On today, July 11th, 2014, just shortly after noon, Sports Illustrated published the one article that ended with three utterly powerful words that nearly every American citizen has been waiting patiently to see for the last four years: “I’m coming home.” Indeed, LeBron James, the prodigal son of Ohio who left Cleveland four years ago to partner up with a prime time player in Dwyane Wade and a dynamic power forward in Chris Bosh, is coming home to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
After a four year tenure with the Miami Heat that concluded with four consecutive trips to the NBA finals, after four years of being cast as an ominous villain in the eyes of Cleveland natives and sports-goers worldwide, after the monstrosity of a press conference that was the ESPN special “The Decision” and after years of consistent negative scrutiny from the media, LeBron has cast for himself the ultimate platform for his redemption to the audience of his entire world. And thus, LeBron has authored, without too much question, the greatest sports story of all time.
So why is this the absolute greatest sports story ever? There are many other good ones, such as MJ coming out of retirement in 1994 or the Red Sox breaking the curse of the Bambino in 2004. This one, however, has a special air to it. Here are our ten reasons below.
10. Everyone Loves a “Return of the Banished One” Plotline
One of the most proven and powerful themes in dramatic literature and historical storytelling is that of a fallen, disgraced hero who comes back to prove his worth to the people that love him. Who remembers when the young Robert Downey Jr. had met initial acclaim for his acting roles in the early 90s, only to be consistently arrested for possession charges in the late 90s? Now look at him: he is one of Hollywood’s most beloved actors, with leading roles in hit movies such as Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes.
LeBron’s story is even greater and will be more widely remembered than Downey Jr.’s though, since LeBron publicly humiliated Cleveland in his 2010 ESPN special “The Decision.” Can you imagine being the greatest athlete of your generation, then going on air and announcing your decision to leave your hometown without even informing the general manager of your own team? The embarrassment he caused is still remembered to this day; however, a return to Cleveland (especially in the absence of an ESPN special) demonstrates that LeBron has grown up quite a bit in the last four years.
9. The Cavaliers Have a Chance to Create a Deeply Legendary Roster
Kevin Love is not LeBron James, but he is the league’s most skilled and versatile power forward. By attracting Love to Cleveland, we could actually be witnessing the creation of a deeply epic roster. Can you imagine the combined efforts of all-star point guard Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Kevin Love on one team? That is arguably bringing together the best three players in the league at each of their respective positions. With LeBron going to Cleveland, the story could become, in historical hindsight, one of tremendous legendary roster building potential.
8. LeBron Is Granted Automatic Redemption From “The Decision” Scandal
For those of you not in “the know,” the Decision was a 2010 ESPN special that was all about LeBron James’ free agency decision to join the Miami Heat and basically dump the Cleveland Cavaliers on national television. This lone, one-hour television special (that actually raised nearly $3,000,000.00 for the Boys and Girls Club of America) resulted in public burnings of Lebron’s Cleveland jersey, a vicious letter from Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert proclaiming Cleveland would win a title before Lebron, and a destitute Cavaliers squad that lost 40 more games the following season without Lebron than they did the previous season with him. It was this one move, more than just signing with Miami, that vilified LeBron swiftly overnight.
However, by signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, we now find that LeBron James has found redemption from this one television scandal. Already, Cleveland fans and businesses are publicly forgiving LeBron for his 2010 antics.
7. LeBron Has the Opportunity Elevate His Young Up-and-Coming Teammates
Even if the Cavaliers are not the best team in the east this coming year, this squad will be certainly be a memorable one because of LeBron pushing his young teammates to their furthest limits. Lebron doesn’t expect to win a championship right away, and that’s what makes this story truly special and beautiful: he is willing to take the time to comb his young teammates, pushing them further and further to new levels of NBA excellence.
Young talents on the squad like all-star point guard Kyrie Irving, power forward Tristan Thompson, and shooting guard Dion Waiters have so much to offer to the NBA world. LeBron’s return to Cleveland is hardly complete, in historical hindsight, without noting that he will have elevated his young teammates to legendary caliber, like MJ did for his teammates in the 90s.
6. Cleveland Is Finally Able to Provide LeBron a Legitimate Supporting Cast
The greatest criticism the Cleveland Cavaliers organization faced during LeBron’s first tenure with the city was that they were not able to put championship players around him. They tried putting Shaq on a team with LeBron in 2009, but Shaq was already a 17-year veteran at the time, only one further season away from his retirement. They also tried putting him next to Mo Williams, who was a good talent, but not enough to bring Cleveland a championship next to LeBron.
Finally, with the talents of Kyrie Irving, Andrew Wiggins (if he isn’t traded for Kevin Love), and the rest of the young roster, the Cleveland Cavaliers organization itself has also been redeemed in the eyes of the public, as they have put together a formidable squad to support James on their quest for a championship.
5. The World Is Already Wild With Anticipation for His First Field Goal In a Cavaliers Jersey
The world will froth in excitement with LeBron’s first game as a Cleveland Cavalier in the regular season. I am already willing to bet it will be the most watched NBA basketball game of all time. Although it would be difficult, it could even rival the viewership of a Super Bowl game. Can you imagine the elevation of emotion the world will feel when watching LeBron just scoring his first field goal as a Cavalier? Just about everyone will know about it when it happens, every office worker and general laborer will be talking about it; it will be one of the most memorable goals ever scored.
4. It Is So Much About Loyalty
This is not just a story about redemption: this story is so much about loyalty. LeBron is a native of Cleveland, played high school basketball in Cleveland, was born and raised in Cleveland, and played for Cleveland’s premiere NBA club for seven seasons. LeBron coming back is not just a story of redemption, but rather, how effectively loyal LeBron is to his hometown. So many of the greatest sports stories are about loyalty, trust, and redemption: Think about Michael Jordan’s comeback to the Bulls in the 94-95 season, it has all of those three factors. Still, those factors and more are even more amplified in LeBron’s comeback story.
3. He Will Become the Positive Role Model to Young Athletes for Generations
Too many young athletes, musicians, and teenagers are influenced by cultures that do not always have positive connotations. While I love freedom of speech as much as the next person, would you really want a young teenager or your own child to model his life after the lyrics of an Eminem album, or would you want them to take home the story of LeBron redeeming himself in order win his hometown a championship? LeBron’s story is historic because of the loyalty he has demonstrated to his hometown: it is this loyalty that will send an extremely positive message to the millions of young fans who admire him so deeply.
2. He Is Reunited With the City That Raised Him
LeBron is Cleveland born and bred. I already touched on loyalty, but it is worth reiterating that this man was once the very symbol of Cleveland, and will soon be again. To go back to your hometown, after alienating yourself, with the intention of winning a national sports championship, bettering your young teammates, and showing respect to those who raised you is, without question, a simply beautiful story arc.
1. When He Wins Cleveland a Championship, His Legacy Will Simply Read “Greatest of All Time”
Are you one of those people who believes that athletes are considered “The Greatest of All Time” because of statistics, championships garnered, MVP trophies, and superior accolades? No question, those are all important qualifiers for the “Greatest of All Time” rubric. That said, there is another very large part of it.
When we talk about legacy, we always talk about a story behind the greatness. With Bill Russell, we speak about an indefatigable rivalry with Wilt Chamberlain. With Wilt Chamberlain, we speak about his 100 point game, his two championships, and how he fell in his late career to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. With Michael Jordan, we talk about “the shot,” his three retirements from the game, and how he deflected the controversies of his gambling to still win championships for Chicago, among many other things.
Behind every lasting legacy is a great story, and we see that here today, there is a great story to be told. When LeBron finally wins that championship in Cleveland, history will take into account not only his past championships, four MVPs, scoring title, and Olympic Gold medals: history will also take into account the story of his great redemption.
With utter loyalty to his hometown, all LeBron needs is one championship, and the world will hand him the most coveted title possible: Greatest of All Time.
And with that, we most certainly are, or will be, witnesses to the greatest sports story of all time.
Cover Photo by Keith Allison Via Flickr Creative Commons