Four years ago, when LeBron James announced his return to the Cavaliers in an essay in Sports Illustrated, he made his goal clear: to bring the city of Cleveland their first championship since 1964. Two years later, he delivered on that promise with arguably the greatest comeback in NBA history. Now, almost four years later LeBron James has left the Cavs for the second time in his career, this time to join the Los Angeles Lakers. No, there is not the level of vitriol that was present when James “took his talents to South Beach” in 2010, but there is a wide sense of disappointment amongst Cavs fans. In his essay he wrote “I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when.” And a few weeks later he would say “I don’t plan on going nowhere. I don’t have the energy to do it again.” As emotional as the essay was, it now looks like a brilliant PR move than a love letter to Cleveland. But even though LeBron has departed for a second time, Cavalier fans should still feel great appreciation for a man who came home and kept his promise of bringing us a title.
This past season was perhaps the most tumultuous in Cavaliers history. It started with Cavs owner, Dan Gilbert and general manager, David Griffin mutually parting ways, followed by star point guard, Kyrie Irving’s trade request. The two decisions proved to hang over the team for the entire season and may continue to do so for years to come. The arrivals of Dwyane Wade, Derrick Rose, and injured point guard Isaiah Thomas culminated in an explosive team meeting in January. Then there was the total roster reshaping done by first year GM, Koby Altman on trade deadline day swapping out six players and adding George Hill, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., and Jordan Clarkson. The moves reinvigorated LeBron after he slowed his effort down on the court for the good part of a month in protest to the team’s disfunction. The Cavaliers would finish as the four seed in the Eastern Conference and what followed would end up being a magical farewell tour to Cavalier fans from King James.
LeBron had the best statistical regular season of his career this past season averaging 27.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, and a career-high 9.1 assists. He finished as the runner-up to James Harden in the MVP voting. His postseason performance was the most dominant and arguably the most memorable of his 15 year career. He averaged 34 points, 9.1 boards, 9 assists per game. James scored over 40 points eight times in the playoffs including a 51 point master piece in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. He had two iconic buzzer beaters: a game winning three pointer over Thaddeus Young in Game 5 of the first round against the Indiana Pacers and a running one-handed bank shot against the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. LeBron celebrated both buzzer beaters by standing on the scorers table at half-court and pounding his chest. These displays of emotion were the first time that James had ever shown this kind of acknowledgement and passion towards his hometown fans. Looking back on it now it was poetic and a way to say goodbye to the Cavalier faithful.
Yes, LeBron has left Cleveland for the second time and it is extremely bittersweet. As I look back and reflect on having the privilege to watch him over his 11 seasons in a Cavaliers uniform, I feel a sense of pride and gratitude to have witnessed the brilliance of the greatest basketball player of my generation. I was fortunate enough to be present for 3 of his 5 buzzer beaters with the Cavs and to experience a number of NBA Finals games. Because of LeBron returning home, I was able to experience a championship with my dad, a lifelong and die-hard Cleveland sports fan, before he passed away. The 11 seasons LeBron James spent in Cleveland are filled with memories I will never forget and will share with my children one day. So as “The Kid from Akron” heads to Hollywood, all I can say is Thank You LeBron for making good on your promise and giving me the best sports years of my young life.