LeBron James’ return to the Cleveland Cavaliers has received near-consensus support. The only group showering James with more praise than fans for his decision are his playing peers in the NBA, a trend that continued recently when Los Angeles Clippers superstar Blake Griffin offered his take on The King’s free agency choice. Explaining why he’s so impressed by James going back home, Griffin notes Clevelanders’ extremely hateful reaction to LeBron’s initial departure from the Cavs in 2010.
In a wide-ranging, extremely insightful interview with Zach Baron of GQ, Griffin says that James “was Osama bin Laden” to Cavaliers fans after leaving his hometown team in free agency for the Miami Heat four years ago.
GQ: As a fan, what did you think of LeBron returning to Cleveland?
Griffin: I think it’s great. The way he did it—the way he released that statement or article, whatever you want to call it—I think it shows a lot about him. And to be honest, it shows that he’s a much bigger person than I think people gave him credit for. Because that’s a tough thing to forgive. I mean, this man’s family’s lives were threatened. People constantly yelling at him. And not just Cleveland fans—from all over the world, everywhere he went, he got booed. The Cleveland fans burned this man’s jersey in the street. He was Osama bin Laden. He got so much hate for choosing to go. And I get it. It was about the way he went about it. But that would have been tough, to just really be like, “Okay, you know what, I’m gonna come back home. I’m forgiving them. If you guys forgive me, I’m forgiving you.” I think that takes a lot.
Griffin was obviously exaggerating for effect in casual conversation by comparing James to the executed al-Qaeda founder. Despite the outsized vitriol of Cavs fans in the immediate and ongoing wake of LeBron’s first decision, their hate certainly didn’t compare to that which Americans had and still have for bin Laden. Griffin knows that.
And while the headline is incendiary, it’s Griffin’s overarching sentiment on James’ return that is most important here. What’s easily lost now amid the Hollywood narrative of LeBron signing with Cleveland this summer are the demons he had to exercise by doing so. “Making things right” and “going home” speak to that inevitable necessity, but still bely the emotional fortitude it took for James to forgive the hordes of Ohioans who – rightly or wrongly – turned on him with such fervor.
LeBron was broadly lauded for the self-aware nature of his Sports Illustrated letter, and the following excerpt exhibits the attitude which Griffin still so appreciates:
It was easy to say, “OK, I don’t want to deal with these people ever again.” But then you think about the other side. What if I were a kid who looked up to an athlete, and that athlete made me want to do better in my own life, and then he left? How would I react? I’ve met with Dan, face-to-face, man-to-man. We’ve talked it out. Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mistakes as well. Who am I to hold a grudge?
With Kevin Love and a group of solid, veteran free agents suddenly in tow, the Cavs’ immediate future is brighter than when James first announced his intentions. And due to the almost unmatched strength of the Cleveland roster, it’s easy to believe that LeBron simply made the right basketball choice by signing with the Cavaliers.
But that ignores so much critical context that was at the forefront of rampant speculation leading up to July 11. James’ return is bigger than basketball, and even bigger than the place in his heart his hometown will always occupy. Griffin still understands that, and it’s best to we strive to remember it, too.
What do you think?
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