“All that he knew was that the years flow by like water, and that one day men come home again.”
Thomas Wolfe’s protagonist in his posthumously published 1940 novel “You Can’t Go Home Again,” George Webber, found that’s not always the case. Having written a book about his hometown that its residents believed cast them in a disparaging light, Webber finds himself an outcast, unwelcome. Even when he returns to America from his travels in Europe, he and it are not the same.
Now comes a modern-day George Webber, one LeBron James, whose “sin” against Cleveland was not one of literary sideswiping but one of merely leaving at all. How many No. 23 Cavalier jerseys were burned in anger and disgust when James left for Miami? How many other free agency decisions would have culminated with letter from the owner describing the way in which a player announced his decision as “narcissistic” and “self-promotional?”
Dan Gilbert may have had a bit of a point. “The Decision,” the hour-long ESPN special in which James, who is from nearby Akron, announced his decision to leave Cleveland and sign with Miami in 2010, was overwrought and over-the-top, even considering that its proceeds went to the Boys & Girls Club of America.
In choosing a simpler method for announcing his decision to return to Cleveland on Friday — a letter in Sports Illustrated — James acknowledged that he’d “obviously do things differently.”
He’s not talking about the decision to go to Miami. He’s talking about how it was handled.
He made sure he didn’t make the same mistake twice, although one may argue a media circus would not have had the same impact now as it did then. He is returning to his home area, not leaving it. And he’s leaving the Heat after leading them to two NBA titles, not getting them tantalizingly close only to disappoint, as with the Cavaliers.
But as the best player in basketball notes in his thoughtful letter, he’s a different man now, too. He’s older, wiser. And he’s a champion.
“Miami, for me, has been almost like college for other kids,” he told SI’s Lee Jenkins. “Without the experiences I had there, I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing today.”
James said he always knew he’d come home one day. After the way Cleveland and Gilbert reacted when he left, it may seem surprising to some that he thought he could. But while sports fans are quick to turn on someone, they can also be quick to forgive — especially when their team has gone 97-215 in the last four years.
He does not come home promising championships, though that is what Cavaliers fans will expect. He says he knows his “patience will be tested.” But in the end, James says, it came down to one main thing: “This is what makes me happy.”
And if you’re LeBron James, you can go home again.
This article was republished with permission from the author, Mike Herndon. It was originally published in AL.com and can be viewed by clicking here.