AP Photo/David J. Phillip
LeBron James says he is "coming home" to Cleveland on a mission to bring an NBA championship to his home state and because he wants to raise his family in his hometown of Akron and to show kids in Northeast Ohio that there's no better place to grow up.
The reasons cited in his Sports Illustrated announcement make him sound like a saint or at least like a man with (this time around) a good understanding of public relations, and they seem legitimate, too. But they're not the only reasons why James is leaving the Miami Heat for Cleveland Cavaliers.
It also comes down to basketball, how James did not want to get stuck on a Miami team with aging superstars who provided less help each year and a bench that wasn't getting much better, how he would rather join a talented young Cavaliers team with (through a combination of tanking and luck) players like 2011 No. 1 draft pick Kyrie Irving, 2014 No. 1 draft pick Andrew Wiggins, and 2013 No. 1 draft pick Anthony Bennet who may be traded to the Minnesota Timberwolves for the excellent Kevin Love.
James did not mention the appeal of having new teammates, but its importance is obvious.
"I think LeBron would have stayed in Miami — for at least one or two more years — if he truly believed he had a chance to keep winning there," Bill Simmons speculates in a extensive column at ESPN's Grantland.
But since Miami was in decline and Cleveland had potential, it became a lot easier to come home now.
Here's Simmons' take on what James was thinking but couldn't say in SI:
I am a genius. That genius has a shelf life. I already feel my body wearing down a little. Over the last 11 years, including the playoffs, I played 1,000 of a possible 1,044 games, averaged nearly 40 minutes per game and logged 39,993 minutes in all. Only Wilt and Russell reached 40,000 minutes faster than I will. I want to be part of something that’s greater than me. I am tired of carrying teams for nine months a year. I thought Wade and Bosh would help me, and they did for a while, but now Wade is breaking down and Bosh is past his prime.
The more I thought about it, I loved the idea of playing with a younger, more athletic and more malleable supporting cast. I loved the idea of being able to play four positions again. I loved the thought of being occasionally carried by young legs instead of always doing the carrying. I want to play point forward. I want to play with my back to the basket. I want to run the wing on fast breaks again — something I couldn’t do in Miami anymore. I want to use all of my skills. I am Magic and Larry and Barkley and Malone in the same body. I am an artist. That’s what I am.
The Cavaliers are already the favorite to win next year's championship.
Looking back it seems so obvious that James was going to Cleveland, for both basketball reasons and, yes, the opportunity to return home after four years in Miami helped him become "a better player and a better man."
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