September 23, 2014

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Kevin Aprile: LeBron is back

A large electronic billboard in Cleveland welcomes back NBA basketball star LeBron James Friday after he announced he would return to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four years with the Miami Heat. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

A large electronic billboard in Cleveland welcomes back NBA basketball star LeBron James Friday after he announced he would return to the Cleveland Cavaliers after four years with the Miami Heat. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Anyone else feel like dancing? Like smiling every 30 seconds or so?

Like shouting at the top of their lungs: He’s back.

How does it make any sense to have even some small part of our emotional state determined by … a basketball player?

OK, we are talking about LeBron James, the best basketball player on the planet, sure, but a basketball player nonetheless.

But that’s how I feel and I suspect a lot of other people around here feel and it’s all because … LeBron is back.

Let that sink in for a minute. No, even better, wrap yourself around those three little words:

LeBron.

Is.

Back.

Feels good, doesn’t it? Feels right.

And yet, I didn’t think such a thing was possible, couldn’t allow myself to believe it until a few days ago. Started to doubt it as recently as Friday morning, then reveled in the reveal Friday afternoon that he was in fact returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

To us.

Some people around the country can’t figure it out. They can’t understand why LeBron (I can call him that because we go way back, not that he knows that) would want to come back to a bunch of fans that unleashed such vitriol at him after The Decision.

Didn’t some of us burn his jersey? Didn’t many more of us boo him at every turn when he made his first appearance at The Q as a member of the Heat? Didn’t most of us (and, no, certainly not all of us) pull against him and hope he failed in his quest to win those NBA titles we felt he abandoned us to go chase?

And what about that owner? They can’t fathom how LeBron could even entertain playing again for Dan Gilbert, who posted an open letter on the team’s website calling LeBron’s leaving four years ago “a cowardly betrayal” and a “shameful display of selfishness.”

And what about us? What about the fans who went from loving LeBron to loathing him after he said those painful words – “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach” — on national TV that fateful July 8, 2010, night.

How, they want to know, can we just hit the rewind button and go back to loving him again?

It’s really not that complicated. It’s just family.

LeBron, as he said so eloquently in his Sports Illustrated essay announcing his return, is a kid from Northeast Ohio.

“It’s where I walked,” he wrote. “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.”

That’s it exactly.

I … we … watched him make us proud as a high school prodigy. I covered one of his first ESPN high school games at The Q, took my then-11-year-old son to see him play in a tournament at Cleveland State, listened to the radio and was saddened when he and his Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary teammates lost in the state final his junior year because it meant he couldn’t win four titles.

I … we … were ecstatic when the Cavs got the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft in 2003, knowing our hometown hero was going to be playing for the hometown team.

We saw his amazing talent on display in his first NBA game when he scored 25 points against the Sacramento Kings.

He took us … on his back … to the 2007 NBA Finals with a supporting cast that had no business making it that far.

Along the way we watched him rack up All-Star Game and league MVP awards and an Olympic gold medal all the while making Cleveland games must-see TV on a national scope.

We defended him against the national commentators who didn’t know him the way we did who said he didn’t have the clutch gene and that killer instinct all the greats have.

But when things went bad, we took our shots at him, too. We questioned his heart, his passion, his elbow injury.

On some level, we took him for granted.

But, again, that’s family business.

Families fight. Families tick one another off. Families say mean and vicious things to one another.

But families … real families … also forgive.

Let’s face it. It’s why his leaving four years ago hurt so much.

It’s what so many around the country didn’t and still don’t understand. LeBron’s leaving wasn’t just a free agent exercising his right to go to another team and a better situation.

It wasn’t just an athlete deciding there was a better opportunity out there for him to win the championship he so desperately craved.

And, no, it was never just about “the way he did it.”

It hurt because he was breaking up our family. We thought we were in this together. We thought, especially the way he seemed to know and often referenced Cleveland’s heartbreaking sports history, that he understood and was going to do whatever he could to bring us the titles we all so desperately craved.

He didn’t owe us anything, but we just refused to believe he would leave us on our own the way he did.

But I love his analogy that his four years in Miami were like going to college … the years he never had jumping straight from the preps to the pros.

How many of us grow up during those college years? How many of us find out then what really matters to us? How many of us decide we loved being away but want to come back home?

LeBron is coming back home.

Let it sink in.

I don’t even want to think about possible championships right now. I just want to think about how much fun basketball season will be again. How electric The Q will be, how exciting it will be to once again be the center of the NBA universe.

And how great it will be to see LeBron James … one of us … the best basketball player on the planet not only still in his prime but even better than he was four years ago, playing basketball in his hometown and in front of his home fans once again.

Call us hypocrites if you must. It’s true we didn’t like LeBron very much for the past four years.

But he’s moved on from that and we’ve moved on from that.

And now we’re moving on together.

Tell me that doesn’t make you feel like dancing.

Contact Kevin Aprile at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com. Follow him @KevinAprileCT on Twitter.

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  • HankKwah

    It hurt because he was breaking up our family.

    No. Athletes come and go. Sports is a business and everyone’s looking for the extra buck. Everyone gets that. How he announced his departure was rotten. Granted, he did it to raise money for a charity. He could have taken Dan Gilbert on the sly and filled him in so that DG didn’t have to sit in front of the TV and learn it at the same time everyone else did.

    I follow the Cavs in the paper and that’s it. I’ll root for them but, like the Browns, won’t waste my time watching them implode on TV. But I do think lebron could ease some angered folks by apologizing about the way he left. It won’t make me watch them on TV, but it may make me feel like he’s a little less of a spoiled, pompous SOB when I read about him.

  • Oneday67

    I can’t believe how so many Ohioans forget that he faked an elbow injury and quit in the middle of several playoff games. He’s a bum and unfortunately will be exposed once again as such. He knows he won’t have to deliver championships in cleveland to be liked, the pressure was to much for him in Miami

  • oldruss

    And, I bet, Kevin, that you’re going to be down at The Q the first night He plays, along with a multitude of His followers, strewing palm fronds in front of His limousine.

  • tickmeoff

    Le Bron has two NBA championships. Pressure? He hasn’t promised anything!
    If the pressure is on anybody, it’s the GM and the new coach….whatshisname.
    It’s a great core of players, if nothing else, the excitement has returned. I think we will make the playoffs, as to a championship his first year back, we will have to wait and see. At least we have a shot, a legitimate chance.

  • Otter

    The best basketball player on the planet? Hardly, remember M. Jordan? In his prime he could have out played LeBron, and he has something LeBron will never have, class. He’s not even a good actor, falling down, faking injuries, so bad in fact when others do it, it’s now called LeBroning. He hasn’t “grown up” he was mad that he didn’t get what he wanted from the Heat, so he took his ball and went home. By the way, he didn’t write the letter, he talked to a Sports Illustrated writer, who wrote it for him.

  • Kevin Palm

    I can see if all this adulation was for a veteran or someone who invented the cure for cancer, but this man is a BASKETBALL player! He plays a sport. For millions of dollars. It’s not like he actually matters in the grand scheme of things. And yet people like Kevin Aprile and other members of the media are tripping over themselves to stroke LeBron’s (we don’t go way back, I just can’t bring myself to type his full name) ego, which is already so inflated that he may have a stroke at any minute. Get a grip, people, and save your praise for people who matter. They are out there, they just don’t make millions of dollars for playing a GAME!

  • Simon Jester

    Go away, Lebron.