The King and I, Part II: Electric Boogaloo

This is a little sidestep from the type of content I usually post, so at the risk of alienating my three regular readers, I’ll throw the disclaimer out there now: this is about professional basketball.

I used to have a more appropriate professional platform for rambling about sports, but now I don’t, so here we are. But hey, you might still enjoy it!

Four years ago, an extremely hungover me penned something of a think piece for my former employer about the sports story of 2010 that was on everyone’s lips: The Decision.

My second ever LeBron jersey, circa 2008. Dork.
My second ever LeBron jersey, circa 2008. Dork.

It’s here if you’d like to take a look – I’ll wait.

*whistles*

Soooo…how ’bout that weather?

All set? Cool. Anyway, if you didn’t read it, it was a 2,000-word missive about an Australian kid’s sporting preferences in the late 80s and early 90s, and how LeBron James helped attract me back to the NBA after a layoff in fandom.

In the aftermath of LeBron’s widely derided national TV special, announcing his infamously worded decision to “take his talents to South Beach,” I was torn. Obviously I didn’t have the deeply rooted loyalty to the team that Ohio did, but I’d spent a good four or five years absorbing every bit of Cavs basketball I possibly could. From that period of time, I also have one of my earliest memories of reading an article (language warning) by my now-favorite sports blogger guy, Drew Magary, who tore the King a new orifice in no uncertain terms.

To make matters worse, my best friend was a Heat fan who’d suffered through a couple of miserable seasons and felt he could now gloat about the dynasty of dominance that was sure to befall Miami. He urged me to just follow LeBron’s lead and bring my fandom to South Beach, but I just couldn’t bear to root for him in a Heat jersey. Not after the way he’d left Cleveland in tatters. And what the hell was I going to do with the two James jerseys I owned?

At the same time, I was fresh off a break-up of the romantic and altogether non-sporting variety (which explains the aforementioned hangover.) To combat this, I was in the process of planning a four-week trip to the U.S. to attend a wedding and with the hopes of catching some early-season basketball. I had originally been flirting with the idea of hopping to Cleveland for a night or two, if LeBron was sticking around, and seeing my favorite player live and in the flesh.

Even before the break-up, my American then-girlfriend and I had been halfheartedly talking about a vacation back to her home in New Hampshire for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. I’d mentioned a side trip to Cleveland to catch a Cavs game, and she told me in no uncertain terms that she’d “never go to Cleveland” and that I’d be going without her. That’s Celtics fans for you, I guess.

But now that LeBron was going to Miami, I had no interest in flying to Florida to do the same. Unfortunately (in a basketball sense, anyway) I was meeting up with two of my best friends (including the guy who was now the smuggest of Heat fans) in New York after the wedding, before heading for a few days in Vegas. The timing of the trip was poor in that my initial intention was to go and catch some hoops, but I’d booked a timeframe which would only overlap with the first 10 days or so of the new season.

As luck would have it, we were in Las Vegas for opening night, and we found an excessively expensive sports bar in which to watch LeBron’s Miami debut, an 88-80 loss to the Celtics that was well-received by me and the guy in the Boston jersey sitting at a table by ours. After watching my former favorite player in enemy colors, I knew I couldn’t support the Heat.

My own decision (not nationally televised, might I add) set me adrift in the NBA fandom world. I still had a soft spot for Cleveland: Anderson Varejao is so much fun to watch, and perennial favorites Daniel Gibson and J.J. Hickson were still in town. That could still be okay, right? But I knew it would be a painful year to follow, a reminder of strong seasons past. I decided I needed a fresh start and, with a trip to Rip City coming shortly after our week in Vegas, I figured the Trail Blazers might be my guys.

I had a rockin’ good time in the Rose Garden, watching Portland fall to Oklahoma City by 1 in overtime on a Thursday night before beating Toronto that Saturday evening, and decided the Blazers would be the team I’d follow that year. The Blazers got dumped in the first round of the playoffs that year by their bogey team the Mavericks. Well, at least I’d become used to non-Finals seasons…right?

And although I had fun watching the Blazers, and I adored Portland during the five days I visited, it never really stuck the way the Cavs did for four years.

So I was a basketball nomad. I continued to buy League Pass every year, but as the months ticked by, so did my usage of the $250 package. Luckily I worked in sports media and could use it as a tax break. With each renewed season, I’d renew my vows to pay more attention this year, and to pick a team to follow, but it consistently never happened. When I relocated to Denver last year, coinciding with the start of the 2013-14 season, I thought I’d give the Nuggets a whirl, and checked out a preseason game while I was in town. They were a fun team, but again they didn’t hook me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. As my lack of strong fandom continued, the new-look Heat set about making the Finals in their first season together, and I got to cover the series for Grandstand as Dallas extinguished the Heat in six games to finally earn that elusive ring for Dirk Nowitzki. I took a certain measure of bitter pleasure out of seeing the superteam that everyone had spent a year crowing about go down, and being able to write at length about it.

The following season, of course, the gamble paid off and Miami won its first of back-to-back titles since bringing LeBron, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade together. I arrived in the office after the series had ended, and one of my coworkers asked me how I felt about it. The anger and betrayal had died off, and I genuinely felt something resembling happiness that my favorite player had managed to do what he’d gone south to achieve. I still wouldn’t support the Heat though.

They repeated the feat in 2012, although my personal life was such a trainwreck that I had little to no interest in even watching it, let alone covering it for work. In case you missed it, they beat San Antonio, the team that had swept LeBron’s Cavaliers in the 2007 Finals, his only pre-Miami appearance in the championship round.

Of course, a year later, the Spurs exacted revenge with some incredible team basketball and denied Miami the first threepeat since the Lakers did it in the early 2000s. But if you thought the summer would go back to baseball talk, you were WRONG, SON. LeBron, Bosh and Wade all had player options to their contracts and elected to test the free agent waters. The initial thought was that they were opting out so they could renegotiate a new deal to stay together and make the Heat put better pieces around them for more title runs. But then the whispers started that LeBron might end up coming home.

Over the last four years there’s been plenty of speculation about it, some that LeBron himself has fueled, but it never really seemed like a realistic conclusion. But the Cavs had other ideas, and all those aggressive moves to clear room for The King’s massive salary whipped up a lot of excitement amongst fans.

And after 11 days of free agency, the announcement came via Sports Illustrated (look, kids, print journalism is still relevant!). I was at the gym when the multiple-retweets notification came from Twitter onto my phone, and I couldn’t help but stop my workout and look. And once I read the text of the 140-character tweet, I laughed out loud, happy as Larry.

Following that, the remaining 20 minutes of my workout took me 45 minutes to complete, because I couldn’t stay off Twitter. I was one of those assholes pausing for three minutes between sets to stare at his phone. But when I was actually lifting, some weird excited adrenaline pushed me harder than the mystery mix of chemicals in my pre-workout supplement did. LeBron’s a Cavalier again. Wow.

I’m well aware that there are so many people out there who didn’t turn their backs on Cleveland once the 2010-11 season started. I applaud them for being stronger than me. I’m more than accepting of any shit you might sling my way for “getting back on the bandwagon,” but as far as I’m concerned it was LeBron who lured me back to the NBA in my early 20s after a teenage hiatus, and it’s LeBron’s return to the Cavs that has me back on the hook now.

I’m excited about next NBA season in July for the first time in five years. I’m thinking of renewing my expensive-as-shit League Pass subscription now, in anticipation, because I know I’ll be using it more next season than I did in 2013-14. It’s payday, so I’ll probably end up drunkenly buying Cavs merchandise online after last call tonight.

The King said he’d matured and learned over the last four years. I think we all have. I can’t wait to be a full-time NBA fan again.

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