For LeBron James, "Home" is Where the Heartbreak is

By now you've heard the news: LeBron James took his talents to South Beach.

Not to "The Big Apple". Not to "The Windy City". And he certainly didn't decide to keep them at "The North Coast"

Nope, James is a member of the Miami Heat now - right or wrong.

For whatever reasons, LeBron James and Cleveland didn't work out. He wanted to be with his friends. He wanted to have more fun. He couldn't hold the weight of the city on his shoulders. Maybe, he thought this was his best chance to win.

Unlike a lot of Clevelanders who have grown to become a part of the city, James found a way to stay apart. You'd hear it from time to time - "He's from Akron, not Cleveland".

But can you blame Cleveland for grabbing hold and clinging on so tightly to their King? For a city that's had more than it's fair share of hardships and disappointments over the years, LeBron represented something that many of them had lost: Hope. They did more than love him; they lived through him.

Yes, through LeBron James all of Cleveland would succeed. It would flourish. It would be ok to say, "Yes, I'm from Cleveland," and not have to worry about the sarcastic response that would follow. It was something we were all going to witness.

"He meant everything to that city," Shaquille O'Neal told CelticsBlog.com. "He was the prodigal son. He came from there, put them on the map ... then he just left. So, you know, jobs went with him, ticket sales went with him, TV games went with him. That's a lot of money that went with him."

Maybe that's what the problem was: Cleveland was too dependent on LeBron, and not vice versa. A marriage like that couldn't last. Cleveland was the wallflower, and LeBron was the Prom King. That stuff only works in fairytales, and like so many other stories based out of Cleveland, there was no fairytale ending.

In fact, it turned into a nightmare. LeBron broke up with Cleveland. He did it on national television to boot - nothing like adding salt to a wound that would already take years to heal. Again, Cleveland was the butt of a joke.

"I believe that they found criticism in how he made the decision, but just the decision itself was going to be painful for them anyway," Ray Allen said. "If he decided not to come back and he did it the way they thought was proper, the way anybody thought was the right way and classy, they still would have been upset."

It's true. As poor in taste as it was to do it on ESPN, LeBron's departure from Cleveland would still taste just as bitter regardless of how the word came out.

"He could have done it better, but they still weren't going to be happy," Doc Rivers said. "And you know what? I would understand that too.  I mean you would be so disappointed. He was only the franchise, and that's tough.

"In Orlando, the way Shaq left; Shaq did it better, he did it the right way. They boo him every time he comes to town. So, it's just a tough one."

O'Neal claims that he takes booing as a sign of respect, but James would be foolish to take it that way tonight. He's earned respect for all that he's done for the franchise over the years, but at the same time, he's earned the lack of respect for leaving it too.

"You got to know what the fans gave him too, you know?" Kendrick Perkins said. "Loyalty works both ways."

Still, it was ultimately his decision. It's his life. Was he wrong to leave Cleveland? Did he owe them something more than any other athlete had owed a team before leaving for greener pastures?

Unfortunately, it was a business decision. Any fan who hears the term usually doesn't like the move affiliated with it. This time, though, it was the player who made the decision, not the team.

"I think he had the right to [leave]," Rivers went on to say. "I think he played by the rules. He did nothing wrong. He played his contract out. He did everything he could for that team. Then he made a decision to leave.

"Just like teams make a decision to cut guys and trade guys, players have the right to leave and go other places when they're free agents. The system is set up for him to do what he did and we can't get mad at him for that."

Ray Allen knows what it's like to be traded. One of the purest shooters in the game has been traded twice in his career. As a free agent over the offseason, he chose to resign with the Celtics. He certainly understands the business side of basketball, and also doesn't fault James for leaving, even though he realizes the fans do.

"Just having come from [Cleveland Tuesday], it seems like people are really ready to boo and let him have it because they're disappointed in him. But I can't really say it's justified. Because however he made the decision, whether it was in poor taste or in good taste, however you want to look at it, the decision was his to make and he made the best for his situation that only he could make. None of us have a right to criticize that. He gave them a great seven years, and that was it."

Allen mentioned the atmosphere surrounding the arena on game days when the Celtics came to town to play James and the Cavs. There was a certain sense of excitement then.

"With him being there, it's an economy changer," Allen said. "If you lose 3,000 people a night, that's traffic downtown, restaurants, everything so you definitely feel it, and the other night there was nobody there after the game."

That won't be the case tonight. Downtown Cleveland will be bustling, but you won't see many jerseys with the name "James" written across the back. There has never been more anticipation for a player's return than this, and according to Allen, it will hit James upon arrival.

"Once you get there, it kind of slaps you in the face and tells you like, ‘Look, you have to recognize this feeling, this atmosphere, because it's real.'" Allen said. "'You have to pay homage to this situation because this used to be your home.'"

It was James' home, even though he didn't accept it much for that. He gave the Cavs seven great years of his career and then moved onto bigger and better things. There will be no video tribute. There will be no loud applause upon his name being announced. There will be no smiles.

In stating what he thought Clevelanders should do tonight, Rivers may have unintentionally given the reason why they can't.

"There should be a standing ovation, and say, ‘Thank you for the seven years,' but I have a feeling it won't be that. [They should] think about the seven years before him."

Perhaps they are.

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