Where were you when the news broke, the announcement that LeBron James would rejoin the Cleveland Cavaliers?
Like many diehard fans, I followed social media endlessly, hoping for a glimpse, a confirmation, that James would return to Miami and avenge a heartbreaking loss to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. When the link to Lee Jenkins’ exclusive appeared, I was taken aback.
After days of awaiting news of any kind and reading signs where none existed – from plane rides, to moving cars, to deadlines that passed into meaninglessness – I was leery of the story. Was this a fake? Another #source that translated opinion into unproven fact?
Unfortunately, it was not. This was the real deal. And it left me completely hopeless.
Say what you want about James but there’s no denying his role as the greatest player on the planet. He might be immature, confused, or even deceitful but, for four years, he made basketball in Miami a transcendent art form. He painted across the hardwood canvas, rainbow jumpers and brilliant passes; an artist that brought South Florida a renaissance of sport.
And suddenly the colors in Miami were gone.
I read and re-read the essay, bits and pieces filtering through the cloud that obscured my thoughts. “Coming home” preceded “…Miami as my second home.” He pointed out former (!) teammates as “brothers for life” but spoke of raising his “family in his hometown.” James acknowledged he could “make a difference in Miami” but concluded that in Northern Ohio, where “nothing is given,” his presence would mean more.
I don’t agree with all of his points, not knowing exactly what he felt or thought or why he ultimately chose to reconnect with a franchise that trashed him publicly and a fan base so betrayed they felt it appropriate to urinate on images of him. Those are decisions that LeBron, the person, has to live with.
But as a player, perhaps one of the best of all time, his absence will surely be missed. The immediate void it created spun into a Kübler-Ross model for the stages of grief, cut short. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression.
I didn’t get past that step. Lingered there for quite a bit, actually, trying to rationalize the announcement and the sudden realization that a team that had been the epitome of basketball excellence for four years might never reach those levels again.
And then the news broke – again. Heat president Pat Riley, the true face of the franchise for nearly two decades, had recovered more quickly than I did. If losing one superstar was bad, he wouldn’t allow a second one to depart quite so easily.
Chris Bosh was offered – and agreed to accept – an overwhelming deal to remain with Miami. Rumors swirled that the Heat would re-sign Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem. That they were in talks with Chris Andersen, a fan favorite to be sure. Moreover, Riley was progressing in talks to lure Luol Deng, Eric Bledsoe and others that could be immediate contributors.
Suddenly, there was light again.
We’ve been spoiled as Heat fans, to be sure. In Riley’s 19 years with the organization, the team has only missed the playoffs three times. While Miami gorged on the NBA Finals for four straight years, many teams – including Cleveland – never even tasted a postseason appetizer.
For all of Riley’s success (winning championships as a player, coach, and executive), yesterday’s achievement may have been his greatest. The moves he made yesterday – which should eventually land him another Executive of the Year award – were a form of front office therapy.
I finally reached that last step: Acceptance.
More importantly, using a color palette of his own architectural wizardry, he built a foundation of color and painted the ultimate gift to any fan.
A dream of hope.