Posnanski: LeBron James proves he’s a true Clevelander

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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.

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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


Patrick Ewing on Knicks firing David Fizdale: “Very disappointed in that”

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Knicks legend Patrick Ewing currently is waist deep… well, at his height maybe knee deep, in the college basketball season. His Georgetown team is off to a solid 6-3 start with a game at Syracuse coming up this Saturday.

He still has time for his SiriusXM radio show, “Center Court with Patrick Ewing,” where he said he was “very disappointed” to see David Fizdale let go.

“Very disappointed in that. I think that Fiz is an outstanding coach. I’ve had an opportunity to get to know him over the years, met him when he was working for the Hawks. And just want to let him know that I support him and I know he’s looking forward to his next opportunity, but he is a very good coach and I was disappointed to see him getting let go.”

Coaches back the other coaches, it’s a fraternity that way. Rick Carlise is the master of it.

Fizdale is not blameless for the current state of the Knicks, his rotations and ability to develop young players certainly are in question, but he wasn’t the root of the problem. The best analogy I can come up with is Fizdale was the first contestant sent home on “Chopped”: Nobody was going to make a delicious meal out of the horribly mismatched ingredients in that basket, but the chef still has to do something cohesive with it. Fizdale did not.

The question becomes, is team president Steve Mills — the long-time Knicks employee who has known how to survive in James Dolan’s world — going to finally be let go and a big name brought in, or are the Knicks just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

Pacers fans still boo Paul George, he responds with 34 through three quarters (VIDEO)

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Don’t make Paul George angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry (if you’re the opposing team).

It was a couple of seasons ago, but the wounds of Paul George forcing his way out of Indiana are still fresh for Pacers fans, so they booed him when he handed the ball at points during the Clippers visit to Indiana.

George’s response? Go get buckets and tell the crowd to “shhh.”

Like 21 points in the first half buckets.

And 34 points after three quarters, with seven from beyond the arc.

The Clippers — without Kawhi Leonard on the back-to-back — were up double digits in the fourth quarter in Indiana. George will be your player of the game for L.A.

Kevin Love on latest rumors Cleveland will trade him: ‘Nothing’s changed’

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Kevin Love has heard it all before.

Rumors floated around Cleveland was going to trade Love in the summer of 2015 after his first season with the team. They sprung up again the next season at the trade deadline — before Love played a central role in Cleveland winning a ring. The rumors kept springing up, especially after LeBron James left. Then this past summer, Love signed a four-year, $120 million extension to stay in Cleveland.

That has not stopped the rumors.

Love was asked about the rumors and sounded unmoved by them but a little frustrated, via Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

“Nothing’s changed,” Love told ESPN after Cleveland’s morning shootaround at TD Garden. “What I mean by that is, since I got here they’ve been … since I f—ing got here, there’s been talk of me being traded, so it’s nothing different. If they decide to go that way, I’ve just got to know it’s part of the business, or if we decide to go that way, it’s part of the business.

“Truthfully, I don’t know how it’s going to play out, because I see both sides.”

This time it feels like Love could get moved, if not at the trade deadline then this summer — and he wants to go to a contender.

The logic is simple: Cleveland is rebuilding, Love is still a stretch four and good rebounder who can help a playoff team. Love is averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, is shooting 37.1 percent from three, and remains one of the best outlet passers in the game. Boston, Denver, Portland and a host of other teams could use him this season.

The challenge is that massive contract, which is why a trade may be put off until next summer.

Whatever happens, Love isn’t going to stress over it.

It’s official: Gordon Hayward makes return to Celtics lineup Monday

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He beat the timeline by a full two weeks.

Gordon Hayward fractured his hand on a fluke play against the Spurs that required surgery to repair (he fractured the fourth metacarpal, the bone that connects the wrist to the ring finger). When he had surgery on Nov. 11, the timeline for a return was 6-8 weeks.

One month later, Hayward has been cleared to make his return Monday night against Cleveland.

This is good news for Boston and its offense. Hayward was having a bounce-back year through his first eight games, averaging 18.9 points per game, shooting 43.3 percent from three, pulling down 7.1 rebounds, and dishing out 4.1 assists per game. Even more than Kemba Walker, it was Hayward who was the playmaker for others and kept the offense flowing.

Not that Boston struggled too much with Hayward out. The Celtics went 9-4 with a +5.9 net rating in the games he missed, although the team’s offense slid back to middle-of-the-pack without his scoring and shot creation.

He’s back, and Boston — the second best team in the East so far this young season — just got a little better.