This Wednesday, LeBron James makes his return to Cleveland.
This time it should feel different from eight years ago, when LeBron returned in a Miami Heat uniform and Cleveland unleashed all its pent-up fury upon him. Not that Cavaliers fans wanted him to leave last summer, but this time they saw it coming and could look back upon a title in the city for the first time since 1954. LeBron cemented his legacy in Cleveland.
LeBron reflected upon those days and said he knew the end was coming the same time everyone else did — when Kyrie Irving demanded a trade (he was eventually shipped to Boston). Via Joe Varden of The Athletic.
“Everyone knows that when Kyrie got traded, it was the beginning of the end for everything. It’s not a secret.”
For my money, the real beginning of the end was when owner Dan Gilbert refused to pay up and retain a quality general manager in David Griffin. LeBron realized that when it all started to go down, too. The new GM Koby Altman told LeBron he would not trade Irving to Boston — turning them into an instant powerhouse — but then the trade was completed later that day. LeBron realized it’s not that Altman lied to him as much as Altman wasn’t the guy making the call.
“You realize at that point in time, take nothing from Koby, because Koby [was just named GM], but at that point in time, you realize that Koby’s not the only one running the team, as [Griffin] had done, and that’s why Griff was let go pretty much.”
LeBron still carried the Cavaliers to the Finals (in part because Irving was injured and out when the teams met in the postseason) but the Cavaliers were no match for the league’s elite, which is why they got swept by the Warriors. LeBron decided he needed to move on to new challenges and headed West to the Lakers, where the work to build a contender is still ongoing.
His return to Cleveland will bring mixed emotions to Cavaliers fans on Wednesday. And if LeBron plays like he has lately — dropping 44 on Portland and 51 on Miami — they will be reminded just how great a player he was for them.