LeBron James stands in the brightest spotlight of anyone in professional sport.
That spotlight has followed him since he was in high school, intensified throughout his career and burned white hot when the best player on the planet decided to switch teams.
But returning home to Cleveland ahead of the new season has placed another level of pressure on James’ shoulders, one that won’t disappear until a championship banner is raised. He’s done it twice before in Miami, but the journey to accomplish this mission will be a more challenging one.
Yet, for James, there was more than just basketball influencing his decision to don a Cavaliers jersey again. While his move to Miami in 2010 was based on his best opportunity to win titles, James’ priorities have changed this time around. Family and community come first. Basketball is second.
Don’t think for a second though that James’ competitive fire has been extinguished. Just one look at the bolstered Cavaliers roster and their offseason moves following James’ arrival, speaks volumes about the four-time MVP’s desire to continue winning championships.
Now, James is flanked by two young stars whose stats can’t be questioned, but have plenty to prove in terms of winning.
Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love might share common talent with James’ past team-mates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but the relationships will undoubtedly be different. James isn’t joining a team with his best friends. He’s going to a team full of young players in need of mentor – a role James is embracing.
He’s older but wiser, weathered but experienced, and heads into the second half of his career in familiar surroundings.
James spoke to Sport360° before the start of the new season about his return home, a notable drop in weight over the summer and the league’s new television deal.
How much of the decision to return to Cleveland was just to come back home and how much of it was joining a team that was in position to improve and challenge?
You have to understand that the decision to return to Cleveland is more than a basketball decision.
I am going back to the street where I played basketball as a kid when nobody knew my name, where I grew up, where I was raised, I am returning home. Of course I believe in this team and I believe we can achieve some big things together, but it was always my wish to finish my career at home.
Do you wish you could have done anything differently during your time in Miami?
There are some parts of the decision that I regret, but I don’t regret joining Miami at all. My main objective was to go there and win a championship and I ended up with two.
I have built some lifelong friendships with guys like Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. What we achieved will live with me forever, and Miami will always be a place I consider a home away from home.
Besides the obvious goal of bringing a championship to Cleveland, what do you want to accomplish in your second
spell that you couldn’t the first time?
I am coming back to Cleveland not just a different player, but a different person. I have two Championships now, and I know what you need to build to get to that place.
I do have a role of a mentor now – that is something I will be taking seriously.
We have a talented team but a young team at Cleveland – it’s a duty of mine to mentor these guys. I can’t promise a Championship, but I can promise I will do all I can to try and get one.
What was your thinking behind shedding weight this offseason and how much do you feel it will benefit you?
I always set myself a food goal, and over the summer I decided to stop eating candy for two months. It then became a big thing in the media that I was trying to lose weight.
The truth is it was not basketball reasons at all – it was just a personal challenge. The weight loss has made me a little faster, so I guess all in all it’s a good thing.
You’ve played more games than anyone the past few years. How concerned are you that the wear and tear will catch up to you? How much did that factor into the decision of joining a younger team more capable of giving you some rest?
I am not coming to not play games. I made my thoughts clear on my belief the season should be shortened, but I feel in good shape.
I am a big believer in yoga which can help with things as common as cramps, but I also believe it can help prevent bigger injuries.
From a basketball standpoint, in what ways will sharing the court with Irving and Love be similar to how you shared the court with Wade and Bosh? How will it be different?
You can’t compare relationships. Like I said what I achieved with Dwyane and Chris will be with us forever, they became brothers to me. Now though I am the senior player in the team, so it’s a new role for me.
How positive is the league’s new TV deal in keeping the NBA healthy? Is the thought of another lockout possibly looming in the back of players’ minds?
It is a big deal for our league, and moving forward I think it is important that everybody is educated on what it means. I give a lot of respect to David Stern – he was integral in building the brand – and to make a television deal like that says a lot about the intelligence, ambition, and vision of the man.
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