As I tweeted earlier, I don’t think that I could ever bring myself to forgive Dan Gilbert for the letter, so I have to applaud LeBron James for being able to take the high road and forgive such a blatant disregard for professionalism and human decency.
LeBron James left Cleveland as an unrestricted free agent four years ago because it was more than obvious that the front office team that was in place was not going to be able to win a championship. Ever. They had no idea what it takes to win. They surrounded him him sub-par players that relied on him to do all the heavy lifting; this is not how championship TEAMS are built. Leaving Cleveland was not about money or fame, it was about winning. Not winning regular season games or individual awards, but championships. Sure, “The Decision” was stupid and its “after party” showed just how easy three naive young players thought winning would be (not one, not two, not three…). What they learned is that winning is not easy. Championships are not won on paper. Although the “Big Three”, as they came to be known (the least original sports name ever, by the way), won two championships they also lost in two NBA Finals appearances. The Rolling Stones famously said that you can’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you get what you need. Although I don’t think that he could have known it at the time, LeBron left Cleveland because he WANTED to win – and eventually he did – but first he had to get what he NEEDED. He needed to learn HOW to win. And who better to turn to than Pat Riley.
So fast forward to today, four years later. LeBron James is returning home. He returns to a young roster full of incredible potential. I think more potential than Miami had 4 years ago. While the Heat were winning two championships in four years, the Cavs were winning three lotteries in the same time. Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett, and Andrew Wiggins were all taken in the lottery. The team still has an incredible glue player in veteran stalwart (and everyone’s favorite fern-headed, Side Show Bob look-a-like) Anderson Varejao. The team still has money to try and lure Ray Allen and Mike Miller, two of the King’s most faithful subjects, to Cleveland. So now the once naive King James has returned, he has learned how to win, and his new task is simple. He must serve as mentor to these young players; to pass on what he has learned, to create a real culture of winning in city he loves. These young players have no other option but to fall in line. His words cannot be questioned because he is the best player in the game, in the prime of his career. And he can teach them what he needed to go to Miami to learn: HOW to win. And they have no choice but to listen. They have no choice but to learn.