BAYHAM: The Return Of The King

These are high times for Cleveland, a city not accustomed to winning in the past half century.

In May, the hapless Cleveland Browns, one of only four NFL teams to have never appeared in a Super Bowl despite having been founded in 1946, drafted the most exciting athlete in college football when they selected Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Then last week the Republican Party announced that Cleveland would host its first GOP convention since 1936, when Alf Landon of Kansas was chosen.

But both pale in comparison to the word that LeBron James, the biggest name in sports, would be returning to northeast Ohio.

The King has become the Prodigal Son and there has been much feasting over his return.

Four years ago, James presided over a media circus that became known as the LeBron-a-thon, where he announced his future on his own television show. It was the epitome of egomania.

And feelings were not just frayed but literally inflamed.

People in Cleveland were burning their James jerseys and the team owner Dan Gilbert posted on the website an angry letter personally attacking the character of his former (and future) star player.

That letter only came down the other day.

Even Ohio Governor John Kasich got in the act, issuing a proclamation congratulating the Dallas Mavericks and declaring them as “honorary Ohioans” for defeating the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in James’ first season with his new team.

While attending a Young Republican event in Washington a few days after “The Decision”, I almost had to break up a fight when a Florida attendee had the bad taste of appearing at an Ohio YR social event sporting a brand new James Heat jersey.

But James proved that the fuss was justified, having brought the Heat to four consecutive trips to the NBA Finals and winning two titles.

Sports commentators have tried to contort James’s statement in multiple ways to infer some other reason for his decision than what he eloquently put in writing.

Some said that he had grown up and matured in Miami. One report circulated on ESPN said he was just escaping teammate Chris Bosh.

More than likely, he planned on returning to Ohio before he had ever left.

The extended Nike ad that was produced and aired after his decision to head to South Beach conveyed that he was cognizant of the public relations consequences of his departure from his home turf.

Could anyone blame James for leaving?

New Orleans Saints icon Rickey Jackson told me that his greatest accomplishment as an athlete didn’t occur while wearing a Black and Gold uniform but happened while sporting the Red and Gold of the San Francisco Forty Niners when he played on a Super Bowl winning team.

“There’s nothing like winning a Super Bowl,” said Jackson, in reply to my question about what his favorite moment in the NFL was.

Considering how important Jackson was to New Orleans and that his entry to the Pro Football Hall of Fame was largely due to what he accomplished as a Saint, that’s quite a statement.

And it underscores what it means to be a champion, especially in a country where “excellence” is frowned upon in some quarters.

Quarterback Dan Marino and running back Barry Sanders are known for their greatness as individual performers but are also identified for having not won a Super Bowl. Their career film reels show some amazing plays and the record book catalog gaudy stats, you will never see the image of either hoisting a Lombardi Trophy in victory.

James, whose status as a legend in his sport was never questioned, wanted to win for himself so he could later win for his city.

The unreasonable amongst us might find that mindset selfish; for a goal driven person like James, it is hardly unreasonable.

Whether all is forgiven is uncertain; that James’s presence on the Cavaliers’ roster has overnight improved the franchise is unquestionable.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Vegas, where in a week’s time, the odds of Cleveland winning the NBA championship rocketed from 60 to 1 to 4 to 1, making the Cavs the temporary favorites.

Furthermore, NBA free agency was in cryogenic freeze until the King issued word as to his future. Once James’ intentions were declared, league free agency took off in a frenzy, like the opening bell at the stock market.

That is how special of a player LeBron James is.

No other athlete could singlehandedly lift a city and change the game with just an essay.

Not even the venerated Drew Brees has that kind of touch.

Cleveland’s champion has returned and one of the biggest names in sports has fully embraced his de facto status as a role model.

This man should be admired, even if the Cavs are not your favorite team. For that matter, even if you don’t care about the NBA.

In a society where being offended gives someone an aura of “moral authority”, LeBron James dismissed the hard feelings and ugly words and went home not because it was profitable but because it was right.

For a sports fan base that has endured fifty years’ worth of indignities, it’s time for a championship trophy to be hoisted along the Lake Erie shore.

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