He may be known as the King, but when LeBron James’ decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers finally escaped the walls of his well-guarded castle on Friday, it was delivered with deep humility through a personal SI.com essay that caught everyone off guard. It was the kind of humility which evoked emotions so powerful that one could see the next great American sports film unfolding right before their eyes.
It had been understood for quite some time that James was seriously considering rejoining his old crew in Cleveland after infamously taking his “talents to South Beach” back in 2010 when he signed a deal with the Miami Heat. But when the news finally broke that it had become reality, it wasn’t in front of a room jam-packed with hundreds of anxious media members. And it certainly didn’t leave spectators calling him a jerk — to put it as nicely as possible — for not just leaving his home state of Ohio, but doing so without informing Cavs management beforehand.
This second run at free agency, however, gave James the rare opportunity to redeem himself for the narcissistic nature of the first. But being four years older than he was when he held his television special “The Decision” to announce his bounce to Miami, he took the time to be much wiser with his approach.
So he went to Sports Illustrated, one of the original sports media outlets, and left no stone unturned. He didn’t seek the wild craze that a more conventional announcement would have inevitably garnered. He took off the basketball player mask that put him in this position in the first place and simply opened himself up to being LeBron James, the human being with real emotions.
Through this piece he clarifies his entire thought process — what Miami has meant to him, what his family means to him and the place Northeast Ohio has always held in his heart.
Not only does the message come off as magical, but there is also a sense of realism that likely wasn’t expected when James openly states, “I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver. We’re not ready right now… It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010.”
Of course no one was expecting another “Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven,” titles guarantee from James like the one he gave in his first public appearance in Miami with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Two losses in the Finals — including the most recent shellacking at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs — would obviously keep his expectations much more grounded this time around.
But given the fact that he did also win two of his four Finals appearances with the Heat, it does come off as surprising that James, in the prime of his career, would not guarantee at least one championship on the horizon for the Cavs upon his return.
And with the arrogance that once caused people to seethe finally in his rear view mirror, James no longer builds himself into someone that most fans want to see torn down. It is no longer about him and his quest for countless rings in hopes of equaling or surpassing Michael Jordan’s six.
Instead it is about taking a team that would have been riding ponies in Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson and possibly Andrew Wiggins/Anthony Bennett — if they aren’t traded for Kevin Love — and aiding in their transformation to thoroughbreds that are prepared to compete at the highest level.
Above all that James shared in his essay, the most significant, prevailing thought has to be his final ones, in which he states, “But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.”
LeBron James would have won back many of the hearts he lost four years ago with a press conference announcing his return to Cleveland. But by writing this raw, emotional Sports Illustrated letter, he may have won over more hearts than he could have imagined.