The story had drama. It had behind the scenes intrigue. It had people tracking private plane flights online. In the end one party was left bewildered because they didn’t think it would really happen.
Another city rejoiced.
Nothing was a bigger story, nothing changed the balance of power in the NBA like LeBron James returning home to Cleveland.
Nothing could bolster the popularity of the greatest basketball player on the planet more than returning home like a prodigal son to the city where fans had burned his jersey years before. This move sold well for LeBron (polls showed his national popularity skyrocketed).
There certainly had been people around LeBron — specifically his friend and new agent Rich Paul — who had been working behind the scenes to grease the skids for a return for some time, but this was still a surprise.
How big a surprise? First, know that Miami up until the final week or so really thought LeBron would return — they had just been to four straight NBA Finals and won two, why leave that foundation? Why would LeBron return to an owner who thrashed him in a Comic Sans letter?
But LeBron and Dan Gilbert looked each other in the eye and made up.
Second, the Cavaliers were surprised — they didn’t have the cap room ready. They had to make quick moves and dump salary to have room to sign LeBron James to the max.
Once it happened, the other dominoes started to fall. Mike Miller and Shawn Marion became Cavaliers. Then came the big move when Kevin Love forced his way there in a trade that wasn’t bad for Minnesota — they got the last two No. 1 overall picks, including the much heralded Andrew Wiggins. (Wiggins was caught in the middle of this during Summer League and handled it about as well as one could. Credit to the kid.)
Know that this move was not all about coming home. It was also about upgrading the talent around him on the basketball court — LeBron saw having Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh was not enough against the Spurs last season and the West was getting stronger. He needed an upgrade and more youth and athleticism around him. He’s got that with Love and Kyrie Irving.
This also was a power play — LeBron and the people around him have more influence and say in the Cavaliers organization than they did in the ship Pat Riley ran so tightly in Miami.
But that’s not the story that was sold — and that America ate up.
Despite all the early turmoil and drama around the Cavaliers — and as long as LeBron is there they will be under that microscope — this move was a huge, huge win for the Cavaliers.
Northeast Ohio is starved for a title and their own son from Akron is going to bring them some. Not one but multiple over the next five to seven years. It’s not going to happen in 2015, there is a lot of work left to do to round out that roster and get players who will buy into the system. But it will happen. The path to an NBA title will soon go through Cleveland.