An Open Letter to LeBron James Upon His Return to Cleveland


What should I do?

That's the question LeBron James asked of us in his new Nike commercial, and it's the question that's on everyone's minds as LeBron heads back to Cleveland to face the Cavaliers as a visitor for the first time in his NBA career.

Should I admit that I've made mistakes? 

LeBron returns to Cleveland not as the triumphant conquerer, with a dominant Miami team, but with more baggage than when he left, as the Heat have scuffled to a 10-8 start. And while he's admitted that he could have handled his decision better, in terms of execution, he still stands by the decision to join Miami, saying as recently as last night, "There's always pros and cons with any decision that you make. But I'm happy here."

Should I remind you that I've done this before?

Hmm... well, have you, LeBron? Done THIS, I mean, going back to a city where you were once heralded as a King, but are now thought of as less than dirt? No, you haven't. No one has. This is an event like we haven't seen before in team sports.

Should I give you a history lesson?

OK, here's a history lesson for you, LeBron. During your time in Cleveland, you became the franchise's all-time leading scorer. Now you'll be playing against the team for whom you've scored more points than anyone else. You know how many of your contemporaries can say that? Three. Pau Gasol, every time he returns to Memphis, Kevin Garnett when he goes back to Minnesota, and your teammate, Chris Bosh, when he goes back to Toronto. That's it. And those guys aren't despised by their old fan bases (well, Bosh kind of is, but not to the level you are).

What should I do?

Do you really want my honest opinion, LeBron? Well, here it is, and I say this as one of your biggest fans, someone who has supported you throughout your career (and when I say "career", I go back to your sophomore year of high school).

What should you do, LeBron? Man up.

Watching you this season, it's clear something's off, and it's not just a matter of an incompatibility between you and Dwyane Wade (thought I do think there's some reality to that issue). And while you're never really going to ask me for my opinion, I'm going to give it to you anyway. I think, for the first time in your life, you're being seriously criticized on multiple fronts and you have no idea how to handle it.

With one meme'd-to-death phrase, you went from being cheered in almost every arena in the NBA to being universally booed. And, more importantly, you went from having your failures excused to have them scrutinized like never before. You've never had to really own up to anything.

When you briefly lost your amateur status in high school? Well, that was because the rules were stupid.

When you didn't make the playoffs as a rookie? That was because your team wasn't very good.

When you missed the playoffs again in '04-05, getting your coach fired in the process? The front office's fault.

When you lost to the Pistons in Game 7 in '06? You weren't "ready" yet.

When you got swept by the Spurs in '07? Teammates again.

When you lost to the Celtics in '08? They were just "better".

Magic in '09? Still your teammates.

To be fair to you, some of those excuses were accurate, but it seemed like no one ever said "maybe LeBron could have done a little more", which meant you never had to say "this one's on me". It wasn't until last year's Celtics series -- when you quit, though you still won't own up to that -- that the blame for your failures was put squarely on your shoulders. So what did you do? You left. And you haven't been the same since.

Back when your new Nike commercial came out, I thought the brilliance of it was that the last time you asked "what should I do", it was over a shot of you doing exactly what you should do, which is play basketball. But I've come to realize it's more complicated than that. You're not the same basketball player you used to be, because you're in such an unfamiliar situation. For the first time in your career, you're not universally beloved. And it's clear you're not handling it well. Your body language on the court is bad. You continue to grasp at straws -- "Wade missed the preseason", "Miller's hurt", "Rome wasn't built in a day", etc. -- and make excuses like you have your entire career. You choose to listen to those that support you, while dismissing those that don't as "haters". But it's not that simple.


Back to the commercial for a second:

Should I accept my role, as a villain?

No. No you shouldn't, because it's clear you have no idea how to do that. You've been cast as the villain, whether you accept it or not, and just playing basketball at a high level -- though one lower than we're used to seeing from you -- isn't going to change that. So, again, what should you do?

Man up.

Miami wants us to "Fan Up", well, I want you to Man Up first. Come out tomorrow night and say you made a mistake. Not in leaving Cleveland -- you had every right to do that -- but in the way you did it (the whole charity thing is just another excuse. You could have just donated $3M to the Boys and Girls Club without having to go on TV for an hour and rip out the hearts of your fans in Cleveland). And admit you made a mistake in not doing everything you could to win a title while you were in Cleveland. And admit you made a mistake in letting everyone around you make excuses for you for 11 years. And then, lastly, declare that it stops tonight. Once you take responsibility, everything else will fall into place. And, no, it might not happen overnight. It might not even happen this season. But once you stop making excuses, and start admitting your failures, maybe then you can go about correcting them.

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