LeBron James’ Essay Shows Star’s Growth, Reminds People He’s Imperfect

LeBron JamesLeBron James landed a bombshell on the basketball universe Friday.

Oh yeah, there’s the whole “going back to Cleveland” thing, which is nice for the Cavaliers and their fans. But there’s also this: He’s not perfect.

As much as the announcement that James is returning to his home-state team, the essay he wrote cooperatively with Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins revealed a contrite LeBron admitting some mistakes he made and his attempts to correct them. How sincere he is and whether anything he does now truly can repair the damage of 2010 obviously is up for debate, and such a debate is unlikely to sway opinion on either side.

Ultimately, those who root for James will continue to root for him. Those who root against him will continue to root against him, with a few converts.

In the spirit of parsing James’ every word and action — which has become the NBA’s most popular parlor game over the last few years — we pored over James’ letter on SI.com and offered our analysis of a few noteworthy lines.

“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”

Maybe James understands how “The Decision” was perceived, or maybe Jenkins just made it very clear that it was important how James opened this announcement. For the public to buy it, for there to be any chance of redemption and re-acceptance in Cleveland, James essentially had to come to the city’s fans, hat in hand. He had to make clear this was about Cleveland, not the Cavaliers. About coming home. The tone had to be right. It was.

“If I had to do it all over again, I’d obviously do thing differently, but I’d still have left. Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids. These past four years helped raise me into who I am.”

There’s no use seeking forgiveness from one city while dissing another. A lot of folks in Miami surely will be displeased, right after they pull their Lakers and Bulls jerseys back out of their closets, but if James had to do it all over again, he’d still give the Heat two championships. That’s not a bad gesture for leaving a team at the altar.

“I went to Miami because of (Dwyane Wade) and (Chris Bosh). We made sacrifices to keep (Udonis Haslem). I loved becoming a big bro to (Mario Chalmers). I believe we could do something magical if we came together. And that’s exactly what we did!”

This is the first passage that really raises an eyebrow. He believed they could do something magical if they made sacrifices to stay together? That’s sort of the exact opposite of what he’s doing by leaving, isn’t it? Again, James is under no obligation to be logical or consistent, but he expresses admiration for what he and his teammates “built” in Miami, just as he takes a wrecking ball to it.

“I’m not having a press conference or a party.”

No, just a front-page essay on a major sports news site and toying with a city’s emotions for close to 24 hours.

“My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”

Boom. Well-stated, concise and even a bit noble, James declares his reasoning for returning to Cleveland. Whether one buys his reasoning is a different matter, but it’s tough to argue with. Also, he shows his maturity by wisely backing off the infamous “not one, not two …” statement from 2010, and merely promising to start with one title. He later clarifies: “I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver.”

“I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when.”

Did the Heat know this? Did the Cavs? All indications pointed to them believing James would be back in Miami, up until the last couple of days. He certainly was not required to keep either team updated on his innermost thoughts and feelings, but if he always intended to go back to Cleveland, he sure did burn a lot of bridges on his way out. Now those bridges are being hurriedly repaired.

“What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react?”

James is criticized for not “getting it,” but this is a pretty self-aware statement from a professional athlete. Many of them don’t get what they mean to fans, young and old, and if they do get it, they don’t care. The fact that James cares — albeit belatedly — should be encouraging to the young fans of Cleveland. Not so much for the young fans of Miami. So it goes.

“We’re not ready (to win a title) right now. No way. Of course, I want to win next year, but I’m realistic. It will be a long process, much longer than it was in 2010. My patience will get tested.”

Well, unless the Cavs trade for Kevin Love.

“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.”

So, Kyrie Irving has nothing to do with Cleveland being a more popular destination now than in 2010, eh? Anyway, fans tend to think of athletes as fully grown, complete adults, but in almost every case, that’s not remotely true. The average NBA career ends well before a player’s 30th birthday. James was 25 when he made “The Decision.” Think about the life choices you made as a 25-year-old. They probably were dumb. (Most of mine were.) They probably weren’t televised, either. “The Decision” was both. James sounds like he realizes that now.

“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”

You’re on record, LeBron. Now, everyone is going to hold you to it.

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