By KELTON BROOKS
Ten years from now, no, 20 years from now, one will ask a question of an action that scratched a ripple into the space-time continuum: “Where were you when LeBron James announced his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers?” I was at work tweeting my butt off.
One of my closest friends asked me am I excited about LeBron. My response: “From a media standpoint, this is like a moon landing.” — Kelton Brooks (@BrooksWeekly) July 11, 2014
Flabbergasted but impressed. Confused yet in awe. Intrigued, although, I completely understood it all. I’ll be the first to admit that I believed LeBron was returning to Miami, but after reading his letter on why he returned to Cleveland, I’ve never been more happy to be wrong. His statement was beyond sincere, completely honest and poured out straight from his heart.
Cleveland deserves its hometown hero.
In his letter to SI.com announcing his return to Cleveland, his opening paragraph gave me goosebumps. It made me draw my eyes beyond champion rings, MVP trophies and clutch game winning shots.
It simply made me look beyond the game of basketball.
Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio. It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.
Four years ago, the King embarked on a journey of riches. He led the Miami Heat to a championship appearance in each of his seasons in South Beach, coming away with two elusive championship rings that he so badly coveted, two Finals MVP trophies, two regular season MVP awards, and averaged 26.9 points per game, 7.6 rebounds and 6.7 assist per game.
But before he set off, LeBron ignited a fire storm in his hometown of Akron, Ohio and the city of Cleveland. Jerseys were burned, tears flowed, groans bellowed, and billboards of his legendary status were stripped down and disposed. Even the Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert expressed his hurt and disgust in his own letter after LeBron set sail for a voyage to more promising lands.
It was rocky sail at sea, but LeBron hit the nail on the head in his letter on his time in Miami:
Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am. I became a better player and a better man. I learned from a franchise that had been where I wanted to go. I will always think of Miami as my second home. Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.
Miami taught LeBron how to win when it counted.
In seven seasons with the Cavaliers, he left as the all-time leading scorer with 15, 251 points, minutes played with 22, 108, and all-star appearances with six. The Cavaliers won more playoff games in seven seasons with LeBron James (42) than in 37 seasons without him (28), according to ESPN Stats & Info. But the Cavaliers only made one Finals appearance with LeBron and he was swept by the same team that beat his then Miami Heat in five games, the San Antonio Spurs.
Those numbers are gaudy and teasing, but unfinished. LeBron knows the city of Cleveland is starving to hoist a champion trophy of any sport into the air. A major Cleveland pro sports team has not won a championship since the Browns in 1964 (141 seasons), the longest active drought of any city. LeBron made it clear what his mission is in his return to Cleveland:
When I left Cleveland, I was on a mission. I was seeking championships, and we won two. But Miami already knew that feeling. Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.
Westgate Las Vegas has Cleveland and San Antonio as co-favorites at 4-1 odds to win the championship. For the Spurs, they are the defending champions, I get it. But for the Cavaliers, I should be shocked, but I’m not. LeBron stated in his letter that “we’re not ready yet,” meaning the Cavaliers current roster with all-star point guard Kyrie Irving, No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, Dion Waiters and the growing Tristian Thompson. A say current because Cleveland could easily trade some of these assets to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love.
Although, this is the Eastern Conference we’re talking about. The Atlanta Hawks made to playoffs with a 38-44 record and the No. 3 seed in the West, the Los Angeles Clippers, would have been the top seed in the East with a 57-25 record. The only team that would give the now Cavaliers team any cause for concern would be the Chicago Bulls if they signed Carmelo Anthony.
When the LeBron took the Cavaliers to the Finals in the 2007-08 season, the starting lineup was: PG: Larry Hughes; SG: Sasha Pavlović; SF: LeBron James; PF: Drew Gooden; C: Žydrūnas Ilgauskas. The only player that is of any relevance of that team remaining in the NBA is Anderson Varejão. Even at their youth (if a Love trade doesn’t happen), a roster of LeBron, Wiggins, Irving, Waiters and Thompson is head and shoulders above the skill set and talent compared to the 2007-08 Cavaliers roster. Not to mention a LeBron that is motivated playing for his home team and light years ahead of his younger days with the Cavaliers.
That’s what the Heat didn’t have anymore. Youth. Miami was becoming old and slow, steadily signing veteran band-aid pieces that will stick around for a few years. The Heat have plateaued. They wouldn’t have gotten better than they already were at the time with LeBron, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. Cleveland offers the chance to win now and in the future with Irving and Wiggins primed to take the throne left by Lebron.
I’m still astonished at the reception and how the world was at bay waiting for LeBron’s decision. Lebron’s return might be the most significant moment in Cleveland sports’ history.
And by the end of his career, LeBron might go down as the most influential athlete in the history of professional sports.