By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and though the holiday is synonymous with NFL action, the NBA has graciously blessed all basketball fans with an anticipated match-up between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers the night before Turkey Day.
This game should be better known as the LeBron James Return 2.0, it marks the second time the NBA’s current King both on and off the court returns to his most devoted fans in Cleveland after leaving Northeast Ohio for a sunnier basketball climate. Now a Laker, James stands as a player who deserves celebrations and tributes league-wide when he decides to finally step away from the game.
I wouldn’t be mad if LeBron received that type of treatment everywhere he goes, even with retirement still years away, but no matter what the other 29 arenas do, non-stop applause and cheers from this point forward should be the norm every time James steps foot in Cleveland.
James has revolutionized basketball in various ways ever since being drafted by the Cavs No. 1 overall in 2003, he’s author many re-written stories and story lines that have had a deep impact on both the sports and social landscapes.
If nothing else, James deserves nothing but love from the Land for leading his hometown team to the NBA Finals within his first four years in the league, for leading that previously sullen franchise to any Finals at all is a worthy accomplishment, let alone the 50-year drought-killing world championship that he oversaw in 2016.
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James has maintained a rare kind of progression through 16 years in the pros, every year improving in some way statistically up to the highest ranks of the record books and lets certainly not forget the titles and championship round MVPs.
In 2010 he crushed his home region by leaving it to join close friend Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami, creating the first modern All-Star super-team in Miami through free agency. James risked scorn on a complete level and for a while, say in 2010 through ’11 when he was first making his rounds with the Heat, his love to hate ratio may have been at a clean 1:1 with NBA fans.
But it was clear to see that for most the deciding factor in hating on James or not had to do with whether he was wearing your jersey. It hurt many that he couldn’t wear their jersey, but it didn’t hurt anyone more than the people who had gotten used to seeing him in theirs.
A lot has changed since the tail end of ’10. Since first putting on the Miami Heat jersey, James has been to eight straight championship series, something that has not been done since Bill Russell.
Taking Cleveland to four of those Finals did so much to rectify his relationship to those people who feel most connected to him. Having the foresight to recognize that he’d need to finish business in Cleveland along with the bravery to own up to his past missteps, if not out and out mistakes, was a early sign of the transcendent way James would handle his persona in the second-half of his career.
The moves James has made both on and off the court since his 2014 return to Cleveland have established him as a generation-defining sports figure who has raised standards for competitive excellence and re-established what social credibility looks like in an active athlete.
As a basketball player, we cannot overlook the fact that James is still performing at a high level even at a time when most players are at least leveling off if not falling clear from their prime.
So far with the Lakers James is averaging 28 points, 7 assists, and 8 rebounds a game on 57 percent shooting from the field and 39% from 3pt range while playing roughly 35 minutes a game. Compared to most, if not all the greats in the NBA’s history, none have been as efficient as James has in a 16th year in the league. Not many of those greats even made it to a 16th year of play.
James has definitely redefined himself as not just a businessman, but a “business, man,” to echo the line first stated by his big brother Jay-Z. In James’ hands the player-given rights of free agency have been used with unprecedented unilateral will to win championships and formulate contenders, a concept that top players like Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and others are using to strengthen their NBA resumes and ultimately add titles to their collections while also using their brighter profiles to reign in top-notch money.
King James himself reigns as a top money maker in a plethora of businesses, including the owning of numerous franchises of Blaze Pizza, the establishment of SpringHill Entertainment, with whom he produces content for premium networks such as HBO and Showtime. James has also dipped his toe in movies but he looks to make a great splash with the upcoming Space Jam sequel.
Also, James’ UNINTERRUPTED network has deepened online audiences’ connection with him along with other athletes while becoming a vital platform that allows athletes to speak on social justice issues.
According to sports economic research by AEI’s Daniel Shoegand and Stan Veuger, James’s presence, across Cleveland or Miami, increased the number of restaurants and bars within one mile of his team’s arena by 13 percent, they found, and increased employment at those establishments by 23.5 percent.
This year, in time for his newest farewell to Northeast Ohio, came maybe James’ most substantial project yet — the founding of his “I Promise” school, which targets at-risk youth in Akron. A joint creation through the LeBron James Foundation and Akron Public Schools, the school’s amenities for students and families includes include free tuition, free uniforms, free bicycles and helmets, free transportation for those within two miles of the school, free breakfasts, lunch and snacks, a food pantry for families, GED’s and job placement services for parents and guaranteed tuition to the University of Akron for every student who graduates.
King James reign may not have been as all-encompassing for his constituents in Cleveland as they would have liked but even from his new Southern California home he continues to serve the community closest to him even as his worldview widens to the kind of vision only a certain few can hope to use as a template for great endeavors.
Tonight LeBron welcomes himself back to old friends in a new Lakers uniform. I hope Cleveland responds with the ultimate thanks he deserves, they have a lot to be thankful to him for.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media