In My Opinion

David J. Neal: LeBron’s decision, like sports in general, takes us back to our youth

 <span class="cutline_leadin">A king’s welcome: </span>Billboards light up signaling the return of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers after a four-year "detour."
A king’s welcome: Billboards light up signaling the return of LeBron James to the Cleveland Cavaliers after a four-year "detour."
David Liam Kyle / NBAE/Getty Images

“You see us as you want to see us. In the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions... That’s how we saw each other at seven o’clock this morning. We were brainwashed.”

The Breakfast Club, 1985

Is part of adults’ attraction of sports that it allows the reversion to a high school mindset that real life doesn’t allow? A time when passionate certainty accompanies opinions on parenting, teachers, music, fashion, friends, music. So much of life seems black or white. The grays of adulthood have yet to enter our heads.

The dominant noise since LeBron James decided he’d rather be an Ohio player again than a man of the Heatles brought that comparison to mind. So much is in broad strokes — good-bad, us-them — that doesn’t acknowledge maybe everybody just did what they felt worked best for their situation.

The nuzzles given James nationally for trucking back to his native land smack of misplaced sentimentality, hoi polloi heroism and some condescension — yes, good boy, back in the school district where you were raised instead of hanging around with the rich folk at that high falutin’ private school.

Again, it’s the simple, convenient terms. Cleveland: blue collar, knows snow tires, good. All Heat fans: the late-arriving lower bowl rich guy with a companion wearing too much sun, jewelry or plastic surgery. South Florida: South Beach. Please.

South Florida-based Heat fans who harrumph “They burned your jersey! The owner insulted your character! We defended you!” need to get over it. Insults get squashed for the sake of the bottom line in sports and entertainment all the time. See “Steinbrenner-Billy Martin.” Or “Don King and Bob Arum.”

I wonder how many Heat fans of a certain age understand LeBron’s forgiveness of Cavaliers owner Gilbert and the jersey burners. When I first moved to South Florida, I was shocked to hear how many parents, particularly in the Cuban-American community, engaged in emotional or financial warfare to keep their kids nearby. Friends told me of parents who stopped speaking to them for moving out or disowned them for going to college north of the Broward-Palm Beach line.

Those friends eventually forgave appallingly selfish parental behavior. What they got past was, to this parent, much worse than temperamental verbal spittle from a former boss.

But anyone tagging James as All Good Guy is being just as one-dimensional. James’ explanation in Sports Illustrated didn’t thank Heat fans. I’m not sure it’s owed, but it would’ve been nice for all those who bought jerseys, tickets, did biography reports on James for third-grade classes.

Nor did James’ open letter bring up the rosters. In fact, he made a point of saying the Heat’s roster didn’t come into play at all. That seems a bit hard to believe for a guy with his basketball sense.

The Heat are aging. They’ve rarely have drafted well. In the two championship seasons, a common first quarter might see James take four shots, dish out three assists, collect only four or five points as he got everyone else in the rhythm of the game. That wasn’t possible this year.

Meanwhile, Cleveland’s best players remain in their NBA youth. Great as James is, he’s heading into NBA season No. 12 with four consecutive Finals trips in his recent past. Throw in his Olympic participation and his prime minute-munching days might be ending sooner than we all think.

There’s also the whole “When did he really know? When did he let the Heat/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh know?” question.

Speaking of Wade, the sighs of “You’re the good one” don’t acknowledge all the realities of his situation.

Wade opting out of his lucrative contract to give the Heat more flexibility to operate in free agency easily slots as an act of sacrifice. He surely knew that his injury history and age preclude that kind of money coming from another team.

But the gray area says you can’t have it both ways. His re-signing with the Heat just as easily slots as an act of smart self-interest. Who else would pay him for the past, nurse him through the present and find a paid place for him in the long-term future? A re-signing hailed as an act of Wade’s loyalty can also be viewed as Wade acknowledging the Heat’s loyalty to him. If it is, the franchise earned that. Read the Heat staff directory and you read the franchise’s history.

They made big decisions. Many people do it every day. These guys — James, Wade, Bosh — do it in front of a world that wants them to care about what we care about, and care how we want them to care about it.

Sort of like high school peers instead of the multi-faceted grown folks they are.

Read more David J. Neal stories from the Miami Herald

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