The rageful conniption the city went through when James "took his talents to South Beach" was understandable—anyone who's been through a messy romantic breakup can certainly empathize with such behavior—but it's also easy to see why burned jerseys and boo-birds and riots might deter the four-time MVP from a return.
Like jilted lovers often do, Cleveland did a lot in the haste of spurn to close the door on their union forever. They hated being dismissed for something fancier and they proudly showed it—but they might be regretting it now.
The Cavs have more than showed their hand in the new flirtation between these two parties (however poorly it may be conceived) in anticipation of the 2014 offseason. Then, James is likely to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat—but, in the eyes of many, he will simply sign a new deal with his championship-earning team.
This doesn’t stop the lustful Cleveland, though—they’ve brought back Mike Brown as their head coach, seemingly a cue to LeBron that they want to go back to the old days and make all the wrong things right. They want a do-over.
Unfortunately for the Cavs, James never quite liked Brown. He was one of the wrong things about the relationship from the start.
Like a doofy hat on an ex-lover that still hasn’t left the wardrobe, the presence of the infamously bad communicator, Brown—who Shaquille O’Neal said, in his book, had no influence over LeBron—still on the bench is only likely to remind the King of how inept the Cleveland front office could be.
The Cavs clearly haven’t moved on enough to see how they erred in the James era. They’ve gotten the dynamic Kyrie Irving onto their squad but even his frequent game-taking surges can’t compare to the love that their fanbase felt for their prodigious native.
LeBron was the one-man promise to break the title-dry spell of his city, the hardest-luck sports town there is.
Like John Cusack with a cordless boombox outside his vixen’s window, some Cavaliers fans even went so far as to make a campaign for their old hero when he last visited the Quicken Loans Arena in November. T-shirts and all, these fans were willing to make nil of whatever the franchise has done in James’ absence—to toss away any better-without-you pride—in order to coax their man back.
The best look for regaining James, however, is sheer winning. Any man or woman who’s been spurned by his soulmate, only to win them back, can speak to the value of being visibly happy in someone else’s arms.
There’s no better advertisement for a reunion than simply moving on first.
The acrimonious state of the Cavs’ locker room—which held a players-only meeting less than a month into the season—has them looking like an organization that never recovered from its Comic Sans-tinged fury when LeBron left, and it certainly doesn’t create an alluring image for him to return.
Pat Riley, alternatively, has pushed every right button with the King in South Beach.
Beyond the obvious—the 2010 free agency coup that also saw Miami re-sign Dwyane Wade and bring in Chris Bosh—the team has supplied James with a coach who fosters his evolution and has added all of the right role-players around him. And a man like Riley couldn’t seem desperate even if he wanted to. A six-time NBA champion, he’s one of the bedrock figures of excellence across the league.
If LeBron is to turn Miami away for another contract and return to Cleveland, it will have to be at the behest of true, passionate, blinding love for the land he was raised in. It will be in compliance with the kind of intimate fervor that sinks empires, that—like Greece’s war on Troy for their lovely Helen—is far more from the heart than the head.
Whether this kind of attachment is possible on the part of LeBron is unknown to us. The world’s best basketball player has been wisely reticent on the issue of his impending free agency and it’s only once it happens that we’ll know just how he feels about those Ohioans still pining for him.