Picture for a moment you were in a relationship with someone for seven years. Then you end it. They call you every name in the book, accuse you of never loving them, claim they’ll never take you back, how they’re better off without you and that you weren’t worth a damn to begin with.
When LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers four years ago to join the Miami Heat, basketball fans from the greater-city area and the entire state of Ohio lambasted the superstar with vitriol and hatred like a lover scorned.
Similar to a bonfire of relationship tokens and memorabilia, James’s No. 23 Cavs jersey was burned in effigy, his name dragged through the streets and compared to a piece of trash, his true intentions questioned and his love of his roots questioned.
James was essentially treated like the dumper, and Cleveland was the dumpee.
Now four years later, and with reports suggesting that James is considering a move back to the Cavs, the question has become whether Cleveland can forgive James.
But perhaps the real question is: Can James forgive Cleveland?
The main criticism against James wasn’t that he left Cleveland, but it was how he left Cleveland. There was no face to face meeting, no call, not even a text. Only a nationally televised ESPN interview known infamously as “The Decision.”
The circumstances and aftermath were so similar to a breakup between two people in a long-term relationship, it’s almost scary. Heat fans rejoiced, Cavs fans were incensed.
James was the chosen one. He was supposed to pick up where the others left off and not disappoint. He was supposed to be different. He had all the talents to help the city fulfill its potential and end any long term suffering after failing to win a pro sports championship for 50 years.
And for seven years he lifted the Cavs to heights they had never reached before. They won 349 games (more than the combined win total from the previous nine seasons) captured two division titles and guided the Cavs to their first and only Finals appearance.
James was supposed to be revered like former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar, but was instead cast alongside former Browns owner Art Modell, who shuttled the team to Baltimore and was never forgiven.
James, and really he alone with teammates that were at best second-tier, accomplished more with the Cavs than maybe any other player could. But he decided he needed a change.
Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, furious after adhering to all of James’s demands from the moment he selected him first overall in the 2003 draft, ripped his former superstar with a letter served to save face with fans.
Throughout the letter, Gilbert called James and “The Decision” an assorment of harsh adjectives such as “narcissistic,” “cowardly,” and “shameful." He accused James of betraying Cleveland and its fans, mocked his previous moniker of “The Chosen One” and shortsightedly guaranteed the Cavs would win a title before the Heat ever would.
Fans fed of Gilbert’s words and when James returned to play the Cavs the following season, he was met with a cascade of boos and hatred at Quicken Loans Arena.
Over the next four years though, the boos slowly faded each time James and the Heat came to town. And only a year removed from his departure, James apologized for “The Decision” after Miami beat the Boston Celtics, the team James couldn’t beat with the Cavs, in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Cavs have also missed the playoffs every season since James’s departure, while Miami has made four straight trips to the Finals and won twice.
So maybe James has forgiven Cleveland for all the hatred sent his way, and he’d truly consider another chance with his first love. Or maybe he understood why fans reacted that way, and in his heart knew what he did was wrong.
Now James is a free agent again, and according to reports he’s thinking of leaving South Beach. Reports have suggested that James is seriously considering playing for the Cavs. The team has a collection of young stars on the roster that could entice James to leave the Heat. A move back to Cleveland would also be a smart public relations move, as James would be considered noble for returning to a city that has not won a title since 1964 when the Browns won their fourth NFL championship.
A move back to Cleveland is certainly not a done deal. James’s agent and friend, Rich Paul, has also sat down with representatives from the Mavericks, Rockets, Lakers, and the Suns. James has been on vacation since free agency began on July 1, and he hasn’t directly met with any other team. According to ESPN, James will sit down with Heat president Pat Riley on Wednesday to discuss the team’s future and if he will be part of it.
Gilbert, who left his scathing letter on the Cavs official site up until a few days ago, will also have to make amends with James. But again James is older and wiser, with far more experience, and can probably now meet Gilbert somewhere in the middle.
Like the rekindling of any other relationship, both sides have to admit their transgressions, apologize and forgive.
By now Cleveland fans have forgiven James. The next move is for him to make.