But winning can happen in Cleveland, and yes, that matters, too. As he starts his 12th NBA season, we're willing to believe LeBron when he says nothing matters more. What small portion of his legacy that remains malleable will be shaped not by points scored or MVP trophies shelved; for LeBron, truly, there is nothing left now but to hang a banner—just one banner would do so much—from the rafters at Quicken Loans.
"People in Northeast Ohio need something to be happy about," Romeo Travis says. "He can run for mayor of Cleveland if they win the Championship. Hell, he can be governor."
He's on record admitting he might have stayed in Miami had they managed to beat the Spurs last June, a task that looked feasible when the 2014 Finals began but seems almost laughable in retrospect. The Heat, it's now clear, had peaked a year prior; LeBron could stay, hope to will Miami into reaching the heights of 2012-13, or he could move on. For the aforementioned basketball reasons, the Cavs' Draft lottery luck helped make his homecoming a much more pragmatic possibility. By the time training camp opened, one of the League's historically least-desirable player destinations had drawn the game's best player, arguably its best power forward and a collection of veteran role players with a trunk-full of NBA championship rings.
If you were in Northeast Ohio on media day, or probably any day since, you heard it on the local sports talk shows: confidence. Swagger, even, a very un-Cleveland-like emotion among opining fans, laughing in the face of decades of sporting disappointment as they wonder aloud how, possibly, these LeBron-led Cleveland Cavaliers can possibly be stopped.
On media day, and not for the last time, LeBron had a message to these new-swag-havers: Chill.
"Everyone wants to see the end result, and they don't quite understand what goes on from the start to the finish," LeBron said. "We can't try to play November and get to June or May right now."
"People in Northeast Ohio need something to be happy about. He can run for mayor of Cleveland if they win the Championship. Hell, he can be governor." —Romeo Travis
It's about the process, a word and concept beloved by Erik Spoelstra, and a philosophy LeBron immersed himself in while in Miami. In Cleveland, under first-time NBA head coach David Blatt, and with a roster whose players are largely unfamiliar with each other, it will be about the process once again. On paper? Pshhh. Yes, of course the Cavs should run the East; of course a Finals appearance is a foregone conclusion. But the process won't allow that sort of thinking, and motivated squads in Miami, Chicago, Toronto and Washington will have something to say about it as well.
"If we don't shortcut the process, we're going to give ourselves a good chance of competing at the end of the year," LeBron says. "But it's going to be tough. We're a new group that's coming together. We have a new coaching staff, a new system for all of us. It's not going to be easy at all."
For so many reasons, it's different than it was in Miami, but there are plenty of precedents, too. The Big Three. An unproven but clearly savvy head coach with terrific references. An Eastern Conference still ripe for a relatively easy run. The biggest difference is that this, clearly and undeniably, is LeBron's team. When he landed in Miami four years ago, it was Wade who had the ring and the city's undying love; Kyrie is the Cavs' returning All-Star, and LeBron has rightly played up the talented guard's vital importance to the Cleveland offense. But we all know what it is.
"One thing LeBron does, everything he attaches himself to becomes a success," Dambrot says. "You can look at the high school—that school was dying before he got there. He took an old, beat-up coach like me and resurrected me. In Cleveland the first time, he gave it everything he had, and they became successful. And Miami, obviously."
The man with the Midas touch is once again clothed in gold. Just 29 years old, and already, where the grand narrative is concerned, he has accomplished everything but, well, that one last thing. He spent the first seven years of his career trying to reach it, and he came close; he found it elsewhere and came back, tougher and smarter. He has help now that he would've killed for before he left. That grand narrative has everything, including a prodigal return.
All that's left is for the King to establish a throne. His people are waiting. Ask anyone who's known him long enough, and they'll tell you: LeBron takes care of his own.