If you didn’t know, Lebron James came home. All summer long, the city of Cleveland, and I guess for all basketball enthusiasts, October 30th, 2014 was a huge day. This was the day that Lebron James returned to play a regular season game for his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers. Lebron James, one of the most polarized and amazing athletes of our generation came back to the place where it all started for him, the Cavs. He had been notoriously ripped for his “decision” in 2010 when he decided to spurn his beloved Cavs team and bolt for the greener pastures in Miami by joining a “super team” and creating his own “big 3” with fellow superstars Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for the Heat. The move, basketball wise, was a phenomenal one. Lebron, who had carried the Cavs on his back, into relevance for seven years, was sick of doing it alone. He couldn’t do it alone. He had reached the highest level of the game, the Finals, and got swept by the Spurs. He had already won a league MVP award and was recognized by almost everyone as the best player in basketball, and he was in his mid 20’s. However, no one wanted to come to Cleveland. He couldn’t get anyone to be the Robin to his Batman, and Lebron knew that he had to go, if he ever wanted to really win a championship. The summer of 2010 was a crazy one for free agency. Everyone in the league knew that Lebron was the big coup. Team after team made their presentations, and Lebron was defintely feeling the love from teams and the pressure to make the right decision. Everyone in Cleveland thought that there was no way Lebron would leave them, but on July 8, 2010, Lebron made the best move of his career in the worst way possible. He held an hour-long special on ESPN titled The Decision at a boys and girls club and told the world that he was “taking his talents” to the Miami Heat. It was a huge slap in the face to the city of Cleveland and the state of Ohio. Lebron’s jersey was burned. He was crucified in his own state. The owner of the Cavs Dan Gilbert wrote a scathing letter bashing Lebron and left it on the team’s website for years. And the Cavs themselves, fell in permanent suck status for the next couple of years.
Lebron, now in Miami, had a refocused mindset. He was playing with two of his closest friends in a warm and sexy new city. But for the first time in his life, Lebron was not liked. Most of America had turned on him for what he did to the Cavs. Now don’t get me wrong, Lebron James had every right to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers. He earned that right. He played out his contract. Cleveland’s ownership failed to surround him with better players. What I fault Lebron for was the way he left. It was a spectacle. And in hindsight it was a terrible move. Lebron’s PR game took a serious hit. The only way he could get out of this hole was to win. The Heat for the next four years were must see TV. The high-flying highlight show that was James and Wade was a sight to see. And although the team took on the villian role during the 2010-2011 season, they reached the Finals. They lost to the Mavericks in a series where Lebron was heavily criticzed for his play. But the next two seasons, the Heat were straight up dominant. They won back to back championships and took their place in NBA basketball history. The team reached a 4th straight NBA Finals last season but were rocked by the San Antonio Spurs, a team with their own big 3, that was a veteran squad who played the ultimate team game. The Heat were beat in every possible facet. Lebron knew that changes needed to be made. What he also knew was how much he missed and loved home. He now had another big decision to make as he was becoming a free agent once again.
On June 25th, Lebron opted out of his contract with the Heat. He was making himself a free agent again. He turned down offers from many other teams trying to vie for his services and narrowed his choices down to the Miami Heat and the Cleveland Cavaliers. On July 11th, Lebron wrote a beautiful essay in Sports Illustrated declaring his love for Cleveland and why he had to come home to play for the Cavs again.
The scene was picturesque. Cleveland had fallen in love with its superstar again. And the world finally seemed to give Lebron James a break. It was a classy move. It was a smart move. Lebron had won his championships and now is personally driven to give the city of Cleveland its first ever NBA title. You could make a movie out of this story. Heat fans, although upset, can’t really be mad at the dude. He won them two titles and he was going home to play for the team he came up on. But here is where the HYPE machine begins. Sometimes in life, especially in sports, there is too much hype that dominates the scene. Then unnecessary pressures mount up and people get their feelings hurt. Basketball players, like football and baseball players, and any kind of professional athletes are human. Some times they have off days. Sometimes they just get beat by players who are performing better individually or as a team that day. That is the nature of sports. And sometimes teams just break due to all of the hype surrounding them. I feel that was the case last night in Cleveland where the Cavs had their home opener vs the New York Knicks.
You would have thought it was the Super Bowl in Cleveland last night with all of the press and fan frenzy that was at and around Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. No, it wasn’t the Super Bowl, or a One Direction concert, it was the return of Lebron James playing in a regular season game for the Cavs.
Vegas had already listed the Cavs as the preseason favorite to win the championship this year. Just nuts. Cleveland in five months had completed a major overhaul of their entire roster. They hired a new coach, David Blatt, who has never coached a game in the NBA before last night, but has had tremendous success coaching internationally for years. They brought in power forward Kevin Love, a former US Olympic team member of James, and All-Star who was sick of playing for a losing franchise in Minnesota. Love, maneuvered his way out of Minnesota almost like how Carmelo Anthony sprung himself out of Denver years ago. He basically made Minnesota trade him, cause he told them he was not resigning there. Instead of losing Love for nothing Love was traded to the Cavs for this year’s number 1 pick Andrew Wiggins, and last year’s number 1 pick Anthony Bennett. We can’t feel too bad for Cleveland though. Somehow, someway in the post Lebron years, Cleveland won the NBA lottery three times. How the hell is that even possible? Talk about a head scratcher for sure. They did hit a home run with the first of those number 1 picks in selecting former Duke point guard Kyrie Irving. But struck out majorly with Anthony Bennett, who was considered a huge risk in a week draft that year. Wiggins, has a ton of potential, but he’s also very raw and unpolished, and to get Love, he was the major piece that had to go. Now Lebron has a new version of the big 3 in Love, Irving, and himself. (cause we know Bron Bron can’t do it by himself) James also recruited his buddy Mike Miller and forward Shawn Marion to join the squad, giving Cleveland a legitimate 8 players on the roster. (The rest of the bench is eh…forgettable) The pre-show for this game was something out of this world. The Cavs put on a huge pre-party. TNT brought in Kevin Hart to co-host (WHY?) and Kendrick Lamar and Imagine Dragons performed. Why in the world would there be a concert before the first game of an NBA season? Cause the Lebron HYPE machine is back! TNT even had its own hour-long pre-show called “COMING HOME.” That’s alot of star power for a regular season game. The electricity in the city was simply incredible. Lebron and the Cavs were all over the front page of every local paper. Local news coverage had everyone down in Quicken Loans Arena like the press in DC for a presidential inauguration. It was just A LOT of anticipation for this moment. But is all of the hype really worth it? Was the product that the Cavs were going to put on the floor really worth it? It was Lebron who said in his essay and in interviews prior to the season starting that it was going to take some time for this team to gel and come together. He knew it wouldn’t be easy. Everyone in the state of Ohio thinks the championship is theirs. But one player can’t bring a title. Lebron knows this. Now, with his superstar status in tact, and with the salary cap set to raise significantly after the latest league TV deal, Cleveland has become a more attractive place than it was four years ago. It is true that you need star power to build up the HYPE. Cleveland definitely has that with it’s new big 3, starring King James.
But then it was time for the game. The arena was packed. Usher, David Beckham, Justin Bieber, and even Spike Lee were in attendance. The Knicks playing a back to back to start the season were completely embarrassed at home on Wednesday night by the Chicago Bulls. They lost by 24 points. Sure enough everyone thought after that performance there was no way the Knicks could beat the Cavs in Cleveland at Lebron’s return and the team’s home opener. If you were a betting man, I bet you would have taken the odds that the Cavs were going to blow out the Knicks. But sometimes, the hype is just a little too much. The pre-game events seemed too huge for this one game. I know this was an exciting moment for the entire city, and for the basketball ball world, but it was just another regular season game. The game was one of 82 on the schedule. This game really didn’t matter in the overall scheme of things. It probably mattered more to New York, because they had to play better than they did versus Chicago the previous night. But Cleveland was HYPED for this game. Lebron threw up his powder before the game and the arena went nuts.
But even Lebron James feels nerves. Even Lebron can be off. Even Lebron can fall victim to the hype is well, and that’s what happened last night. Lebon had an awful game. He finished with 17 points on 5 for 15 shooting and had 8 turnovers. The Cavs looked flat all night. They didn’t shoot the ball well. Their spacing wasn’t good. Their bench was atrocious. The Knicks bench outscored the Cavs 41 to 12. Blatt didn’t work his rotations well. Kyrie although leading the way with 20 plus points, needs to do a better job setting his players up. Love, who brought down another double-double, probably needs more offensive touches. This transformation…of crowning the Cavs the almighty power, is going to take some time. The Knicks, played alot better than they did a night ago. They moved the ball well and were efficent. Better yet, they played solid defense. They also had zero pressure on them. They were expected to lose this game. And that can change your whole psyche. And when the hype machine is that large, it’s easy for the favorite to play tight. That’s what happened to the Cavs last night. That’s what happened to Lebron James. The Cavs lost to the Knicks, 95-90 and now have to go to Chicago to face the Bulls in their home opener on Halloween tonight. Derrick Rose and company will be ready to put the Cavs in an 0-2 hole to start of the season. Trust.
Lebron said after the game that he “didn’t press,” and added “I didn’t do much.” He didn’t. He later went on to say, “It was a special night. I’m glad it was great, but I’m also glad it’s over.” Lebron James knows that he is not immortal. He has grown up substantially over the past five years. He is a father of three. He just had a daughter a couple of days ago. He is responsible and the true definition of a team leader. He and the Cavs will definitely rebound from this. James started 1 for 9 from the field on Thursday. He was never really into this game. And that is to be expected when the hype machine takes over. Sometimes it’s just hard to play up to everyone’s expectations. The Knicks players even noticed how different this night was. Am’are Stoudemire went on to say, “It was pretty incredible, (describing the atmosphere) and I haven’t seen anything like that before. The city was on fire. It was great to kind of spoil the excitement-great for us.” With all of the hype surrounding this game the Cavs were bound to experience a let down. It was just a little too much hype. I understand that everyone was/is excited about Lebron’s homecoming and this team’s potential, but they still have to play the games. Lebron knows the tough road that the Cavs have in front of them. They are going to get everyone’s best every night. And he summed up last night’s performance pretty well. “It was one game, and we’ve got to learn from it.” He’s right. It was just a game. And this my friends is why you can’t believe the hype. You got to believe in yourself and have trust within your team but greatness is achieved, it’s not a given. Sometimes all the pomp and circumstance is simply not needed. It just gets in the way. Too much glitz and glamour takes away from the product. The Cavs will get their product nice and shiny in due time. It’s just too bad they couldn’t do it when the whole world was watching.