LeBron James' Decision Had to Do with Much More Than Being a Kid from Ohio

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistJuly 12, 2014

FILE - In this Dec. 25, 2009 file photo, Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reacts during the second half against the Los Angeles Lakers in an NBA basketball game in Los Angeles. James told Sports Illustrated on Friday, July 11, 2014, he is leaving the Miami Heat to go back to the Cleveland Cavaliers. (AP Photo/Lori Shepler, File)
Lori Shepler/Associated Press

“Before anyone ever cared where I would play basketball, I was a kid from Northeast Ohio.”

This was the very first sentence of LeBron James’ essay, as told to Lee Jenkins of SI.com.

James would then go on to say:

It’s where I walked. It’s where I ran. It’s where I cried. It’s where I bled. It holds a special place in my heart. People there have seen me grow up. I sometimes feel like I’m their son. Their passion can be overwhelming. But it drives me. I want to give them hope when I can. I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.

While James, or more likely his PR team, decided to take the sentimental route with his essay that was clearly targeted at repairing the damage he had done in Ohio with the infamous 2010 “Decision,” being a kid from Ohio that just wanted to come home was likely a very small part of James’ decision to rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers.

James left Miami for one reason and one reason only—he felt as if the Heat could no longer contend for an NBA title.

Had the Miami Heat landed another big-time free agent or even brought in a strong group of role players to join the Big Three, James would likely be sitting next to his pool in Miami this weekend instead of organizing a moving company to ship his personal belongings to Cleveland.

This may sound strange to some since just four weeks ago the Miami Heat were taking on the San Antonio Spurs in the 2014 NBA Finals. But that series against the Spurs, and the entire 2013-14 season for that matter, was clearly a wakeup call for James.

The Heat were not nearly as strong a team during the 2013-14 NBA season as they had been during the three previous years.

Unloading key role players such as Mike Miller impacted the Heat’s depth while Wade’s accelerated decline and Chris Bosh’s lower level of productivity weakened the Heat to a point where they won 12 fewer games than they did the previous season and were simply no match for the San Antonio Spurs during the 2014 NBA Finals.

Part of the reason why the New England Patriots have been such a successful football team for the past 15 years despite multiple personnel changes is because their player personnel motto is that it is better to let a player go a year early rather than a year late.

James had clearly gotten to that point in Miami.

The ship was sinking and he decided to jump off at precisely the right moment.

James is an intelligent man both on and off of the basketball court.

His decision to take his talents to South Beach earned him two NBA titles, while just last year James was, according to Forbes, the third highest paid athlete in the world with more than 73 percent of his earnings coming from off the court endorsement deals.

So, it is easy to see why James took the I am just a kid from Ohio that made a big mistake going to South Beach four years ago route. He had amends to make good with the hard working folks of Cleveland, Ohio and he also just created a setting for what could be one of the greatest feel-good stories in basketball history.  

A local kid from Ohio gets drafted by his hometown team.

The kid from Ohio gets too big for Cleveland and decides to take his talents to South Beach which he announced during a live television special on ESPN titled The Decision.

The kid from Ohio finds success in Miami, grows up a bit and sees the error of his ways.

The kid from Ohio returns home like the prodigal son to bring an NBA title to Cleveland and make things right with the hometown folks that he had scorned just four years earlier.

Walt Disney couldn’t have written a better script himself.

James has set a golden yellow brick road out right in front of him that he simply needs to walk down over the next three-to-four years in order to fully repair his public image and cement his place as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

It’s really quite ingenious, and the Cleveland Cavaliers fans are just lapping it all up.

The Cavaliers’ fans went from this scene within hours of James announcing to the world that he would be taking his talents to South Beach.

To this scene just moments after James announced that he would be returning home to Cleveland.

It is certainly a joyous occasion for both James and the hard working folks of Cleveland, Ohio, because let’s face it; it’s a win-win situation for both sides.

James left Miami because he felt as if the Heat could no longer contend for NBA titles, while Cleveland offered him the best chance to contend for an NBA title over the next few seasons and also had the cap space to offer him a max deal.

James’ other options were simply not viable.

Had James gone to Chicago he would have had to have taken a large pay cut.

Had James gone to Los Angeles Lakers he would have found himself in an even worse situation than he would have been in had he stayed in Miami.

Had James gone to Houston he would have spent the rest of his career getting beaten up in the difficult Western Conference.

Phoenix could have been an option for James due to their large amount of cap space, but a lot of other pieces would have had to fall into place such as the Suns signing Carmelo Anthony and making a trade for a player such as Kevin Love in order for James to have any shot at winning an NBA title out in the Arizona desert.

Cleveland was by far James’ best option.

The Cavaliers just signed Kyrie Irving to a long-term deal.

They just drafted Andrew Wiggins with the No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA draft, and they have three first-round drafts picks in 2015 that they can either hold onto and bring in some more young talent, or use as trade bait to acquire another big-time player such as Kevin Love.

So, while James may have taken the sentimental, I’m just a kid from Ohio at heart route, his decision was quite calculated.

Had Cleveland not offered James the best chance to win an NBA title during the next few years, he would have likely stayed in Miami or taken his talents elsewhere, whether Ohio holds a “special place in his heart” or not.

So let’s take this decision for what it is.

James is joining the team that provides him with the best opportunity to win another NBA title during the next three-to-four years and the Cleveland Cavaliers just happened to be that team, while the fans in Cleveland are quick to forgive James for no other reason than that he is the best basketball player in the world and may bring them their first ever NBA title.

It's an I use you, and you use me situation where everyone wins.

Hail to the return of the King.


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