As LeBron James once again destroyed the hopes of the Cleveland Cavaliers and their fans by defiantly leading an incredible charge back from a 27-point deficit on March 19, it certainly seemed like there was real resentment between James and his former city.
But as convenient as it would be to shoehorn a "LeBron hates Cleveland" narrative into the story of the Miami Heat's 24th straight win, the truth is that James doesn't really resent the city in which he used to play.
Don't be mistaken; James has every right to harbor ill will toward Cleveland, the Cavaliers, owner Dan Gilbert and the many fans that boo his every move whenever he and the Heat take the floor at Quicken Loans Arena.
James gave Cleveland everything he could in the early stages of his career. As a young player, he was asked to shoulder a massive load with virtually no capable help.
As the years rolled by and the Cavs stayed relevant because of James and in spite of the front office's consistent failure to surround its star with talent, it's easy to understand why he started to entertain thoughts of leaving.
Billy Corben @BillyCorben
Looking forward to LeBron's new book, 'How To Be A Winner.' Chapter 1: 'Leave Cleveland.'3/21/2013, 2:25:07 AM
When the King abdicated his Cleveland throne, taking his talents to South Beach in a regrettably public display, the way he made the Decision overshadowed the very real logic behind it: James wanted to win, and Cleveland hadn't demonstrated that such a thing was possible on the banks of Lake Erie.
For leaving a bad situation after doing everything humanly possible to fix it, James is now a pariah. So if LBJ did hate Cleveland for the way it has treated him since his departure, it'd be hard to blame him.
But when James stood at center court after Byron Scott called a timeout too late to stop the surging Heat's comeback, his menacing scowl didn't have any hate in it; it was just one of the league's most competitive players in a fugue state, seeing red in the heat of battle.
If James really resented Cleveland, he might have handled the bizarre episode of a fan running onto the court a little differently. Instead of recoiling, James patted the guy on the head and stayed cool before arena security intervened.
According to NBC Miami, James said after the game: "He said he missed me and come back, please...I wasn't worried. There are metal detectors here, so we were OK. I embraced it."
For the foreseeable future, No. 6 will also have to embrace a few boos whenever he returns to Cleveland, but there's just not any substance behind the idea that he dislikes his former team. If he was motivated by the very obvious hate coming toward him from the stands, that's one thing.
But saying that his performance or his mannerisms meant the feeling was mutual is a bridge too far.
With the ability to relocate again in 2014, James might yet return to Cleveland. If that happened, you can bet that the same fans that are booing him now would suddenly change their tunes.
For now, though, James is content to focus on his current team and their pursuit of a championship—which is something he probably wouldn't be doing if he were still in Cleveland. James doesn't hate Cleveland or the Cavs; instead, he probably pities them.
Which is actually much, much worse.
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