Posnanski: LeBron James proves he’s a true Clevelander

61 Comments

There was something about LeBron-to-South-Beach that is hard, perhaps impossible, to explain to people who are not from Cleveland. I suppose there are things about glitz that cannot be explained to people not from Los Angeles, things about cheesesteaks that cannot be explained to people not from Philadelphia, things about barbecue that will only make sense to Kansas Citians, things about motion and action that do not quite translate to non-New Yorkers.

See, many people thought that Clevelanders were unreasonable after James left for Miami. In a way, we were. The jokes about it — “Who wouldn’t leave Cleveland for Miami?” and “Did they expect LeBron to serve a life sentence?” and the like — were not funny, but I could understand why people made them. Cleveland doesn’t have a beach. Cleveland doesn’t have sun. Cleveland doesn’t have so many stars’ homes that they sell maps. Heck, they call the region the “Rust Belt.” Nobody missed the point. The videos of burning jerseys played on a loop and did not help the Cleveland image. The inane spurned love letter written in Comic Sans by owner Dan Gilbert didn’t help either. 

Many people around the country despised LeBron for the WAY he left Cleveland — with that soulless television infomercial — but the act of leaving Cleveland, well, who could blame him, right? He had a chance to play with two superstars on the beach or stay in Cleveland with a dysfunctional team that had never won a thing. This is a choice? He had played seven years for Cleveland, and now he wanted something new … and many thought Clevelanders were unreasonable for lashing out at him.

Like I say, in a way we were. But there’s that something else, something that’s hard to explain if you are not from Cleveland.

It has been 50 years since Cleveland has won a championship in any sport. You probably know that. The last one was the Cleveland Browns in 1964. The city’s population was close to 900,000, Cleveland was one of the 10 biggest cities in America and Jim Brown, the greatest athlete in America, ran the football for the Browns. 

And then it all went wrong, all of it, the river caught fire, and factories began layoffs, and people began to flee, and the city defaulted, and neighborhoods started dying. More people fled. Jim Brown retired in his prime, the Cleveland Indians threatened to leave every other year, the Cavaliers owner Ted Stepien was so incompetent the NBA itself was forced to veto his bizarre trades. More people fled. Winters seemed to get colder. The snowdrifts seemed to climb higher and they looked like rust. Potholes seemed to get bigger. John Elway drove. Ernest Byner fumbled. Art Modell yanked out the city’s heart. More people fled.

Almost a half million people have left the city of Cleveland over the last 50 years, most of us because we really didn’t have a choice. There were no jobs. There was no future. My dad followed work down Interstate 77 to Charlotte back in the early 1980s. When we got there, it seemed like every other person we met was from Cleveland.

How LeBron’s return will affect the economy in Cleveland

Then we all left a part of ourselves in Cleveland. There is something about the city that gets inside you and never lets go, something about what it feels like the first day you can see grass poking through the snow after a long winter, something about Cleveland blue skies, something about the way the streets intersect and the many accents you cross, something about the way the restaurants and bars are given first names like “Eddie’s” and “Corky and Lenny’s,” something about the sports mix of hope and gloom that swirls like gin and tonic.

When LeBron James came along, we thought he understood that. He grew up in Akron, which is really Cleveland — Akron, Canton, Wooster, Warren, Elyria, even Youngstown, they’re all Cleveland in a sense. Everything about James coming to the Cavaliers was miraculous in the first place. Here was this basketball Mozart from Northeast Ohio, and he came out just when the Cavaliers needed a savior, and the team hit the lottery. It was so, utterly unCleveland. 

He was probably one of the top three players in the NBA by his second year. In his fourth year, James dragged and pulled and yanked a scruffy team with a 7-foot-3 outside shooter and a frenetic Brazilian all the way to the NBA Finals. There, predictably, they were swatted down in four straight by the no-nonsense San Antonio Spurs. The Cavaliers promised to get LeBron some help, and for the most part they did not. They brought in a steady parade of old guys like Shaq and young guys that didn’t take. James was good enough to make the team a championship favorite. Even he, though, was not good enough to take them there.

All along, though, we thought he was one of us. A Clevelander. A Northern Ohio guy. That was our connection. Sure, he offered a few clues that maybe he resented the Cleveland connection. He wore a Yankees hat to an Indians playoff game, said he’d been a Yankees fan all his life. A Yankees fan? Kid from Akron? He lashed out at the fans who he thought expected too much of him. In his last playoff series for the Cavs, he seemed beaten down by those expectations … and he stopped. 

But in the end, underneath it all, we still thought he understood what it is to be a Clevelander, what it is to have watched the city wilt and try to fight back, what it is to endure all the sports heartbreaks and still hope for better days. When he went on his free agency tour, we thought it was all well and good but surely he would come back home. The guy was one of us.

Then he left — no, he didn’t just leave, he left in the most publicly humiliating way. It hit us between the eyes. When outsiders make their lame Cleveland jokes, it doesn’t matter. They know it’s a cliché. They cannot see underneath. But James? Well, it turns out he didn’t understand at all. THAT was at the heart of Cleveland’s pain, I think. He wasn’t one of us.

So … what happened on Friday? Well, four years, can change a man … especially the four years LeBron James had. At first, it was clear, he could not even understand the feelings swirling around him. He resented those feelings. He lashed out. How many titles would they win in Miami? Not five. Not six. He played with an edge. He took the Heat to the championship in Year 1, and he froze up. The taunting cheers renewed his anger. 

The second year he made SURE the Heat won the championship — this included a 45-point, 15-rebound game in Boston with the season on the line that was as extraordinary as anything I’ve ever seen in sports. People wanted him to be a cold-hearted crusher like Jordan or Kobe? Well, OK, he could do that. The third year, the Heat won the championship again. And LeBron, again, was irrefutable and undeniable. 

Gradually, it seemed like James began to see the world a little bit differently. He expressed regret for the way he left Cleveland. He smirked when thinking about the LeBron who had talked about winning all those championships. He talked more openly and clearly about what mattered to him in life. He married his high school sweetheart. He accepted responsibility as a role model.

Friday, he did the most surprising and remarkable thing of all: He announced he was going back to Cleveland. In a beautiful article he wrote with Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins, he admitted that he was a different man four years ago, when he made the Decision.

“But then you think about the other side,” he wrote, speaking of the Cleveland reaction. “What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react?”

I’m guessing, of course, but I don’t think LeBron four years ago would have been able to form that thought. That’s not a knock. He was 25 years old, and he’d lived his whole life in one place, and he’d had overwhelming success. The unalterable truth about perspective is that it only comes after you’ve experienced enough to gain it.

Of course I’m happy he’s coming back to Cleveland. I’m happy because he instantly makes the Cavaliers a serious playoff contender in the weak Eastern Conference and good things can and should build from there. I’m happy because my hometown gets a win, something Cleveland doesn’t get enough of. I’m happy because NBA fans — not just Cleveland fans — are in love with this story; I received countless texts and emails from people saying, essentially: “I love LeBron James now.”

I’m happy because as a sportswriter this is an incredible story, perhaps even unprecedented, a superstar at the height of his game coming back home to try and win a championship for a city that hasn’t had one in a half century. There will probably be movies about it. This says so much about the man LeBron James has become that he could see the opportunity in Cleveland for him to do something singular. This sentence in his essay speaks to how LeBron thinks now:

“My goal is still to win as many titles as possible, no question. But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.”

It is almost enough to make a Clevelander cry.

But more than anything, I’m happy because James is happy. “The more time passed,” he wrote, “the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.” People will talk about hard feelings and who forgave who, they will talk about Miami’s missteps that might have caused this, they will form theories about it all. But maybe, just maybe, it came down to this. LeBron James is from Northeast Ohio. And he is one of us.

Aggrey Sam on significance of LeBron’s return to Cleveland


Celtics G Isaiah Thomas visits specialist, surgery undecided

Getty
Leave a comment

CLEVELAND (AP) Boston Celtics star guard Isaiah Thomas has visited one hip specialist and plans to see others.

Thomas, who is done for the season with a right hip injury he sustained in March and aggravated in the playoffs, told Celtics coach Brad Stevens that he intends to get “one or two more opinions” before a course of action is set. It’s possible Thomas could undergo surgery on his hip. The Celtics have described Thomas’ condition as a tear in his hip.

Stevens reiterated before Game 4 that Thomas will not play again this season, even if the Celtics push the defending champion Cavaliers beyond five games in the Eastern Conference finals.

Thomas was ruled out for the remainder of the postseason on Saturday, ending his inspiring playoff run following the tragic death of his younger sister.

Stevens said Thomas told him he’s still sore and there is still significant inflammation in his hip.

More AP NBA: http://www.apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

J.R. Smith takes daughter Dakota, born premature, home from NICU for first time (PHOTO)

Getty
Leave a comment

Cleveland Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith‘s daughter Dakota received some good news on Tuesday. The 5-month-old Dakota had spent her entire life at the NICU at a local hospital, but before the Cavaliers took on the Boston Celtics Smith was able to take Dakota home for the first time.

The news came amid some good news as of late, including Smith and wife Shirley buying flowers for all the NICU mothers for Mother’s Day.

Smith shared the good news with fans on his Instagram.

Via Instagram:

Hopefully this means progress for the Smith family for what no doubt is a tough road ahead.

Cleveland and Boston square off for Game 4 on Tuesday.

Manu Ginobili’s uncertain future has Spurs fans feeling anxious

Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Manu Ginobili was swept away by the emotions of a sold-out home crowd serenading him with chants of “Manu, Manu” and rising as one for a standing ovation in the closing minutes of the Western Conference Finals.

Spurs fans were saying goodbye, but did not want to let go of the star who helped San Antonio win four of its five NBA Championships with his dynamic play.

“It was kind of emotional and overwhelming,” Ginobili said. “Yea, I don’t have a lot of words to describe it, but of course it makes you feel really well. Feeling that type of appreciation, love, respect. … When it happens in a situation like that and you receive all of that without expecting it, it shakes your world a little bit.”

The emotional outpouring led Ginobili to make a startling revelation to friend and teammate Patty Mills as they sat on the bench.

He had no idea what all the fuss was about.

“It felt like they wanted me to retire,” Ginobili said with a smile. “Like they were giving me sort of a celebration night. And of course, I’m getting closer and closer. There is no secret, for sure. It’s getting harder and harder, but I always said that I wanted to let it sink in for three weeks, four weeks, and then I will sit with my wife and see how it feels.”

San Antonio’s highly passionate fan base does not want Ginobili to retire. The fans simply wanted to show their appreciation because they are unsure if their beloved star will return next season. The Spurs also aren’t sure.

“If he decides he’s going to play again, that’s up to him,” coach Gregg Popovich said. “I won’t try to convince him one way or the other. I don’t think he needs that.”

Ginobili’s uncertain future is one of many questions the Spurs are awaiting answers on this offseason.

San Antonio’s season came to an abrupt end when they were swept by Golden State in the conference finals. The Warriors became the first team in league history to start the playoffs 12-0 after defeating the Spurs 122-108 on Monday night in Game 4.

Still, San Antonio’s first season in 20 years without franchise cornerstone Tim Duncan was a success. The Spurs captured their second straight Southwest Division title and earned their 20th straight playoff appearance.

“If you have half a brain, you put things in perspective,” Popovich said. “For the first year without Timmy’s leadership and a lot of new players, these guys got it together to win 61 games and just got better and better as the playoffs proceeded and we were basically on a pretty good roll starting Game 1 at Golden State. Some bad fortune which happens to all of us at some point in our lives and we don’t get to be the last team standing. But when I think about what they accomplished, they deserve a lot of credit.”

The Warriors outscored the Spurs by 85 points in the series after Kawhi Leonard suffered a sprained ankle in Game 1 with 7:52 remaining in the third quarter and San Antonio leading 78-55.

Leonard will be fine after some rest and rehabilitation. Forward David Lee is also expected to return after suffering a torn patellar tendon in Game 3 against the Warriors. Tony Parker is expected to be out at least eight months after suffering a ruptured left quadriceps tendon against Houston in Game 2 of the West semifinals.

Healing LaMarcus Aldridge‘s psyche could be trickier. The 6-foot-11 forward struggled in the postseason, especially against Golden State. Aldridge was twice held to eight points in the conference finals, including a 7-for-17 effort in Game 4.

Popovich isn’t worried.

“Not having Tony and Kawhi, it takes away our two best creators,” Popovich said. “They create a lot for our team. If one of the other scorers is left on his own like L.A. and he gets doubled and the playoffs get more physical, then you have to find scoring elsewhere and we had a problem doing that.”

The Spurs do not have any existing cap space to add players, but do have eight potential free agents that could impact that.

Lee, Pau Gasol and Dewayne Dedmon all have player options while Patty Mills and Jonathon Simmons are unrestricted free agents. Keeping Simmons may be difficult after his star turn in the playoffs, especially once Leonard went down.

“We value all the guys that are going to be free agents,” Popovich said. “R.C. and I will sit down and put together a plan and priorities and that sort of thing, it’s no different than any other year.”

Ginobili is a free agent, but is expected to return to the Spurs if he does not retire.

The question is, does he want to.

The 39-year-old rebounded from four straight scoreless games against Memphis in the opening round to provide San Antonio with a needed boost. He finished with 15 points in a frenzied 32 minutes in Game 4 against Golden State.

“I do feel like I can still play, but that’s not way is going to make me retire or not,” Ginobili said. “It’s about how I feel.”

Unsure of what that decision is, Popovich made sure Ginobili understood what he has meant to the Spurs and their fans. Ginobili started and was taken out of the game with two minutes remaining to huge applause.

“I’m really happy we did what we did last night for him,” Popovich said. “I think he really was moved by it. He deserved it and it worked out wonderfully.”

 

Report: Knicks would like to revisit Ricky Rubio trade talks, eyeing free agents such as P.J. Tucker

1 Comment

The Knicks need a whole lot of things this summer — starting with someone who would give them anything of value for Carmelo Anthony (they may well strike out there) — but at the top of the list should be getting players who can defend. That’s the end of the floor where they had the biggest issues last season (they were 25th in the league).

One way to do that, revisit the Ricky Rubio trade discussions they had near the trade deadline. Ian Begley of ESPN said some in the Knicks camp hope to do that.

Some in the organization were hopeful after the trade deadline that they could revisit their attempts to acquire Rubio from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the offseason, per sources. It’s unclear if that interest remains, but Rubio would fit the mold of a two-way contributor.

Rubio found his shot after the All-Star break and played some of the best basketball of his career during that stretch. Combine that with the fact Kris Dunn struggled mightily as a rookie, and it’s hard to see why Tom Thibodeau and the Timberwolves would want to move the only quality point guard on their roster. If they do, the price will be too steep for the Knicks to afford.

On the free agent side, they reportedly have an interest in physical defender P.J. Tucker, among others.

The club has preliminary interest in veteran free agent P.J. Tucker, per league sources. Jeff Hornacek coached Tucker in Phoenix and praised him last season as a strong locker-room leader and intense defender. Tucker shot 35.7 percent from beyond the arc last season, including a 40 percent clip after being traded to the Toronto Raptors.

New York has also shown preliminary interest in New Orleans Pelicans forward and free-agent-to-be Dante Cunningham, per sources.

Tucker is an interesting fit, but he’s going to have other suitors as well.

Whatever Phil Jackson and the front office do this summer, they need to do it better than the Derrick Rose/Joakim Noah signings of last summer. There is some pressure on Jackson to get things right this time around.