We all remember the pain, the back-stabbing, and the downright hatred we experienced on July 7, 2010. It was a memorable day for all of us, in the most sadistic of ways. The masochists among us replay “The Decision” as if it were a football tape, just rewinding and rewinding, secretly hoping that the words “I’m staying in Cleveland” come out of his mouth. LeBron James, in a matter of minutes, went from one of the most beloved and appreciated athletes in the history of sport, to the most hated man in the United States of America. From Cleveland to Chicago, from New York to that other team in LA, fans hated LeBron for spurning them and going to South Beach to play for the Heat.
Now, here we are. It’s 2013, LeBron has a ring, and suddenly, a lot of that hatred is gone. We don’t exactly know how it happened, but it happened nonetheless. Maybe Dwight Howard’s immaturity rang through the hills alerting Americans that “this LeBron guy, maybe he isn’t so bad”. Maybe it was Carmelo and his trip to the basketball Mecca in Midtown Manhattan. Maybe it was his failure in year one against the Mavericks. LeBron is not receiving nearly the hatred that he was just months ago.
LeBron’s return to Cleveland has been a widely debated topic since July 8th, otherwise known as “the day after”. LeBron spends his summers in Akron, training with KD, CP3, or anyone else who wants to join him. He still gives back to the community in Northeast Ohio, and he still would love to bring a title to the Cleveland fans, despite the absolute hatred he’s received for the past two years.
With a contract expiring in a couple of years, there are shouts, not whispers, of LeBron seriously coming back to the Cavaliers. Many view this in absolute disgust. How could this man, who may have committed the unholiest of acts in Cleveland, be welcomed back into our hearts just like that? Others view this as a legitimate chance for a ring.
There are two factions of people in Cleveland: those who care more about winning and those who care more about pride in their city. Cleveland is known for having the most passionate and loyal fans in sports, and rightfully so. They care more about their teams than any other major sports city in the United States, and I can say that with full confidence. However, this love is torn into two parts and therefore causes quite the diversion between two sides of the same fan-base. And so goes the argument about LeBron, torn in two just like the city itself.
Those who don’t want LeBron back obviously value pride more than they value wins. It’s a fair stance to take, I’m not blaming anyone who stands true to it, but it’s a decidedly one-sided stance. “The city is too prideful to have such a traitor comeback and be welcomed with open arms.” This is the stance of a good majority of the fans in Cleveland.
The other side is yearning for a title more than anything, just to bring the city and their teams back to relevance. LeBron means wins, wins mean championships, and a championship is what Cleveland needs more than anything, at this time. Again, a fair stance to take, as a championship is needed in Cleveland, regardless of who brings it home.
I have no issue with a person who takes either of these sides. It is perfectly acceptable to have more pride in your city and it is surely acceptable to want a championship. Both are justified. My problem is with those who don’t pick one of those sides, in terms of welcoming LeBron back to Cleveland.
If you don’t want LeBron back, you can’t complain about lack of wins. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t want the greatest athlete in the world on your side, helping to bring you a championship, you can’t complain when the Cavaliers falter in the playoffs until Kyrie decides to skip town. Essentially what I’m saying is, without LeBron, Cleveland isn’t winning a championship in the near future.
Kyrie Irving is a tremendous, tremendous talent. He is incredible in all aspects of the word, and we are more than fortunate as a fan-base to have him on our side. However, just as the case when LeBron was in town, the Cavaliers are not going to win a championship surrounding Kyrie with Alonzo Gee and Tyler Zeller. It’s not going to happen. If the greatest basketball player my eyes have ever seen couldn’t win a championship by himself, what makes you think a lesser talent like Kyrie can win one alone?
LeBron James is Cleveland’s hope of a championship, as sad as that may seem. Chris Grant has done all that he can, but it’s not his fault. For some reason, college basketball has been on a bit of a “cold streak” in terms of churning out superstars. Who knows the reason, but when the best rookie is a point guard out of Weber State, you know something is wrong.
The Cavs are not going to win a championship without another superstar and you’re not going to find one in this year’s draft, nor the next one, most likely. LeBron is a once in a lifetime talent, and if you’re not willing to put grudges in the past in order to win a title, then you simply can’t complain about not winning in the playoffs.
Think of this team:
Draft Pick #1
Draft Pick #2
and compare it to this one:
Draft Pick #1
There is absolutely no comparison. The bottom group is going to be a 4 seed, if they’re lucky in a couple of years, and will never get past LeBron, no matter where he may end up. With LeBron, however, you end up with an incredibly solid starting lineup, two bona fide superstars, and a very competent bench with no Luke Walton or Omri Casspi.
Listen, you prideful Cleveland fans. I respect you wholeheartedly, and at times I believe I’m on your side. I’m so used to Cleveland losing at this point that I think that I could deal with the losing, as long as Cleveland still has it’s pride. I would be ok with never winning a basketball ring, as long as my city could stand up for itself. However, I would never, EVER, argue that Cleveland could win without LeBron, and I would be ok with that. It’s just the way basketball works these days. Superstars want to be in the bright lights, in the big cities. They care not about the fans nor the small markets that supported them wholeheartedly. As you can see from Dwight, from LeBron, from Carmelo, from Chris Paul, from Chris Bosh, and from Amare Stoudemire, these guys are only out for themselves, and many of them will never sniff a small market again.
To me, it says a lot that LeBron would want to come back to Cleveland. To me, it says “I had to win a ring to get people of my back, but I know it would’ve meant more in this city, with these fans.” There is something admirable in wanting to come back. It makes me believe, and I whole heartedly believe, that LeBron’s decision to spurn Cleveland had to do with nothing more than basketball. He knew he couldn’t win by himself, and he had to win somehow. He wasn’t going to win in Cleveland, and if he stayed in Cleveland, he would probably still be ringless. In the end, it was a smart move for LeBron. He has a ring and now the pressure is off, if only a little bit.
The debate is over. If you want LeBron back, you value wins, and rightfully so. If you don’t want LeBron back, you can’t complain about being ringless. It’s as simple as that. Kyrie is not good enough to do it by himself and Dion, Tristan, Tyler, and future draft pick are not good enough to help him.
With LeBron in the lineup, Cleveland is going to at least compete for a ring, if not win one. LeBron, knowingly or not, set it up perfectly. LeBron would be the final piece of the Cavaliers championship puzzle. He would help develop all of the youthful talent around him, while bringing his skill set to the table. It would be exactly like the OKC model, except the Cavs would sign their KD, instead of drafting him.
Value what is most important to you, Cleveland. Be on one side or another. Either way I respect you. Just know that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t keep LeBron out and win a title. You can’t bring LeBron in and look all strong and tough. It’s “either/or” Cleveland. You make the choice and stick to it.
Follow Hayden on Twitter @H_Grove