The stunned numbness is understandable. So are the first words Miami Heat owner Micky Arison expressed Friday upon hearing the news: “Shocked and disappointed.”
LeBron James leaving Miami in free agency and returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers is something that seemed only a remote possibility just a few weeks ago, but it was something that hardened to sudden reality Friday and sucker-punched Heat fans everywhere. Suddenly, Miami goes from being the epicenter of the NBA to being just another team scrambling to be relevant, striving to stay a contender.
That’s what LeBron James means: Everything. That is his impact: Impossible to overstate.
Now the Heat regime of Arison, president Pat Riley and coach Erik Spoelstra must do what they can to assure distraught fans their world isn’t crumbling, but questions just as a large confront Heat fans:
Are you angry? Do you begrudge LeBron leaving?
Shock and disappointment and hurt are the easy emotions, the understandable feelings.
Anger is more complicated.
“My relationship with northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball,” James said in explaining his decision. “I didn’t realize that four years ago.”
Miami fans should not begrudge LeBron leaving. He is going home. He had the right. And he does not leave the Heat as a failure by any stretch of imagination. He did what he was brought here to do, with two championships among four straight NBA Finals appearances. That is an unequivocal success.
James should be welcomed back and cheered hard and long when first he reappears in Miami in a Cavaliers uniform. “Thank you,” is what that ovation should convey.
The truth is, Riley and Miami did not do enough to keep him. Not spending to keep Mike Miller and then the wasted additions of Greg Oden and Michael Beasley were not moves conducive to making James want to stay. James saw an aging team begin to surround him.
Then again I doubt anything could have kept James if he was drawn by the pull of home, and of trying to make reparations for the hurt he caused greater Cleveland and his hometown of Akron in the summer of 2010.
It was very strange hearing the news Friday, as a I did, while at sea in the Caribbean, on vacation, on a cruise ship, floating past the Virgin Islands, I think. My wife and I were at lunch when one of our traveling party, a young man, a friend of our sons, tracked us down in a dining area.
As he shared the news he’d just heard on ESPN aboard the ship, his lips trembled a bit, as if he were revealing a love one had died.
“I’m heartbroke,” he said.
A sense of loss is a lot of what South Florida confronts now, with all of the emotions that can bring.
We had LeBron James four years. We wish we had more time.
Now we thank him for the memories, and we wish him well. This great loss can stun us and make us hurt, but it should not leave us angry.
It should leave us grateful for the time we had.
Greg Cote is a columnist for The Miami Herald.