July 14th, 2014
The Remake on the Lake: Why You Should Care About LeBron James’ Return to Cleveland
LeBron is coming home. And you should care. Yes, you. Those of you who have never seen an NBA game should care. Those of you who hate everything about anything associated with Cleveland should care. And especially those of you with kids, you should really care.
I have never been enamored with LeBron James. I have always respected his ability as a basketball player. I have been amazed by his combination of size, power, and agility. And, I have been impressed by his championships and MVP awards. But, as someone who grew up in the heart of the Michael Jordan era, I found it difficult to root for LeBron.
When MJ was sick in The Finals, he put together an unbelievable performance. LeBron had always made me think that he would check out of the game under similar circumstances. After struggling to try to win a championship early in his career with the Chicago Bulls, Jordan stuck it out until they had all of the pieces in place to turn out six titles. LeBron bolted at the chance to play with other All-Stars. And perhaps most significantly, Michael transcended his sport. Almost everyone wanted to "Be like Mike." Jordan looked and spoke the part in his press conferences, commercials, and even starred in the movie "Space Jam." LeBron seemed as though he couldn't care less about his image and never had non-hoopsters wanting to be like him, other than perhaps when it came to his bank account.
All of that changed on Friday. In a move that surprised many that was delivered in an essay that had the power of a two-handed dunk, LeBron announced that he was going home to Cleveland. Athletes change teams in the free agency era of sports as often as some people change socks. But, this was different. This wasn't an athlete leaving for more money, better endorsement deals, or a better shot at winning a championship. This was the best player in the game going to a team for the people in that city. I'm not sure that has ever happened before in professional sports and if it has, you would certainly be hard pressed to say it has happened with such a high profile player.
But, that's not why you should care that LeBron is returning to Cleveland to play for the team that drafted him just after he had finished high school at nearby Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary's. The reason you should care is because of all of the life lessons that can be learned from this Remake on the Lake. Forgiveness. Selflessness. Maturity. So many of our youngsters, and adults for that matter, can learn so much about these principles and others.
After all, just four short years ago, LeBron left the city of Cleveland behind in one of the most bitter break-ups between player and city in professional sports history. Not only did he betray the city that thought he was the one that would finally end its title drought, but he did it on a national television special where he announced that he was "taking his talents to South Beach." Cavs owner Dan Gilbert responded with stinging words about his prized player. Cleveland fans did worse, burning his jersey and leaving no words behind when describing him. The relationship quickly and unmistakably had turned from love to hate.
Now, after two championships, four Finals appearances, and all that South Beach has to offer, LeBron is returning to Cleveland. And that is where the life lessons come into play.
LeBron had to forgive Cleveland and Gilbert. And they had to forgive him. How many times in our own lives do we have trouble forgiving others who have hurt us? How quickly are we able to set aside the pain and say let's be friends again? How often do we struggle to give our children an example of someone in recent times who has been a model of forgiveness? We now have that case in point.
LeBron had to act selflessly. Let's be honest. How many people would rather live in Cleveland than Miami? How many people would go from playing for a first place team to a team that couldn't make the playoffs? And, how many people would leave playing with two other perennial all-stars to play with a team filled with inexperience? The answer is a guy who is more concerned about others than himself.
Finally, LeBron demonstrated incredible maturity compared to that which he showed in 2010. There was no TV special announcing his decision this time. Instead, there was a well-crafted, thoughtful essay that thanked Miami but emotionally described why it was so important for him to go home. He explained why bringing a championship to the people living where he grew up means so much to him. There was his admission that he didn't understand how important these things were four years ago, but he does now. How many world-class athletes do we see admit their faults? How many celebrities care so much about their hometowns? How many famous people write an essay rather than choose the bright lights of national television to make a big announcement? LeBron James did. In short, LeBron correctly did all of the things he had done wrong four years ago. In the process, he exemplified what it means to grow as a person and learn from your past mistakes.
I'm not exactly sure what the future holds for LeBron James as a Cleveland Cavalier. But as a person, I am quite certain that he gained a lot of fans. I count myself among them. LeBron reminded us all of a number of important life lessons. All of these have to do with putting others ahead of ourselves. If we can all strive to do that, what a better place the world would be. My hat is off to you, LeBron. It is so rare that we get to be pleasantly surprised by famous athletes. Not only did you surprise us with where you will be playing basketball next season, but you surprised us with just who you really are.