Column: Now LeBron James is the homecoming King
Like Julius Caesar, LeBron James came, he saw, he conquered and then ... went back home?
Going back to Rome is one thing, but what icon ever went back to Cleveland? None before James shocked the world again.
His talents’ round trip to South Beach, a.k.a. the Miami Heat, wound up working for everyone, even if he served himself up to his enemies like a roast pig with an apple in its mouth, incurring global wrath that boosted TV ratings in four consecutive NBA Finals.
There’s a new standard for MVP. After four seasons of merchandising the passion surrounding James, the NBA just broke the bank at Monte Carlo.
After decades in which a few rich teams ruled — those were the days, weren’t they, Lakers fans? — the NBA has a new nine-year, $24-billion TV deal, a $2.7-billion annual average, almost twice baseball’s $1.5 billion.
Unfortunately, the Heat Hate narrative is no more. With the Lakers and Celtics down and out, there go the villains everyone loved to hate.
Heartwarming works on Christmas cards. Narratives work best with marquee teams, even ones as loathed as the Celtics in the days when Coach Red Auerbach fired up cigars on the bench.
The Heat surpassed even the Celtics in notoriety when James announced in 2010 he would join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to win “not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven” titles.
The reaction was molten. When LeBron folded in Game 6 of the following spring’s Finals loss to Dallas, he could have drowned in contempt.
James then won back-to-back titles in 2012 and 2013 with back-to-back MVPs that gave him four of the last five of those.
If the “king of chokers” stuff was over, no one expected James to leave Miami, especially for Cleveland, starting with the Cavaliers.
Instead, the Cavaliers tried to put years of pining for James behind them. Coming off a bickering 33-49 season, they hired David Blatt, coach of Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv, out of left field without even bothering to sound out Bron’s locally based people, who had never stopped trying to promote a homecoming.
Incredibly, James then recruited himself, requiring only an exchange of apologies with owner Dan Gilbert, who in 2010 had lashed out at the “cowardly betrayal” of “the former self-styled king.”
Gilbert happily obliged even if, to the Cavaliers’ embarrassment, they realized that the owner’s rant was still posted on their website, four years later.
“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from northeast Ohio,” James told Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins. “It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried....
“My relationship with northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
Charles Barkley called it “the greatest thing I’ve ever seen a jock say in my life,” telling the New York Daily News, “This is the coolest thing to happen in sports in a long time.”
Of course, new narratives will emerge. It remains to be seen how good they’ll be. I already miss the Heat.
The Eastern Conference was lame enough with James in Miami.
Now he’s in Cleveland, noting humbly that the Bulls are the team to beat.
“They are a team that’s much better than us right now just off chemistry,” James said at an exhibition game last week. “They’ve been together for a while. We’ve got a long way to go.”
The Bulls are a quiet bunch whose big deal is holding teams to 92 points.
The action has long been in the West, if not the drama with the Lakers no longer a factor.
San Antonio is widely admired but triggers no passions, unless it’s beating the Heat like a drum as it did last spring.
Oklahoma City is a youth favorite with Kevin Durant, but with his injury following those of Russell Westbrook and the trade of James Harden, the Thunder isn’t improving as fast as it’s aging.
If Lakers fans hate the Clippers, no one else is down on the Clips. Nevertheless, with their Lob City fireworks, even if Coach Doc Rivers doesn’t let them talk about them, they have marquee potential — if, of course, they’re good enough.
It’s a happy ending, at least, in Cleveland, where they were owed a few.
James was recently asked about a prediction by one of his people that a coming TV show they’re producing could be running for years.
“What he said about Season 6 — last time I said, ‘Not one, not two, not three, not four…,’ that stuff didn’t go over too well,” said James, four years older and a lot wiser.
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