The further education of LeBron James

Reading LeBron James’ statement on SportsIllustrated.com announcing his decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, I was struck by the maturity of thoughtfulness and maturity of the guy who once upon a time announced “I’ll be taking my talents to South Beach.”

Clocking in at just a shade under 950 words, it’s hard not to be swayed by James’ reasons for coming home to Ohio. Now 29-years-old, James goes to great lengths to thank the guys he played and played for with the Heat, sympathizes with what Dan Gilbert and angry Cleveland fans went through, highlights the fact that he’s not chasing titles, but the opportunity to teach young guys like Kyrie Irving, and underlines his hope that by returning to where he started, he can possibly inspire others to do the same.

There’s one line in his essay that struck a chord with me, that really helped me understand what was going through his head. James said that his time with the Heat “has been almost like college for other kids.” James didn’t go to college, didn’t get recruited, didn’t have to learn to play in a system under a taskmaster coach, and didn’t get to bond with guys his age.

For James, his four years at Miami was an education. He got recruited by Pat Riley, had to grow his game under Erik Spoelstra, all while playing alongside his contemporaries, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And the subsequent opting out and getting pitches from other teams was like job-hunting.

Could he have gone for the bright lights and endorsement deals of an LA? Sure.

Could he have opted for the new super team and low taxes of Houston? Sure.

Could he have stayed in party city Miami with his friends? Sure.

Instead, James opted to go home to Cleveland. He writes, “My presence can make a difference in Miami, but I think it can mean more where I’m from. I want kids in Northeast Ohio, like the hundreds of Akron third-graders I sponsor through my foundation, to realize that there’s no better place to grow up. Maybe some of them will come home after college and start a family or open a business. That would make me smile. Our community, which has struggled so much, needs all the talent it can get.”

There’s no guarantee that James, with Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett, Anderson Varejao, Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters will ever win a title. The Chicago Bulls or the New York Knicks might still land Carmelo Anthony. The Washington Wizards or the Indiana Pacers could take a big leap forward. Wade and Bosh and the Heat could come back to haunt him. Yet, James recognizes that “My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball.”

It took him four years with the Heat, an education away from home, for him to realize that. And now, he’s coming back.