For all the talk about the media world being obsessed with LeBron James' (second) decision, what struck me most these past few days was how everyone in the entire world of sports just stopped and stared at him. Everyone. Reporters, fans, sure. But also teammates … rivals.
Chris Bosh openly stated he would re-sign with Miami if LeBron stayed but was headed out (probably to Houston) if he left. Carmelo Anthony -- a man once considered LeBron's most formidable foe, long long ago -- froze in place, leaving several teams (and legends) hanging in the balance. Dwyane Wade, who has one more title than James does, flew across the country just to plead with him to keep playing basketball with him. Those three men are all future Hall of Famers, all facing the biggest decisions of their professional careers, and they didn't budge until they knew what LeBron was doing.
What power this must give a person. Can you imagine? You know that famous Esquire image of Frank Sinatra that ran with Gay Talese's legendary story about him? The one with everyone lighting his cigarette? That's where LeBron James is: No one so much as blinks until he makes a move. He isn't just the elephant in the room. He is the room.
LeBron has been told since he was old enough to shave -- so, since he was four probably --that he was special. That he could do things that no other person could do. He has spent the last 15 years proving that, becoming one of the best, and most singular, basketball players of all time. All cow in his presence: All follow him, from opposing players to artists to NFL stars to Presidents. When State Senator Barack Obama was about to give the biggest speech of his life at the 2004 Democratic Convention, what say to psych himself up? "I'm Lebron, baby." This will make a man feel like he rules the world. This will make a man feel like a savior.
And when you are a savior, you must save. Of all the lines in LeBron's surprisingly moving essay on SI.com announcing that he will be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers -- and there are many affecting ones, particularly those involving raising his family in his hometown; I dunno if it was Lee Jenkins' ghost writing or not, but LeBron has never felt more human than he did in that essay -- the one that struck the hardest was "what's most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio."
I spent a week in Cleveland for my Leitch Across America series back in September, talking to dozens upon dozens of residents, and the undeniable takeway was not that these were beaten-down people desperate for a championship. They were just people who had earned one. They weren't nearly as bitter about LeBron as everyone believed -- deep down, the Browns tended to piss them off more -- but they just wanted something to celebrate. In my rankings of the most tortured fanbases in baseball, the NFL and the NBA, the Indians, Browns and Cavaliers finished second, second and first, respectively. This town has been through so much, and it keeps plugging along, fighting through it. Cleveland is constantly being beaten. But it is never defeated.
LeBron, who has spent far more time there than just a week in September, knows this as well as anyone. This comes across plain and clear in his letter. "I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there's no better place to grow up." I love my hometown, and I wouldn't want to have grown up anywhere else. It has made me who I am. But would I claim "there's no better place to grow up?" I would not. But nearly everyone you talk to in Cleveland, even while they're grousing about the place and lamenting how much the sports teams always kick them in the face, says that same thing: This is the best city in the world. There's no better place to grow up.
And they always end up back there. It is always their home.
Three years ago, Carmelo Anthony said he was "coming home" when he was traded to the Knicks, even though he spent most of his childhood in Baltimore. (Some dopey writers even believed him.) But you didn't hear much more about Carmelo being "home" once he began playing with the Knicks, and now, he is thinking about leaving. LeBron, one senses, will never leave Northeast Ohio again. When he says it is his home, you believe him.
It's why his Miami-as-college analogy makes sense. Four years away, to figure out who you are. Then you come home. Think of it like an honors student going off to Harvard and then returning after he or she graduates to make their community better. (This is the last time I will ever use "Miami" and "Harvard" in an analogy, I promise.) What makes LeBron's letter in SI so great is that you truly believe him. He seems like he's figured it out. Last time he made this decision, the world hissed. Now, he is as likable and relatable as he has ever been. It seems right. He seems at peace.
And why wouldn't he be? This is his chance to be the savior he was always supposed to be. One title in Cleveland means more than two in Miami; it would mean more than five. LeBron James gets to save his hometown and raise his family there. He now has the power to do that in precisely the way he wants to. Who among us wouldn't do the same? Who wouldn't want to save everyone?
* * *