Now LeBron James gets to say he was right all along.
That he needed to get out of Cleveland, needed to find new teammates, needed to get to a place where he could win a championship because it wasn’t going to happen in Cleveland.
And he can keep alive his pledge at that insulting rally of “Not one, not two . . .” etc.
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He and all his cohorts and supporters can look and say he was right.
He may not be right.
It’s tough to believe he was right.
But he gets to say it because he has the ring.
James played as magnificent a playoffs as any player in recent memory. He excelled in ways not seen in decades. He had the games those of us in Cleveland saw on a regular basis. Cleveland just didn’t see those games in the playoffs all the time. Whether it was pressure, immaturity or just not having a good enough team is up for debate.
James had magnificent moments in Cleveland, but never a stretch like this one where he carried his team when it mattered most.
Now he has his title.
Thing is, had he committed to his original team the same way he committed to this team, he’d probably have the same ring in his pocket. Because similar commitment to Cleveland and the Cavs would have won a title in Cleveland as well.
Commitment starts with the obvious.
The LeBron James of this year’s playoffs was unstoppable. He played in the post, a spot many wanted him to play for years. He rebounded. He passed. He played hard. He played every minute. And he played with a commitment and focus his team needed to get past Boston in the Eastern Conference and Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals.
Suffice it to say that commitment did not show itself in the final playoffs series James played against Boston in Cleveland back in 2010.
This playoff run could have been a player coming of age, but in Cleveland it does nothing to dispel the impression — true or not — that he gave up to get out.
Commitment also extends to the team. When James was with the Cavs and free agents pondered joining, James conceded nothing. He did not help recruit players, did not say he would be around if a player wanted to sign.
He did not try to bring players to Cleveland the same way he brought Chris Bosh to Miami to join Dwyane Wade. He did not try to recruit guys the same way he tried to recruit Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller. While many hoped he’d be the guy to change Cleveland sports by bringing others to Cleveland, he stood by. And then he left.
Truthful? Every bit as much.
When he made his decision to leave, James privately told acquaintances he had to bolt because the Cavs were in such bad shape. They didn’t have players like Wade or Bosh, Shaquille O’Neal was leaving and the team was in salary-cap hell.
Part of the reason for that, though, was because the team made so many short-term moves to win in the three-year window of James’ contract extension.
They made sense at the time because the organization didn’t know how long it had to give James the team he needed.
James is an unbelievable basketball player. In seven years, he brought a ton of fun and vitality to Cleveland. The thought of him playing in the future without feeling the pressure of having to win is scary — and brings a Michael Jordan kind of run to reality.
But during this year’s East finals one of the more well respected talking heads on that “Decision” network offered a long diatribe that the last Cavs team — that included James, O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Mo Williams, Anderson Varejao and Antawn Jamison — was better than the Miami Heat this season.
Had James simply committed to the Cavs in the year or two leading up to “The Decision,” or in that last series against Boston, things might have been different.
Had James committed to the Cavs in that offseason of “The Decision,” the team could then have built for the long run, without making moves for the short-term.
There would have been no Kyrie Irving, but there would have been other players who wanted to join James and win. Tinker with the team, add players who understand it means joining one of the greatest ever for the long term . . . it’s hard to believe that Cleveland would not have its title now. Had he stayed.
He didn’t. He left. He won. It was his right and he chose that right and he said he could have handled it better. But he can enjoy the spoils because he is, after all, the victor.