LeBron James is a bigger man than most of us, and I’m not talking about those broad shoulders that house an NFL linebacker masquerading as an NBA superstar.
LeBron’s capacity for forgiveness sets him apart. LeBron is back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, where he will be under the employ of Dan Gilbert. Dan Dilbert is more like it.
The Cavaliers owner famously unveiled himself as a buffoon when LeBron bolted for the Miami Heat four years ago, writing a letter to Cleveland fans guaranteeing a Cavs’ NBA title before LeBron’s first championship and calling LeBron’s exodus “cowardly betrayal” and “shameful display of selfishness,” “shocking act of disloyalty” and “heartless and callous action.”
Now the same free will that prompted LeBron to leave Cleveland has brought him back. If LeBron had four ounces of revenge in his body, he would have called a July 1 press conference to announce that he was indeed set on returning to the Cavaliers, planned to play out his career there and bring the long-awaited title to his beloved northeast Ohio. On the condition that Dan Gilbert sells the franchise before opening day.
That would have been rich. It also would have been wise. Not for LeBron’s reputation, which has been restored after the disastrous public relations of the “taking my talents to South Beach” night. But for LeBron’s basketball future.
No amount of forgiveness can wash away Gilbert’s ineptitude as an owner. The guy doesn’t know how to run a basketball franchise.
Coaches come and go. General managers get fired in midseason. The Cavs over the previous four NBA Drafts have had five top-four selections, including three overall No. 1 picks. And despite LeBron’s return, Cleveland still might not have enough talent to win the Eastern Conference. Kyrie Irving was a home run pick. We’ll see on Andrew Wiggins. But Anthony Bennett, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters, taken with picks that could have built a powerhouse sans LeBron, are reminiscent of the talent level LeBron left behind in Cleveland the first time.
Talk about loyalty. LeBron has signed back on with an outfit that doesn’t have the first idea on how to assemble a team. And LeBron has left a franchise, the Heat, that does.
There is no Pat Riley in Cleveland. No basketball mind that understands culture and fit and an eye for talent, at least no mind that’s been apparent.
In Miami, LeBron won two titles and made four NBA Finals. But none came easy. The Heat one won title when it wasn’t the better team (2013; the Spurs let Miami wiggle free) and had to stage a rally against the aged Celtics to win the 2012 East Finals before dispatching the Thunder for the O’Brien Trophy.
The point is, winning big, winning championships, is hard in the NBA. Excruciatingly hard. Even when you’ve got the best player, and a great supporting cast, and a brilliant basketball mind calling the shots, and an owner with some class. LeBron had all those in four Miami seasons; he won two titles and was lucky to get that.
Now LeBron is in Cleveland, with no brilliant basketball mind. The weight of Lake Erie is again on LeBron’s broad shoulders. LeBron has brought redemption to Dan Gilbert. Now comes the hard part. Can LeBron bring his owner a clue?
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.