“We go through the present blindfolded … Only later, when the blindfold is removed and we examine the past, do we realize what we’ve been through and understand what it means. ”
― Milan Kundera, author
When a relationship falls apart suddenly and totally, someone is always left to ask, “Why didn’t I see it coming?”
In the wake of LeBron James’ announced return to Cleveland, Miami Heat fans are probably asking that very question.
The truth, if they’d care to admit it, is that there were signs. Plenty of them.
Some were more subtle, others fairly obvious. It’s part of the mystery of sports that fans can focus on one aspect of a player or team while ignoring the other.
You love Player X for his ability to score, then conveniently forget that he doesn’t pass or play defense. The team is the greatest thing to happen to Anytown, but the millions of dollars used on a new arena or to pay for inflated salaries could have built better schools or roads.
With James, there were aspects of his personality that seemed to predetermine that he would eventually join the team that drafted him. He said as much in Lee Jenkins’ exclusive, via Sports Illustrated:
“I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when…I started thinking about what it would be like to raise my family in my hometown. I looked at other teams, but I wasn’t going to leave Miami for anywhere except Cleveland. The more time passed, the more it felt right. This is what makes me happy.”
The quote shows that the return was one he’d always envisioned, even as he decided to join Miami on July 8, 2010. As per a report by Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, James may have been working in concert with Cleveland’s front office since as far back as 2012.
Over his four years with the Heat, James seemed to be keeping a ledger of his future options, balancing the good against the bad before choosing to join the Cavaliers.
The positives that James accomplished are obvious. He rebuilt his image, after it was shredded following his departure from Cleveland.
He remains, just as he was in 2010, the most popular player in the NBA.
He won an Olympic gold medal, representing his country as well as the Heat organization. He collected two more personal accolades, his league MVP trophies, and finished second in the balloting in 2011 and 2014.
He challenged history with a remarkable 27-game win streak, an accomplishment that showcased his incredible abilities as well as those of his teammates. And, of course, four straight trips to the Finals, resulting in two championships.
That was his ultimate goal, as he told Jenkins, when he came to Miami.
But there were the negatives, as well. The slights, both perceived and real, that facilitated his return to Cleveland.
Dwyane Wade’s nagging injuries (and the subsequent toll it took on James to carry the team) and the lack of production from the rest of his teammates are the most apparent. But, over the course of four years, even in-game mistakes seemed to weigh on James.
A missed layup or a blown pass would send James – a basketball perfectionist – into a spiral of passivity, a waiting game to see which of his teammates would rise to the challenge of helping achieve a victory.
There were objections to what Miami did off the court as well as on it. Heat president Pat Riley doesn’t ever look away from his pursuit of victory, either.
He was once quoted as saying, “There is winning, and there is misery.” Rumors abound that Riley wouldn’t allow James’ ever-expanding entourage to enjoy the same perks they did in Cleveland.
No front row seats, no trips on the Heat’s private charter while on road trips. No distractions, period.
While the Heat organization was able to help LeBron James achieve his mission to win a title, it somehow failed to notice the importance of his friends, which he has often referred to as “his family.”
Perhaps Miami’s ultimate failure was to be too dedicated to winning and failing to embrace the entourage that clearly had an impact on James’ return.
Blindfolded by the expectations of a franchise and a city, Riley and the Heat just never saw the signs.