It didn’t matter that five Heat players scored in double digits. Or that the Heat won their 10th game in a row. Or that Cleveland hung tough until late in the fourth quarter.
The most telling tale of Miami’s 101-95 win Wednesday over the Cavaliers was that it was the real end of the Cleveland chapter in LeBron James’ life.
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In Cleveland, the hate will carry on and the recriminations linger. There are very understandable reasons why LeBron went from being that city’s hero to its villain, and most of them are on him. If it lasts forever, well, that’s on him, too.
Actions have consequences, even if we as a culture — and LeBron as an overly insulated celebrity — aren’t willing to grasp that.
But the story Wednesday wasn’t the past. It was the future. The Cleveland part of his life is over.
Two weeks ago in his return, LeBron was antsy, amped and fully aware that he was stepping into a dark reality of his own making.
He faced that down, he triumphed, and the result was his finest game of the season. The result was his team coming together to protect him, becoming the emotional catalyst that, combined with a players’ meeting a few days earlier, got the Heat on track.
“We all came together as a unit,” LeBron said of that game. “They supported me; they supported Z (Heat center Zydrunas Ilgauskas). Since that moment, that definitely helped to the point where we are today — as far as off the court, not even on the court.”
Two weeks ago, LeBron couldn’t hide how much the upcoming game at Cleveland meant to him.
Less than two hours before tip-off Wednesday night, he couldn’t hide how much it really was just another game.
“It’s definitely not as high as emotions as it was when it was in Cleveland a few weeks back,” he said.
Two weeks ago, when asked if he had any contact with any of the Cleveland players, LeBron looked rather glum — almost hurt — as he said that, no, he had not.
On Wednesday he quipped, “I don’t think they’re allowed to talk to me.”
This time, all the reporters laughed. So did LeBron.
Yes, things have certainly changed.
For LeBron, it’s time to move on, and he seems to have done it. He didn’t do it the right way — he should have apologized, though that would require understanding he did something wrong.
But he didn’t, and he doesn’t, and it doesn’t look as if he will. Seems we’re past graciousness and onto LeBron taking care of himself and his team.
Which, if you’re LeBron or his team, is just fine.
Taking care of his team starts with being a full-fledged member of the Heat.
And that, in turn, comes with finally letting Cleveland go, both his time there and its hold — and believe it, it had one two weeks ago — over him.
It would have been nice, of course, if he had let Cleveland go in a way more becoming of a star, of a man an entire city puts its trust and love into.
If he never had The Decision; if he simply let Cleveland know in advance he was going elsewhere; if, for God’s sake, he hadn’t said “Taking my talents” and “South Beach” in the same sentence; if he showed some remorse and a tinge of understanding once the shock quickly turned to loathing; if he, after having some time to think it over, made a genuine gesture of contrition at the start of the season; if he apologized in Cleveland two weeks ago.
Yep, it would have been nice, some of it, any of it, all of it.
But he didn’t, and now those things are in the past. Time has taken care of what LeBron should have himself, long ago. His Cleveland connection is severed.
Afterward, asked if playing Cleveland was getting more normal, LeBron said, “Yes, absolutely.”
That was clear Wednesday.
This was a night about LeBron, moving on.
“It’s still a little weird going against your old teammates,” he said, “but nowhere near as weird as it was back in Cleveland.”