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The Relationship. The Relationship is fragile, no matter what kind of relationship it is. Family, dating, marital, and professional relationships are all very delicate and either side can easily get their feelings hurt. Yet without that pain, that agony a relationship can not grow and is probably doomed. Yes some will go through the motions and drudge along. Staying together well after the expiration date as it is familiar.
The Relationship I am speaking of is that of one man and one city. That city? Cleveland. That one man? LeBron James. Cleveland and LeBron James have been dating since he was a young boy. The city has watched him grow. It has sheltered him. Nurtured him. Helped guide him along the way. LeBron was the next coming of Jordan, Magic, and Oscar Robertson. He could have walked onto any University campus in the nation and taken them to the Final four if not the National Championship. He was that amazing back then, if you had forgotten, which I doubt you have.
I am not saying that Cleveland ending up with the No. 1 pick in 2003 draft swayed him into forgoing college. Some part of him and his inner circle had to say there is that chance you could be a Cavalier. What 18-year-old wouldn’t dream of being the guy that turned a franchise around. Being the guy that led his hometown team to a championship that the city hasn’t seen since before his parents were born. LeBron was almost destined to be a Cavalier since his freshman year in high school.
The Cavs knew the team they had, which wasn’t much at all. So, they ate a few bad years of on the court play but sold the fans on the chance of getting the phenom that was teenage LeBron. It is the ultimate tanking story. A true tanking love story.
We all know the rest. LeBron is drafted, he takes the NBA by storm. He puts Brink truck after Brink truck of benjamins in Dan Gilbert’s pockets. He has Cleveland in the palm of his hands. He was the Frank Sinatra of Cleveland. He could do no wrong. The man brought Cleveland within four wins of a World Championship. He was Cleveland sports.
Then it slowly develops. No one will know for sure but separation developed between LeBron and the Cavs. LeBron might have started to feel the weight of being the cities savior. Every sports outlet radio, television, internet was putting him in a position that winning it all was the only acceptable thing for the behemoth LeBron James.
The 2010 playoffs came and LeBron took another sub par roster to the Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron and the Cavs were easily removed from the playoffs by a three headed monster in Boston. We all can remember LeBron walking down the hallway pulling the that number 23 Cavs jersey off for what many though would be the last time ever. Cleveland and northeast Ohio had serious concerns about losing their savior. They had good reasons for their concerns too. LeBron wasn’t showing the city the love he once had. The toll of carrying a city finally seemed to be getting to him.
On that July night on ESPN sitting in a chair at the Boys and Girls Club LeBron did it. He broke the heart of the city. He tore it out on national television. Over the course of that season he might as well have changed his status on Facebook from married to complicated to separated to the final most crushing of divorced. Most outside of Cleveland could see it coming. LeBron had lost that loving feeling for his hometown, from where he grew, cried and bled. He needed an escape. Miami offered that escape with a good friend and a third wheel that came in handy from time to time.
His return to Cleveland that next season was what one should have expected. An angry ex shouting profanity and unleashing every horrible thing they had ever thought about you in one long drawn out evening. LeBron didn’t show any emotion but that had to have been one of the hardest things he had ever endured in his basketball journey. His hometown hating him in the moment. Letting him know what he had taken from them. The Cavs were a mess and it was all his fault. He was that heartless ex that just thought about himself instead of the unit.
Years went by and the hate that Cleveland and northeast Ohio had for LeBron subsided like all breakups do. They still weren’t happy with him but they weren’t out for blood. LeBron came back more and more to his community in the off-season to do charity work and just be back home. Over those years LeBron had grown his family, taken a wife (his hometown sweetheart) and got what he needed, separation. LeBron needed to know what life was like without Cleveland on a day-to-day basis. He needed to know if that was something he could live without.
Not many players get to play for the team in the city they grew up in. Almost none get drafted to be the savior of their city. LeBron is a unique individual. Not just for his basketball talents, but for how he grew up. How his young adulthood changed him. He had this relationship with Cleveland for almost twenty years before he had to break it off. He made that choice, not in that chair at that moment but over that 2010 season.
Let’s go back to that chair. That moment when he told Cleveland we are through. Do you remember his face, his voice, his nervousness? He didn’t seem completely comfortable with the words that he just said. That one moment, that tiny 3 to 5 seconds of him being vulnerable told you he wasn’t completely over Cleveland. The city had hope to fix this relationship.
It took four years but LeBron missed his relationship with Cleveland. He missed being the savior. He knew his city missed him and had been making moves to be able to bring him back. He then told Sports Illustrated and then the world in an understated letter he was coming home. He professed his love for his city and its people. He knew he still hand fences to mend and bridges to fix, but that is part of The Relationship.
We all have ended a relationship at least once to go back to it to see if we made a mistake in ending it in the first place. Some crash and burn, but there are those that grow and grow and grow. Both sides had matured, figured out what they had done wrong, not what the other had done wrong and fixed those issues. This is the relationship of LeBron and Cleveland.
They mended themselves and it has been a beautiful reunion. It wasn’t without bumps, but those bumps seemed to have made the relationship even stronger. LeBron has regained the trust of a city, of the organization again. James has learned to trust coach Blatt and even the Cavs management and Dan Gilbert.
This relationship has come almost full circle again. A courtship , became a relationship, turned into a marriage that ended in an ugly divorce only to have that relationship rekindled again. The marriage part is complete. The only thing that is missing is the honeymoon. LeBron has this team, these fans, and Cleveland four wins from that World Championship it has desperately been seeking for over 50 years. The Relationship isn’t finished, it will never be finished between these two. That is the greatness in The Relationship.
By Steve Kish