Four years ago when LeBron James made “The Decision,” I was still a sports writer. I actually did not get to watch the broadcast live, as I was covering a Minnesota Lynx game that evening, but, of course, I was keeping up with Twitter to know what decision he made immediately.
During my time covering the NBA, I had the opportunity to cover games when James played for Cleveland and Miami. As a fan at heart despite my media responsibilities of being neutral, it was always an honor to watch James play the game he dominates from such a close vantage point and to be in the media scrum around him after games. Love him or not, he was and is one of the all-time greats in the game of basketball.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not pretending to know LeBron James as a human being. Like a countless number of people, I was disappointed when he decided to leave Cleveland because there is—and always will be—a part of me which is old-school, wishing more players would stay in one city for their entire careers. However, that naivety has now left me, knowing these players who are corporations of their own will almost always choose to do what is best for their companies and their families.
It’s hard to find any fault with that.
I found myself rooting against James during his time in Miami, but not due the hatred spewed at him from many other angles. Quite simply for me, I found the opponents he and the HEAT were facing in four-straight NBA Finals to be teams which play more to the style I enjoy. I rooted for the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012 and the San Antonio Spurs in 2013 and 2014. This was not an indictment of Miami, as James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh had voluntarily left money on the table in order to team up and win championships. Doing so was within their rights and they have two championship rings on their fingers as a result.
Now, here we are today and James is returning to Cleveland. There are a ton of dominos in NBA free agency that have yet to fall, but you can take it to the bank the Cavaliers will be fun to watch for the foreseeable future. The Ohio native is returning home and is motivated to bring his home the NBA title.
I, for one, will be rooting for him to do so.
During my brief time in close proximity to James while he was still a member of the Cavs, he was a young kid. His speech patterns, his mannerisms and the immaturity of a few of the things he said were the bombastic thoughts of someone crowned a king before earning the right, but that was the fault of many—such as media members like myself who wanted “the next Michael Jordan” badly— not just James alone.
Yet, only a year later, I was struck by the intensity of focus in his eyes and words when meeting the press. There was a singularity of focus in the ultimate goal of winning a championship and, eventually, he did just that twice. If he wasn’t already the best player on the planet before leaving Cleveland, he certainly became the best after his arrival in Miami.
He left Cleveland with a goal in mind…and accomplished it.
As someone on a constant journey to better himself, I can respect setting a goal for the future and the pride that comes with the eventual fulfillment of that accomplishment. What strikes me even more though is being a man who can admit when he made a mistake and doing all he can to heal the wounds caused by the error. That is exactly what James is doing now.
The boy who made “The Decision” has now become the man who made the decision to return to Cleveland with such a wonderfully written statement to Sports Illustrated. This man has learned from the mistakes of the past and, while motivated for future success, he is also not making the same pretentious statements as his younger self was guilty of doing.
Quite simply, I can root for LeBron James now…because I respect him.
It takes a true man to admit many people were hurt by the decisions you have made and to face them head-on. It takes a true man to be empathetic to those he hurt, seeing his actions through their eyes and feel the sting they felt. It takes a true man to forgive those who spoke out in anger, acknowledging the anger stemmed from his own actions. It also takes a true man to realize there will be those who won’t forgive until actions back up words.
LeBron James has grown up and I look forward to following the remainder of his career.