The Sixth Man: James can't go home again
Philadelphia, PA – When LeBron James "took his talents to South Beach," he didn't burn his bridge out of Cleveland, he napalmed it.
So, any time the world's best basketball player is scheduled to return to the Forest City, it's a story.
Since time heals all wounds, LBJ's return to "The Q" on Friday probably would have generated a little less buzz than usual since so much of the acrimony between both sides has died down and Linsanity has taken over The Association for the time being.
Cleveland also has already lived through the Kubler-Ross Five Stages of Grief. They have been through the denial and the anger. They've bargained and gotten depressed. Now, with Kyrie Irving showing such promise, they have finally accepted the post-LeBron era.
Of course, that was all before James opened his mouth on Thursday after a Heat practice in Cleveland.
"I think it would be great, it would be fun to play in front of these fans again," James said of playing in Ohio again. "I had a lot of fun times here. You can't predict the future. Hopefully, you continue to stay healthy. I'm here as a Miami player and I'm happy where I am now, but I don't rule that out in any sense. If I decide to come back, hopefully the fans will accept me."
Whether James was playing mind games or just trying to defuse the Cavs fans' hate for a midseason game is up for interpretation, but teammate Dwyane Wade admitted the King's return to his original castle was an option.
"Anything is possible," D-Wade said. "Hopefully, I'm retired."
For what it's worth, James is under contract with the Heat for two more seasons with an option for two more. Meanwhile, Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert was not shy in ripping James after he left the organization.
Gilbert even penned an open letter to Cavs fans the night James announced his decision to leave Cleveland on what came across as narcissistic national television special, one that read almost like a jilted lover.
"I don't hold grudges, I hold them a little bit, but I don't hold them that long," James said when pressed if he could play for Gilbert again. "He said what he said out of anger. He probably would want to take that back, but I made a mistake, too. There's some things I'd want to take back as well. You learn from your mistakes and move on."
Has James' moved on?
He always seemed more comfortable in Cleveland. James has always been a superstar with the grating media attention that brings with it, but he also was an incredibly popular figure throughout the country before being cast as a villain for spurning the Cavs.
Buzz Bissinger, the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who once co-authored a book with James, jumped all over the superstar after his latest comments.
"LeBron cannot handle pressure of expectations by playing with Heat," Bissinger tweeted, "Realizes that. Should go to (expletive) New Orleans or Charlotte."
That's probably a little harsh since James is playing as well as he ever has and the Heat are 23-7, a game behind Chicago for the NBA's best record, and the favorites to win the NBA championship.
But it does look like LeBron is longing for his simpler days in Cleveland, where expectations were high but tempered by "small market" concerns.
"I'm back to how I was in Cleveland, having fun with the game, appreciating the game, loving the game and playing at a high level," James said. "I got away from that last year. It was a difficult year for me last year, making the whole transition, on and off the floor, going through everything I went through."
Longing is where James' thoughts should stop, though. Learn from Thomas Wolfe and understand you can't go home again, at least after you've disappointed so many.
"Cleveland doesn't want LeBron back," Bissinger wrote. "At the rate he is going, nobody will want him except the Harlem Globetrotters. He really is delusional."
There will be a time when James will be embraced and acknowledged for being the greatest player in Cavaliers history, but the page on that has already been turned.
The rest of LeBron's legacy will play out on the shores of Biscayne Bay whether he likes it or not.