The entire sports world waited for a week to hear those magic words from the best basketball player in the world, and on Friday those words were uttered and the vast majority of NBA fans were satisfied. LeBron James told the world in a handwritten letter to Sports Illustrated that he was returning home to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
There are many reasons to why this was a great move for LeBron but the one that stands out the most is that this is about more than basketball. This is a hometown kid returning to his home state in a city which hasn't won a championship on the pro sports level in 50 years.
Throughout his first tenure with the Cavaliers there were many times when we wondered would he be able to break that curse. In 2007, which was only James's fourth season in the NBA, he put that Cavaliers team on his back and led them to the NBA Finals - something that franchise had never experienced before that moment.
We all wondered, was this the crowning moment of the NBA's next best superstar and next best NBA franchise? That was quickly shattered away by the team that had currently held that title. The Tim Duncan-led San Antonio Spurs swept the Cavs and ended Cleveland's dream of a championship.
However, LeBron was only 22 years old and he hadn't even reached his peak as a player yet. He was just getting started so of course fans immediately thought this team still has a great chance to win a title.
In 2008, LeBron became even better. He led the league in scoring and was close in the MVP race and his Cavs remained among the elite in the Eastern Conference. However, they would have a quick second round playoff exit when they ran into the team who would eventually become the new king of the East and the NBA, the Boston Celtics and their trio of superstars Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Despite the playoff loss, the Cavs got a little stronger and LeBron got a lot better. In 2009, LeBron won the first of his four league MVP awards and the Cavs finished that regular season in first place in the Eastern Conference and NBA overall. It seemed like nothing would stop them that year. They swept the Detroit Pistons in the first round, swept the Atlanta Hawks in the second round and then they ran into the Dwight Howard-led Orlando Magic. This series saw LeBron hit his famous last-second buzzer-beating three-pointer in game two, but the Magic eventually took the Cavs down in six games and LeBron stormed off the court in anger and frustration without shaking hands with the opposing team.
Despite the loss, the Cavs were still young and so was LeBron who was only 24 and in that offseason they brought in a neutralizing force that would all but guarantee that Cleveland would win the 2009-10 NBA Championship. They traded for Shaquille O'Neal from the Phoenix Suns and he was supposed to be the force that would help LeBron lead the Cavs to a championship.
However, Cleveland would quickly learn that due to his age and ailing body this was no longer "The Diesel" that led the Lakers and Miami Heat to championships; he was simply just Shaquille O'Neal, another NBA player.
But they still had LeBron who won his second straight MVP award that season, and the Cavs finished first in the Eastern Conference and once again looked unstoppable. They took out the Chicago Bulls in five games in the first round, but in the second round they ran into those Celtics again.
It still looked as if it was no problem though after the Cavs took a commanding 2-1 series lead, but the Celtics would use their experience as their biggest weapon to win three straight games and finish off LeBron's Cavs in six games.
However, this time it was a little different for Cleveland because LeBron was set to be a free agent and was free to go anywhere he wanted, but there was still a feeling that he wouldn't leave Cleveland. It was his team in his home state that he was too proud of and would stick around to help bring a title home.
Then came his good ‘03 draft class friend Dwayne Wade and NBA legend Pat Riley. Those two had already experienced an NBA Championship victory together and they wanted more, but they wanted to bring LeBron along for the ride. Wade increased Miami's chances by bringing in Chris Bosh, but Cleveland still believed it would keep its prodigal son.
Then came July 8, the day that will always be known as "The Decision" and LeBron shocked the world and formed a new dominant team in the Miami Heat, and for the first time in his career he was the villain of the NBA and Cleveland felt betrayed. They took down every poster of him and burned his jersey. The Cavs owner responded with a letter to fans and was highly critical of LeBron.
It looked as if Miami would immediately rule the NBA, but the Dallas Mavericks would quickly end that and NBA fans celebrated as Dirk Nowitzki's team took down the NBA's super-team. Cleveland fans celebrated almost as much as Mavs fans and celebrated even more because of LeBron's inept performance.
However, James came to Miami to win championships and in 2012 and 2013 he did just that and in the process he captured his third and fourth MVP awards. Coming into the 2013-14 NBA season, the focus was on the Heat and whether they would three-peat, but in Cleveland, fans were hoping and praying that wouldn't happen because they knew they would have a greater chance of getting James back if the Heat lost.
On June 15, the San Antonio Spurs granted that wish and defeated the Miami Heat in five games to dethrone them as NBA champions and just a few days later LeBron opted out of his contract to once again become a free agent, but Miami still looked like the front runner and then Cleveland made two moves that made them a true contender to re-land the King.
The Cavs signed current star Kyrie Irving to a five-year extension and traded away three players to create enough cap space to give LeBron a maximum contract. However other little things still stood in their way, a meeting with Pat Riley and his friendship with Dwayne Wade.
And then last Friday morning came "The Letter" and LeBron wrote in his own words an explanation, not an apology but a true heartfelt explanation, and at the end of the letter he said "I'm coming home."
Cleveland and NBA fans are rejoicing all over, except for Miami of course, but this isn't a player coming to a better team. This is a man coming home to uplift his home state to a level of glory it has never had before and quite honestly, LeBron is ready to be that figure for Cleveland.
He described his experience in Miami as a kid who goes off to college. He was there for four years and it shaped him into the person he is today. He is the head ambassador of the NBA, he is a businessman, he is a better player and a better man because of it. And now is the time to bring that back to where it all started for him.
This time around what LeBron brings to Cleveland is experience, leadership, and winning intangibles and unlike the first time he has a true star to play alongside him in Kyrie Irving.
I compare this entire experience to a professional wrestler who began his career as a hero that everyone loved, but one day he decided to visit the dark side and become a villainous heel. However, he soon realizes he doesn't like being hated and he becomes that hero again.
However, the other fact behind this is that his return has finally neutralized the NBA to the true competitive league that it really is by having no true super-team barring Carmelo Anthony joining the Chicago Bulls with Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah.
Welcome back LeBron James, and welcome back true competitive NBA, you have both been greatly missed.