There’s a scene in the movie “Tootsie” that comes to mind.
The soap opera producer, searching for the perfect adjustment, asks the cameraman, “I’d like to make her look a little more attractive, how far can you pull back?”
Cameraman: “How do you feel about Cleveland?”
Producer: “Knock it off.”
LeBron James was pulled back to Cleveland on Friday, ending what wasn’t so much a soap opera as a dizzying frenzy of media speculation, with the jilted city’s self-esteem hanging in the balance.
For some of those not nearly so invested, LeBron fatigue was inevitable, and it was with great relief that he finally handed in The Essay early in the afternoon.
In Miami, Heat fans rolled over on their beachtowels.
I’m in favor of LeBron taking his talents back to Northeast Ohio for a variety of reasons, but am reminded of how slickly these moves are orchestrated these days and how easily genuine earnestness can be obscured by the professional craftwork that shapes public perception.
After LeBron’s 2010 “The Decision,” a TV special that has its own Wikipedia entry, this could’ve been “The Incision,” ripping out the hearts of the Cavaliers fans who burned LeBron’s jersey, but had hoped to see him return.
Instead, we got The Essay by LeBron James as told to Lee Jenkins of Sports Illustrated (stick that in your First Take, ESPN).
Bronny B-Ball comes across as humble, mature and magnanimous, but the overriding theme is his abiding affection for his hometown (Akron, actually).
Rust Belt cities like Cleveland and Akron need all the help they can get these days, and LeBron coming back to spread some good fortune speaks to responsibility.
“I feel my calling here goes above basketball,” The Essayist says. “I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.”
LeBron in Cleveland certainly makes the NBA more interesting than if he had just stayed on the Death Star and sharpened his light saber or whatever they do to light sabers. It’s safe to root for LeBron again.
There’s still the little problem of legacy-building that underscores LeBron’s career arc, and I don’t mean winning championships so much as craving desperately to be liked, a stark contrast to his predecessor in the Greatest of All Time department, Michael Jordan.
Maybe this doesn’t have to be a problem, at all, but if I was picking a stone-cold assassin to win me a game, I take Jordan.
LeBron promises that there will be no press conferences or parties this time, just going about the work of making the Cavaliers a team the people of Cleveland can be proud of.
Still, The Essay is crafted to a professional gleam, trumpeting all the right notes: reconciliation with owner Dan Gilbert, denying that he didn’t get along with Pat Riley and Erik Spoelstra and a reference to the foundation for third-graders that he sponsors, conveniently slipped in at the end.
Perhaps this was unavoidable by virtue of the forum chosen, but The Essay also smells of narcissism. I counted 105 first-person singular references.
Slick message or not, I like this rebooted version of the LeBron franchise way more than “The Decision” version.
There’s a sense of maturity and noble intentions that should be applauded.
“I see myself as a mentor now,” he says, and “Who am I to hold a grudge?”
Apparently Cavaliers fans feel the same way, and I don’t blame them.