By JOHN WYATT – NEWS SECTION EDITOR
For most National Basketball Association (NBA) fans, the summer can be either an incredibly boring time, or one of the most exciting depending on the various moves teams and players make. The summer truly is a time of change within the NBA.
This summer in particular was one for the history books. High profile free-agent LeBron James, viewed by most as the best basketball player in the world, made the decision leave the Miami Heat and return to his hometown to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team that drafted him as the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft.
This move comes after having won two championships with the Heat, playing alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, making up the rest of the heralded “Big Three” that formed in Miami back in 2010.
James initially played for his hometown Cavaliers for seven years, until 2010 when he announced his move to Miami following a long, drawn out free agency process.
The move to Miami was followed immediately by a wave of criticism from sports analysts and fans alike, who viewed the long free agency process and televised decision as unprofessional, and even egotistical.
Cleveland fans took the news even harder. In the days and weeks following the announcement, pictures and videos of fans burning their jerseys or destroying images of James flooded the internet. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert even wrote a harsh letter criticizing James’s decision to leave and how he had handled his free agency departure.
Cue 2014. The Heat suffered an embarrassing loss to the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the NBA finals. Some are questioning the Heat’s roster, especially Dwyane Wade’s ability as his knees begin to show signs of aging. James’s contract had ended, and James returned to the circus show that is NBA free agency.
What followed was a frenzy of media speculation on where LeBron James would eventually end up. While teams such as the Lakers or the Bulls were suggested as possible destinations, most analysts and writers seemed to agree that it the decision was between staying in Miami with the team that won him two championships, or a homecoming with the team that drafted him.
On July 11, James ended all of the speculation by announcing that he was returning home through an essay titled “I’m Coming Home.” In his essay, James laid out his reasons for returning to his hometown.
One of the main ones is James’s mission of brining a championship to Cleveland.
“Our city hasn’t had that feeling in a long, long, long time. My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”
James also cited an intimate connection with his hometown for his return.
“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now.”
While James’s decision to go to Miami in 2010 was received with a lot of scorn and criticism, most fans and analysts praised the return to Cleveland, even if it was not what they initially thought or hoped.
“I think I would have preferred him to stay in South Beach, but I think he made the best move for himself as an individual,” senior Spencer Vetter said.
“Cleveland is where he will spend the rest of his life and probably his career. He always had a dream of bringing a championship to his hometown, and I think that now that he is experienced he will have the opportunity to do so.”
There seems to be a new sense of maturity in James now, something that he himself has acknowledged.
In his essay, James acknowledged his past mistakes during his previous free agency.
“I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.”
Outside of the personal motives and their significance, the move also is huge in regards to its effect on the league. James returning to Cleveland propelled the Cavaliers to instant contender status, as well as favorites in the East.
The combination of all-star point guard Kyrie Irving and James, along with other young talent have made the Cavaliers an instant force in the East. However, following the trend of forming “big threes,” the Cavaliers added all-star power forward Kevin Love of the Minnesota Timberwolves to the roster.
While most fans and analysts believe the Cavaliers will pretty much run the East, the heavily stacked West will still be serious competition to the relatively young Cleveland team.
“They have the best ‘big three’ in the East for sure,” Vetter said. “However, taking on teams like the Clippers, Spurs, and the Thunder in the west will prove far more challenging.”
While the summer has already seen plenty of excitement from free agency moves, the season should be even more exciting with James’s new home.