One thing that can never possibly be covered enough in the city of Cleveland is LeBron James. Last night, he played his 11th career game against the Cavaliers since leaving the shores of Lake Erie in 2010. It was easily his most comfortable return to Quicken Loans Arena since his departure, partially because of the disturbingly large portion of the crowd that was rooting for him and the Miami Heat anyway, partially because the Cavs are still the same Cavs they were two days ago.
There’s an increasing population of Northeast Ohio that wants King James back, and on this night some of them went as far as printing out neon green t-shirts that begged for his return to Cleveland. A small portion of that group decided to just shed any remnant of dignity and cheer for the Heat. This edition of desperation may have been one of the most deplorable yet in a growing file of attempts to show LeBron that Cleveland still loves him.
Let’s start over. The vast majority of Cleveland doesn’t love him. At all.
LeBron has matured significantly since taking his talents to Miami. It’s now quite clear that he’s the best basketball player in the world. He’s won two NBA championships, and there’s no reason to expect that he won’t get his third this season. He’s done it on a team that has been superior to any team he played with in Cleveland since the day he first set foot in South Beach. For those with with a moderate amount of sense, this complete maturation process has made him virtually impossible to criticize. For those without any sense that will hate James until they die because he hurt their feelings, well there’s no point in addressing it.
James likes Cleveland and loves Akron. Ohio is home to him, and he admitted that it’s “still weird” to come back to The Q. He was “flattered” by the green t-shirt movement. He loves the fans in Cleveland despite the widespread hatred for him that still exists. He’s done being the villain because that’s not what he actually is or ever was.
There’s a difference between being a villain and being vilified for a massively poor decision, and the latter applies to LeBron. His latest Nike commercial is about being a member of the community in Miami, something he hasn’t forgotten about back home in Akron either. It’s obvious that James loves to love and be loved. Thats part of who he actually is.
Love is exactly what the green t-shirt crew was hoping to portray when they gave out “Come Home LeBron” shirts last Wednesday night. Unfortunately, showing public support for James when he comes back to Cleveland will simply not be the reason he comes back if he does indeed decide to do so. Don’t read that the wrong way, he appreciates the support, he said it himself. But no matter how high the amount of PDA for the guy gets, there’s something vastly more important that has gone missing in Cleveland since 2010.
LeBron isn’t stupid. He knows he’s the best player in the world. He knows that any team in the NBA would pay him a maximum deal to have him if it was financially viable. Even more, he knows that every single fan base in the NBA would fall in love with him the moment he signed his name on the dotted line of a new contract. Even Cleveland fans.
So it isn’t love and adoration that LeBron is searching for in a franchise. In fact, it’s foolish to argue that it ever was considering the fact that he spurned the city that loved him most in search of a better opportunity to win championships.
There it is. Championships.
Like all great players before him and all who will follow, LeBron knows that his legacy will be defined by NBA championships. Even if legacy didn’t matter to anyone in the world, James wants wins and championships more than anything else. Those things drive him, and they don’t come without a roster capable of winning right away. The Heat provided him with that opportunity, and right now the Cavaliers simply would not. So we’re clear, they wouldn’t come remotely close.
I get it. The green t-shirts were supposed to stand out and make a point to LeBron that Cleveland is the best city for him and that people there still love him. But in reality, there’s a small percentage of Cavs fans that love him, and he is already well aware of those folks. They often do things like run out onto the court in homemade white t-shirts.
The saddest thing about the recent neon green phenomenon is its resemblance to something that the sports fans of Cleveland have already tried. LeBron’s downtown meeting with the Cavs’ brass in the summer of 2010 is recent history, but for those who don’t remember, the streets were lined with people holding signs that begged James to stay home. That public outpouring of support didn’t make a difference then, and it won’t now or this summer.
Again, you can’t blame James for that. He’s a worldwide superstar. Wherever he goes, his millions of fans will follow.
We know now that James didn’t leave to take a shot at the Cleveland fan base, no matter how much it (understandably) felt like it at the time. He knows, and has always known, that winning an NBA title for his hometown would be a story for the ages and quite possibly the best moment in Cleveland sports history. LeBron left because of the lack of a championship caliber roster that had plagued the Cavaliers for years. It’s as simple as that.
So, my misguided, neon-clad friends, save your money on the t-shirts and don’t bother cheering for LeBron and the Heat. Frankly, it’s embarrassing to see any part of a fan base that even James himself has called proud continuously grovel at his feet for his return. Remember how awesome (albeit stupid) Dan Gilbert’s comic sans rant was three years ago, and trust him to build a team that is worthy of James’ return. Gilbert is not as dumb as his emotionally charged rallying cry may have made him seem, and he’ll do whatever it takes to return a winning culture to Ontario Street.
Winning is all that has ever truly mattered to LeBron, and it’s the only thing that will convince him to come home.