas, and the result was ... well, not much. Afterwards, a slew of major NBA reporters did their best to quell the giddy, growing mob.
And if all of this smoke was just smoke and not an actual conflagration along the shores of Lake Erie, well, regardless of what team you might root for (or if you’re a sports fan at all), you would've had to feel for the good burghers of Ohio. It would have been worse than Lucy yanking away that blasted football for the umpteenth time. It would have been downright cruel—like Brazil having to relive their decimation at the hands of the Germans in 2018—especially when you consider their gut punch-ridden sports history. Just Google “God hates Cleveland,” or read John Krolik’s pain-soaked article from the morning of The Decision: “If he does leave, it will be one of the lowest moments in the history of one of the most tormented American sports cities.”
On Wednesday, I emailed Robert Attenweiler, a playwright, screenwriter, and scribe for the ESPN/TrueHoop site, cavstheblog.com, to get a glimpse of the precipice that LeBron has, once again, pushed them to:
“Cleveland fans are drunk with anticipation and with the perfect inevitability of LeBron’s return to his home state. Most of us are wisely suspicious. Some are not,” he said. “But it’s next to impossible not to want to give in, even slightly, to the idea that this avalanche of loosely substantiated rumors will result in a homecoming for the best basketball player on the planet... again.”
Speaking of which, if the above sequence of events wasn’t implausible enough already, the individual that first grabbed a megaphone and began shouting “Fire!” in this crowded e-theater was a personal trainer named Josh Teplitz?
Who is Josh Teplitz and why would he have the skinny? No one knows, but on the 4th of July he began bellowing that the Prodigal Son would, in fact, return.
In the unverifiable constant churn that is Twitter, his buff avatar and attendant braggadocio carried as much weight as anything else. He mentioned Dru Joyce II, LeBron’s old coach, flung insults at the mainstream sporting press and dropped quotes purportedly from the King himself such as, “My heart never left these fans.”
Now he’s got over 28,000 followers, and an important cameo role in this unfolding drama alongside the equally mysterious “Carl2680,” the Russian Mob-fearing insider that broke the story of Jason Kidd’s exodus from Brooklyn.
For days, there was nothing to do but wait. Hell, James left the entire league in a holding pattern whilst he pondered his future, Hamlet-like. It seems that Miami’s entire store-bought dynasty will now collapse. Chris Bosh might flee to Houston, while Dwyane Wade has been left twiddling his thumbs, having let go of a guaranteed $42 million based on the assumption that the band would be getting back together, again.
For days, Clevelanders and every other hoops addict had nothing to do but furiously refresh James’ official website, www.lebronjames.com, where, as opposed to the vanity backdrop that was the Connecticut Boys & Girls Club, The Decision 2.0 was supposed to drop.
If you found yourself harkening back to Jay Z’s terrible album that was synergistically released via Samsung’s app, you’re not alone. But LeBron finally realized it was OK to take a break from his corporate partners every once in a while and not only broke the news in the SI piece, but also addressed his acrimonious split with the Cavs.
"The letter from Dan Gilbert, the booing of the Cleveland fans, the jerseys being burned -- seeing all that was hard for [my wife and mother]," James said. "My emotions were more mixed. It was easy to say, 'OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.' But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react?"
It's a great story, a practically Hollywood-scripted tale of redemption. Time to bust out your “FOR6IVEN” tees, Cleveland.