- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Why is everyone so surprised about LeBron James returning home to Cleveland? Having you been paying attention? Everybody’s moving home these days.

“As more adult kids move back home, the stigma diminishes,” one newspaper headline said.

“Brace yourself mom — we’re back,” said the headline on a CNN.com report.

It’s all the rage, and why not? It’s a cold, cold world out there, even in South Beach. You come home, mom does all your laundry, feeds you, and, if you happen to be “The Chosen One,” adores everything you do. You can live like a king — specifically, like “King James.”

This, I believe, is why LeBron James left the warmth of the Miami sun to return home to the furnace of Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. It wasn’t because of the higher calling he laid out in his first-person account to Sports Illustrated announcing his return to the Cavaliers, the hometown franchise that drafted him in 2003 and where he played for seven seasons until “The Decision” of 2010:

“I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously. My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”

The key phrase here is “my presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from.”

What he should have written was, “in Miami, I’m just LeBron James. Back home, I am King James.”

James was the best player on the Miami Heat, leading them to four straight Eastern Conference titles and two NBA championships. But he was never the most beloved player on that team — the man. That was Dwyane Wade. He’s the one who will get the statue in Miami. James was always going to be second fiddle in the shriveled-up hearts and minds of Heat fans.

As the euphoria of his return overshadows the crassness of “The Decision,” let us not forget that when he left Cleveland, there were numerous reports about how James and his flunkies ran roughshod over the franchise, dictating small and big decisions, from parking spaces to coaches.

That wasn’t going to play in Miami, where the big dog is team president Pat Riley, and the decisions, big and small, concerning the Heat are Riley decisions.

Now James returns to the Cavaliers, more empowered than ever, ruling over a basketball franchise that will surely respond to his every whim, however petty, to keep the King happy.

And you know what? Nobody in Cleveland cares — not even the guy who wrote a book that among other things, centered around James‘ cruel goodbye out of town in 2010 with “The Decision” — a book called “The Whore of Akron.”

Like many Cleveland fans, Scott Raab, an Esquire magazine writer, couldn’t care less about motives and manipulation. He’s thinking about the depression and pain of the region he grew up in.

He’s thinking about no titles in town since the Browns won the NFL championship in 1964.

He’s welcoming James back with open arms.

“I am a fan first, and not simply a fan of the team, but for the city as well,” Raab said. “This is so good for the city and its fans, at the risk of sounding Disney-like or Pollyannaish, I think it’s great. He is a global icon, and this does a lot of good for a lot of people. It’s a bigger issue than one angry man who wrote a book four years ago. It’s a big deal for Cleveland.”

James tore the heart out of Cleveland fans, not just with his departure from the city four years ago but with the troubling way he did it, the ESPN television circus.

What about that pain? All is forgiven?

“On that level I guess there are some conflicted feelings,” Raab said. “But I’m not sure they will be conflicted when I see him. Not to win a title for 50 years, that is ridiculous.

“I always felt like LeBron, wearing the Yankees cap (at a Yankees-Indians 2007 playoff game) tore a hole in me before ‘The Decision,’” he said. “But he has committed himself to an area that has been spiraling downward. Anyone who would hang on to a grudge now is being short-sighted. … I’m yearning to see one more championship, this one with my son.”

James could have won 10 NBA titles in Miami. No matter what his motives or desires may be, if he can fill that void that the man who wrote a book called “The Whore of Akron” feels, he will never feel the kind of unconditional love he will receive in Cleveland.

After all, there’s no place like home.

Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com.

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