LeBron James only wants to be loved right? What makes him one of the most hated atheletes in history? Will Cleveland ever allow the King to return?

Once a week we like to kick back and put all the NCAA basketball odds and NBA betting aside while we have another cup of coffee, take our rightful place in our most comfortable recliner and contemplate the week that was.

LeBron, Cleveland and Kobe

LeBron JamesLeBron James never met a spotlight that shined bright enough, so while his Decision (the ESPN manufactured made for TV drama) to leave middle America for the syncopated rhythm that is South Beach may have turned off everyone except Heat fans, it ushered in the concept of the Super Team. Evidently LeBron and fellow All-Star Chris Bosh realized their contracts would be up at the same time and the ultimate pitchman Dwayne Wade had just the place for them to ply their trade. It amounted to three All-Stars reveling in the South Beach scene of scantily clad women basking in the hot Florida sunshine but only one basketball between them. Tongues were now wagging and suddenly it wasn’t only the old folks with asthma that wanted to beat the Heat

Yes, it is ancient history I know but it’s worth recalling in light of LeBron’s recent comments where he lamented the way he left Cleveland and pondered the prospects of his return. 

LeBron stated, “It would be fun to play in front of these fans again. I had a lot fun times in my seven years here. You can't predict the future, and hopefully I continue to stay healthy. I'm here as a Miami Heat player, and I'm happy where I am now, but I don't rule that out in no sense…And if I decide to come back, hopefully the fans will accept me."

LeBron just wants to be loved. He realizes the Cavaliers fans, who once genuflected every time their messiah touched the ball, feel duped, used and abused. And let’s not forget, LeBron James was not just some player plucked from the draft and imported to the playoff starved outpost of Cleveland. The kid grew up in Akron, less than 40 miles from Cleveland and he didn’t have to immerse himself in the culture, he was part of it! It may be one thing to walk away from a team at the end of your contract but LeBron, in the minds of Cavs fans everywhere, was turning his back on his own community, the very roots of his foundation.

Even the twenty something LeBron knew his departure would not sit well with the fans of Cleveland but the bright lights and salsa music of Miami were calling. It was also an opportunity to play general manager and build a championship team by aligning with two of the most feared players in the game in Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh. The Cleveland fans would eventually understand and though his status as a national treasure would be tarnished it would not be ruined in his hometown. Think again son. 

In retrospect, I find it difficult to believe LeBron would have made his decision to leave Cleveland a primetime event if he were to do it all over again. It was brash, cocky and even arrogant…precisely the same qualities that have propelled him to such lofty heights. No, the experience has left LeBron with some unanticipated scars. His trot from the locker room at the Quicken Loans Arena on to the hardcourt used to elicit a chorus of cheers and unbridled hero worship from the masses who flocked to see their king. 

But now when he returns it is not as a conquering hero but as a traitorous member of the visiting team. The choir of angels singing his praises from the rafters has turned into a cacophony of jeers, boos and outright disappointment. And it’s the latter that plagues LeBron more than anything else, disappointment. He can deal with being a villain. He plays that role no matter where he goes because his God given ability renders even the most confident and strident opposition a bit envious. Everyone wants to see King James fall on his royal scepter, it goes with the territory. But disappointment is a different emotion entirely. He let an entire community down. His community. Last week’s comment about him someday returning to Cleveland was just his way of trying to repair the damage that has already been done. 

LeBron James adores the flash and sizzle of Miami but he wistfully recalls the days when he was the only game in a small town. In Cleveland he was the messiah but now in Miami, he is simply part of a phenomenally talented trinity. American novelist Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You can’t go home again.” LeBron James may have just found that out.

LeBron versus Kobe

Perhaps we will never be able to truly compare both athletes in their prime. LeBron is now 27 years old and reaching the peak of his vast potential while Kobe Bryant is still a force to be reckoned with at 33 but athletes don’t get better entering their mid-thirties. Nevertheless, Kobe Bryant is still a silky smooth assassin who can drain the rock from anywhere on the court despite being blanketed like a newborn on a chilly January morning. While it’s true Kobe may take more shots than your local NRA chapter, he’s a natural born killer when he gets in a groove. 

LeBron on the other hand is a steely, sinewy explosion of combustible locomotion that often makes me wonder, where is his cape? There is no doubt he is the Alpha male in a land of Alpha males. But for all his unparalleled athleticism and all the hardware on his mantle, he is without the one adornment that separates Kobe from all the rest…championship rings. Kobe’s got them and LeBron doesn’t

This past week Boston Celtics legend Larry Bird was asked about the preeminent player in the NBA and he declared that LeBron’s foot fit that glass slipper. But just as the Fourth Estate nodded their heads and put their pens to paper, someone asked Bird whom he would most like to play with and a mildly surprising answer was given.

LeBron James"Well, probably Kobe, because of the fact that ... well, of course he wouldn't have been shooting as much as he does now ... but his desire to win, his dedication, to always get better, uh, and he's just, he's just tough," Bird said. "He's just a tough cat.

"But, if you want to have fun, like I did with Bill Walton, play with LeBron. It would have probably been more fun to play with LeBron, but if you want to win and win and win, it's Kobe. Not that LeBron's not a winner, just that [Kobe's] mindset is to go into every practice, every game, to get better."

In Larry’s mind, the game has always been about winning. There is no doubt that Kobe Bryant has proven that he is, above all else, a winner. He’s got five championship rings to prove it. LeBron is amassing all the individual awards that are already displayed on Kobe’s mantle but the most important piece of jewelry has eluded him. 

Until such time when he stands at center court, holding the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy aloft, he will be relegated to second class status in the pantheon of NBA legends. Imagine if Jim Kelly had won four Super Bowls in the 90’s with Buffalo instead of losing all of them. He would forever be mentioned in the same rarified air as Montana, Unitas, Bradshaw and all the other great quarterbacks with multiple rings on their fingers. But alas, without a ring to his name, Jim Kelly will forevermore be an also-ran. Will LeBron suffer the same fate? Only time will tell.