On the morning of July 11, a joyful ESPN broke the “news” that the infamous Dan Gilbert letter from four years ago was the only thing standing in the way of LeBron James returning to Cleveland. “Pardon the Interruption” host Michael Wilbon was so elated with this revelation that he probably wet his pants, since he was the guy leading the chorus questioning James for even considering going to a team owned by “slavemaster” Gilbert.
By the way, this whole “slavemaster” nonsense is practically a cottage industry among some black sports journalists and academicians and they cling to it like life itself, no matter how foolishly simplistic and self-serving this red herring often is. So when James issued his remarkably poignant statement in which he used the near-biblical phrase “Who am I to hold a grudge?” in regard to Gilbert, the Cleveland and Gilbert haters in the national media could not believe their ears. How, they wondered out loud, could James forgive the ugliness of that letter?
Here’s how: A more mature James finally came to understand that he was the one who orchestrated the “Decision” fiasco. He started it by giving up (or, at best, choking) in Game 5 against the Celtics. Everyone – including James himself, though it may have taken a while for him to admit it – knows he stopped trying in that critical game. But at the time, LeBron blamed his elbow and pouted about how he was somehow the victim of haters.
James then kept the Decision ruse cooking by refusing to return Gilbert’s calls in the days leading up to his departure and, finally, added insult to injury by not being man enough to even inform Gilbert personally of his Decision. (Remember, Gilbert and the Cavs organization had given him everything he wanted, literally treating him like a King every single day he was a Cavalier.) Later, of course, we all learned that James had been colluding with Bosh and Wade on the possibility of playing together for at least two years.
But on lucky 7/11, James essentially admitted that it was his own self-absorption and deceit that fueled the Decision mess and ultimately led to Gilbert’s petty and nasty letter. He had bailed out on his city, his organization, and the fans in the most offensive and classless manner possible. Now, finally, owning up to his own responsibility, a chastened James could do nothing but accept Gilbert’s apology. Indeed, who was he to hold a grudge?
For the past four years I have been perhaps James’ harshest critic in the Cleveland media and the biggest defender of Gilbert’s letter. In fact, in a column I wrote a few weeks ago, I responded to the Gilbert haters by saying that his letter was the only honest thing that happened that night and that it was James who needed to apologize for his duplicitous actions and ask forgiveness from the city he stiffed. In so many words, that is exactly what he did in his eloquent essay.
The impact of LeBron’s words on the people of Northeast Ohio can only be properly gauged by a Richter Scale. The love of home and commitment to education, economic development and solid community values that he spoke of sent a collective thrill down the spine of Clevelanders that won’t vanish for a long time. And as far as the typical cliched statements by athletes go, it was practically the Gettyburg Address.
By returning to the Cavaliers and writing so beautifully about his desire to make the Cleveland area a finer place to live and his eagerness to be a truly positive role model, James has put himself in position to transcend his status as basketball star and move into the genuine-force-for-good category that few athletes have ever achieved.
Over the past year or so, James has exhibited a socio-political awareness and business savvy that should enable him to focus on more important issues than just winning an NBA championship. A humbled Global Icon has come home a better man committed to making Northeast Ohio a better place for everyone.
Welcome back, LeBron, and now let’s all get to work.
Larry Durstin is an independent journalist who has covered politics and sports for a variety of publications and websites over the past 20 years. He was the founding editor of the Cleveland Tab and an associate editor at the Cleveland Free Times. Durstin has won 12 Ohio Excellence in Journalism awards, including six first places in six different writing categories.
LarryDurstin@yahoo.com or follow us on Twitter @SportsSentinel
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POSTED 07/14/2012 19:06