Home is where the heart is for Cleveland prodigal LeBron James

When he decided to leave for Miami four years ago his exit was carried live by ESPN

A mural of LeBron James reads “come home” on the side of a barbershop in Cleveland. Photograph: Dustin Franz/New York Times

A mural of LeBron James reads “come home” on the side of a barbershop in Cleveland. Photograph: Dustin Franz/New York Times

Sat, Jul 12, 2014, 14:00

Among the beautiful people expected to turn up in Rio for tomorrow night’s World Cup final is the superstar whose homecoming has been subject to frenzied speculation, tears and furious debate.

No, no, not the crooner in the stetson hat. Brazil has suffered enough.

Those who finally despaired of Ireland as a serious country this week might take consolation in the maelstrom of excitement which has followed LeBron James throughout the week. Thousands of Clevelanders wake up this morning after celebrating late and hard the news that their unassailable local hero has decided to forsake the dazzle of Miami for the humble charms of Cleveland and its long suffering Cavaliers. The announcement must have provoked disbelief, delight and relief and made the will-he-won’t-he anguish of the previous 48 hours worth it.

With James, however, saying yay or nay is a global event. When he decided to leave Cleveland for Miami four years ago, his announcement was carried live by ESPN, who dubbed it “the Decision” and the choice of words, “I’ve decided to take my talents to south Beach”, became a coda for vanity and ego unchecked. James departed his home state – he grew up in the Akron – leaving millions of anguished fans in his wake. Dan Gilbert, owner of the beleaguered Cavaliers (a solid team which has never won an NBA title) published an open letter branding the exiting superstar as cowardly and narcissistic. James was more than just a luminous personality in a city which does not trade on glamour: he was a crucial part of the local economy.

His leaving hurt.

By quitting Cleveland to join the Miami Heats’ stellar cast

the pressure was on James to deliver. Anything less than NBA championships would lead to vilification and the judgement that James, for all his athletic splendour and his facility to play any position brilliantly didn’t have the winning temperament. Back-to-back championships (2012-13)featuring dominant fourth-quarter takeovers by James ended that myth but the absolute schooling which Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs gave the Miami Heat in the NBA finals in June reignited questions as to James’s legacy in the sport. That he is among the shortlist of best players to take up a basketball is beyond question. But where among them does he rank? When compared to the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat story began to look shallow. The Spurs have been revolving around Duncan since 1997, an eternity in modern sport. Over time, they have achieved the rare feat of looking like a group of friends playing basketball and just happening to be better at the game than any other team in the world. Within Miami, there was a support cast and three mega-personalities who could just about fit in the same building.

So when James decided to invoke his opt-out clause this summer, the speculation was instantaneous. If he was to leave Miami, there were two obvious teams for him to join. The first was New York, a city which could easily absorb his megawatt persona and give him an opportunity to lead the Knicks to its first NBA championship since 1973.

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