Four years—the length of LeBron James’s absence from the Cleveland Cavaliers, give or take a day—is a long time. It’s the duration of a presidential term, or a non-Van Wilder trip to college. And judging by the choices James made during his 2010 and 2014 free-agent experiences, it was enough time for basketball’s best player to grow up off the court.
James’s first-person essay on Sports Illustrated’s website, announcing that he will return to the Cavs, feels in many ways like the antithesis of his notorious announcement in July 2010. The Decision, the ESPN on-air spectacle during which he said he would join the Miami Heat, was almost universally viewed as a catastrophe even as it was happening. He spent 45 minutes of live TV before answering the simplest of questions (“Where are you playing next season?), and his representatives informed Cleveland management of the NBA star’s choice with a brusque phone call five minutes before the broadcast.
It was tacky. Tone-deaf. Immature. Like a self-centered bro breaking up with his longtime girlfriend over the phone from a bar with his friends yelling “let’s do shots to FREEDOM!” in the background. And it understandably led to a vicious backlash from Cleveland fans, who burned his jersey in the streets and wrote screeds like Scott Raab’s The Whore of Akron. Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert responded to The Decision with his infamous Comic Sans rant, in which he called James a coward and mocked his “Chosen One” nickname. Overall, it was viewed as an indictment of James’s character and integrity, especially after his gaudy introduction to the Heat with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh a few days later.