In a Sports Illustrated exclusive, LeBron James has stated that he is heading back to the team that drafted him, the Cleveland Cavaliers. James has spent the last four seasons with the Miami Heat, where he led the team to four straight NBA Finals appearances and two NBA Championships. It had been generally assumed that James would sign another contract with Miami, in part because of the team's strong organization, and in part because the other two superb players on the Heat, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, opted out of their generous contracts to allow for the team to pick up new players. (The team was destroyed by the Spurs in this year's Finals.) Bosh will probably now go to the Houston Rockets; Wade's destination is uncertain, although as a beloved Miami athlete he may return.
James's words to SI mark a notable contrast to his infamous "Decision" four years ago, where he generally made a fool of himself and pissed off many of the league's fans. No doubt he--or his handlers--felt the need to at least try to sound modest this time around. "Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio," James states. "It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried." He then goes on to thank the Heat's players and coaches, before concluding:
But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.
This "decision" will be endlessly speculated about in the next several days, but there are a few remaining interesting, partially serious questions to ponder:
1. Did Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who denigrated LeBron's "Decision" in insane, over-the-top fashion, make some sort of apology? (We have part of the answer: "I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?")
2. Did James feel weird about the fact that his friend Wade potentially left massive amounts of money on the table to help ensure a LeBron return to Miami?
3. Can the Cavs get another superstar to play alongside LeBron and young talent like Kyrie Irving? LeBron went to the Finals with the Cavs once before but lost thanks to a weak supporting cast.
4. Will Cavs fans embrace LeBron entirely now that he has returned? (Okay we can answer that one: yes.)
5. What is James's economic value to Cleveland? He is, as a colleague just noted, a sports industrial complex.
6. Can anything (anything!) stop the meteoric rise of Cleveland now that LeBron and the GOP convention are both coming to the city?
7. Will James be the subject of the inevitable Republican jokes about Hillary Clinton not following sports?
8. Will James's presence mean that the Cavs make the Finals in 2016, and thus interrupt the Republican convention, which could beheld in the city in mid June?
More to come...