‘Cleveland fans are wondering is that the last time he’ll take off a Cavaliers jersey.’ It was. At least until his return home in ’14. But the message was sent. LeBron’s tunnel act after Game 6 loss to the Celtics in the second round of the ’10 Playoffs was a sign. His run with the Cavs was over.
What followed was The Decision, for some, an everlasting stain on James’ resume. But for him, this was an escape route. Joining forces with D-Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami was LeBron’s version of pressure allocation. Instead of being it all on him, he had two other all-stars to deal with the expectations.
He couldn’t do it anymore in Cleveland. Or better yet, he didn’t have the group around him to do it with. It was LeBron’s time to go all the way, but he wasn’t given the right Robin to help him get there. So after a three-year stretch of piling up frustration, we’ve witnessed its culmination in the tunnel of TD Garden.
Being in a small market, not being able to attract free agents, poor relationship with Dan Gilbert, playing for a hometown team – all of this was in the background of LBJ taking off his jersey on his way off the court. But none of that was the final straw that initiated The Decision. The final straw for him was facing an insurmountable obstacle called the Boston Celtics. Because he proved he could handle everything. But there was no way of handling the Big Three wearing green. They are what pushed LeBron out of Cleveland. They are what broke him.
The player LeBron became, the image he developed over the years, the all-time great legacy he built, it all dates back to that jersey being taken off – courtesy of the Boston Celtics. And in so many ways, that’s one of the most significant moments in recent NBA history.
Because, with LeBron joining the Heat, the NBA landscape had seen one of its biggest transformations ever. The league’s power balance shifted, players empowerment began, the organizational approach changed, and the overall climate around the association altered. The seeds were planted for the NBA we are witnessing today, and it all began with one jersey being taken off.
That 23 ‘Bron jersey that it took James 4 years to put on again. The same jersey that presents the line between the local hero LeBron and the legacy chasing LeBron. The same jersey that led to the making of one of the greatest NBA resumes the basketball world has ever seen. That same jersey that is still buried under the Garden, with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen being the last ones to shovel dirt onto the coffin.