Sporting Advent Calendar #2: LeBron James’s return home
‘His Miami years were about establishing his individual prowess, the Cleveland project will define James’s stature in the game’
LeBron James (number 23) of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots against the Washington Wizards on November 26th, 2014. Photograph: Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images
LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers shoots a free-throw against the Orlando Magic at Quicken Loans Arena on November 24th, 2014. The Cavaliers defeated the Magic 106-74. Photograph: Jason Miller/Getty Images
Although the Miami Heat became the first team since the Boston Celtics ’87 vintage to appear in four consecutive NBA finals series, there was a sense this summer that the LeBron James era in South Beach was reaching the end of its natural lifespan.
The 4-1 finals destruction of the Heat by the San Antonio Spurs, a team as steadfastly grounded and under-stated as the Heat were starry, marked the closing phase of the uneasy alliance between three of basketball’s supreme individualists: Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron James.
In his four years with Miami, James won back-to-back championships and dominated the floor so completely in some games that he has convinced many observers that he is the best whoever played.
His decision in July to opt out of his Heat contract and rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom he left for Miami, gave the NBA a narrative tension it desperately needed and won James instant admiration.
His return was as low key as his departure was hyped: he pledged his future to Cleveland on the Sports Illustrated website and that was that. Clevelanders responded as if they had won the lottery.
Should James, now aged 29, lead the Cavaliers to the NBA title it has never won, it will become the landmark achievement of his career. After a predictably uneven opening, the young Cavs’ have started to respond to James’ orchestration this winter.
The spotlight will be intense when the play-offs come around next Spring and the pressure on James enormous. While there was a sense that his Miami years were about establishing his individual prowess, the Cleveland project will define James’s stature in the game.