It was just over four years ago when I’d lost my favorite NBA player. He hadn’t died, no; not in the literal. But in the figurative, he was dead to me.
Never had I been more enamored by an athlete. Currently in my early 20s, the era of Michael Jordan’s prime was just before I was able to comprehend my own thoughts. So as a result, I found the budding superstardom of then-Cavaliers forward LeBron James fascinating. I had adopted favorite NBA players before. Grant Hill and Allen Iverson, for example. Although neither of them had ever captivated me as a fan like King James. Here was my MJ, I thought.
Then came The Decision.
I wasn’t from Cleveland. (I’m actually a longtime Knicks fan.) But that didn’t make his decision to flee to South Beach any less distressing for me. You see, as an original Witness I believed LeBron James was invincible; and that he would ultimately be cemented as the best to ever play the game. Having said that, I understood that he would first need to win a ring. And I began to want that — a championship — tremendously for him. But I wanted him to do it. Here I was telling any ear that would listen, “This guy is gonna do it solo,” and then he runs off and join forces with two other superstars. I was pissed.
People had said to me that I was just bitter he didn’t join the Knicks. But that could not have been any further from the truth. Leading up to The Decision I was extremely vocal about not wanting LeBron to join the Knicks. I didn’t want him to join anyone, as I adamantly believed he needed to stay in Cleveland and let the championship come to him. His legacy depended on that, I was convinced. (Though whether one believes it would have came to him is an entirely different discussion that I do not care to engage in at the moment.)
Proclaiming that an athlete would be bigger than Michael Jordan isn’t praise that I just spout off foolishly. I genuinely believed that LeBron possessed that capability. And that’s what angered me most about him electing to go play for the Miami Heat. Almost immediately, I became the self-elected president of the LeBron James Haters Club. And funny enough, the Knicks somewhat returned to relevancy shortly after LeBron joined the Heat — further fueling my hatred.
The one-sided rivalry between myself and the South Beach-based king lasted the entire duration of his Miami Heat tenure, pardoned only slightly for a moment after he’d won his second NBA title — for reasons I still can’t explain. But when news broke that he would be returning to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers I was on cloud nine. “I GET MY FAVORITE PLAYER BACK,” I posted on Facebook. It’s like when wrestling legend Hulk Hogan left the NWO and returned to Hulkamaniacs. Monumental.
It wasn’t just the fact that LeBron was returning to Cleveland — but the way he went about it and why — that instantly won me over. LeBron announced his return in a letter via Sports Illustrated, in which he described his love for his home region of Northeast Ohio and essentially longing to rejuvenate it. From a basketball standpoint, he cited the youth of the Cavaliers current roster as reasoning for not expecting immediate success in the form of a championship. That spoke volumes to me because LeBron recognized a challenge, and accepted it. And as a Witness, that’s all I wanted back in the summer of 2010 — for LeBron to accept the challenge.