LeBron James will return to Cleveland on Wednesday night for his first matchup against the Cavaliers as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
In a report from Joe Vardon and the Athletic that surfaced today, James reminisced on the end of his era in Cleveland. James recalled the day Kyrie Irving was traded to the Boston Celtics and how that was the beginning of the end.
Per The Athletic’s Joe Vardon:
Vardon and James confirmed everything that Cavs fans had already assumed. The forced exodus of Irving eventually pushed James to Los Angeles. Remember, Irving had threatened knee surgery if he was not traded. It was rather unlikely that James and Irving would be able to patch up a relationship that once consisted of intricate handshakes and mutual 41-point NBA Final performances.
Things quickly went south when James felt as if he was lied to by Cavs ownership.
When the Cavaliers did the unthinkable in 2016 and took down the 73-9 Golden State Warriors, James signed his longest contract in his tenure with the Cavaliers. A two-year deal with a third-year player option.
When James inked this three-year deal in the summer of 2016, it was going against what he normally does with Dan Gilbert which was strictly one-year deals to keep control and leverage over the roster.
With James now controlled for at least two years, Gilbert refused to bring back GM David Griffin, a move that James was not supportive of. However, James was contractually obligated to staying in Cleveland.
But not for long.
LeBron’s last year in Cleveland could be described as excruciatingly dramatic. The Cavaliers acquired injured guard Isaiah Thomas with Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic from Boston as well as the Brooklyn Nets draft pick.
Midseason, Thomas, who was a disaster both on the court and in the locker room, and Crowder would be flipped with Iman Shumpert and Channing Frye. Those four would turn into George Hill, Rodney Hood, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr.
James was likely dissatisfied with the trades that took place that entire season in the absence of Griffin as the conductor of the organization.
Despite the inadequate supporting cast, James nearly singlehandedly dragged the Cavs to their fourth straight NBA Finals to face the Warriors yet again. On the journey to get back there, James would hit two incredible game-winning shots at the buzzer and record his best statistical postseason throughout his then 15-year career.
The 2018 matchup with the Warriors was different as they still possessed Kevin Durant, who jumped ship on the Fourth of July in 2016 and the Cavaliers were without Irving for the first time in the rivalry.
Game 1 of the 2018 Finals was an overtime thriller where James tallied 48 minutes. In those 48 minutes, he popped off for 51 points just to be overshadowed by JR Smith, who forgot the score of the game in the final seconds. The Cavaliers would go onto be swept and the Warriors would win back to back championships.
After a vacation in the Caribbean with his family, and a lack of talent surrounding the Cavs, James made the decision to head west and join the Los Angeles Lakers where he would join fresh, young talent and work closely with SpringHill Entertainment, his most prized investment.
Without James, the 2016 Championship Parade would have never occurred in the city of Cleveland. 1.3 million people flooded the streets on a sweltering, humid day that reached temperatures over 84 degrees. Despite the scorching temperature outside, Cleveland sports fans were overcome with happiness because James, one of their own, had fulfilled his promise and heroically ended the 52-year drought.
Things were never supposed to end this way. Four years ago, when LeBron had his illustrious return to Cleveland, nobody thought the self-proclaimed “King” would leave the city in the dust again. But here we are, on much different terms.
James is coming off a spectacular 51-point win in Miami versus the Heat on Sunday night. Just days before, he passed Laker legend Wilt Chamberlin to become the No. 5 leading scorer in NBA history. According to Vardon, Arnold Schwarzenegger was there, as was Adam Sandler and Cindy Crawford, Floyd Mayweather and Terrence Nest, who will direct “Space Jam 2” starring James.
A typical night in Los Angeles.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers are a resounding 2-12 and possess the worst record in the NBA.
The Cavaliers are focused on Duke basketball, with names such as Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett highlighted on their radar.
James and the Lakers will face the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena, which (like the team inside of it) is ironically under construction, on Wednesday night at 8 p.m.
Nick Pedone can be reached on his Twitter @NickPedone12 with questions or comments. Photo: USAToday