There hasn’t been a homecoming this anticipated since Odysseus came back to Ithaca dressed in rags, strung his bow and shot that fucker Antinous through his smug, wine-filled throat.
LeBron James played his first game in Cleveland on Thursday night, and in the city itself, this was less a home opener than LeBronaroo, complete with the unveiling of a new LeBron mural (with “CLEVELAND” across his back instead of “JAMES”) and a big, bright concert in the parking lot with critical darling Kendrick Lamar and also a band called Imagine Dragons that LeBron appears to be quite fond of, or at least engaged in come complex fiduciary agreement with, since they appear in all his commercials AND on the LeBron-curated soundtrack to NBA 2K14.
LeBron, of course, didn’t do himself any favors in the foot-in-mouth department during the run-up to the game, declaring, “This is probably one of the biggest sporting events that’s up there ever.” That, my friends, is how you give God or Vishnu or whomever chalkboard material. The Cavs were, however, facing a Knicks team that had gotten spanked 104-80 by the Chicago Bulls in their own home opener, so it’s understandable that Cleveland came in a little smug, if not downright overconfident, and ready to toss the chalk on what looks to be a great a season.
As it turned out, the whole chalk-toss thing was maybe the best indicator of how the story overran reality last night. After asking fans on social media to vote on whether he should begin the second Cleveland residency with the ceremonial throwing of dust, Supreme Leader James let it be known that the motion had been approved by 95 percent of North Koreans – er, people on Twitter. And so along with each ticket, Nike was kind enough to provide fans with a little bag of confetti for them to toss in tandem with LeBron.
The only problem was that a lot of people were too busy taking a video of LeBron throwing his chalk to toss their own. It wasn’t, though, an abject failure – a lot of people dutifully threw their shredded paper in the air and the intro video delivered the goods, including Mike Miller’s killer “It’s over” hand motion. You know, important basketball stuff.
In short, the run-up was more or less well planned and executed. But then the Cavs couldn’t execute the plan to run up the score on the Knicks.
After a couple early highlights – including the first of what promise to be many Love-to-LeBron outlets – the adrenaline seeped away and the Cavs looked flat, often either forcing looks or passing up open ones for inferior ones. There were some Kevin Love 3-pointers and some Kyrie Irving crossovers, but it was disjointed overall.
And that was to be expected.
This Cleveland team is powered by a nucleus still learning to play with one another, under the guidance of a first-time NBA coach (David Blatt) known for running an elegant, complex, read-and-react system similar to the one Gregg Popovich has perfected in San Antonio. Of course, it’s only taken Pop roughly an eon to iron out all the wrinkles. There’s no surer indicator of the Cavs’ struggles to grasp their new system than this one: they committed 19 turnovers, including eight by LeBron, who had never before had a game with that many turnovers to go along with fewer than 20 points and five assists.
In the end, it was Carmelo Anthony – the guy who visited a bunch of different teams this offseason before settling in with his hometown Knicks – who put the arrow through the Cavs’ throat and spoiled James’ homecoming. That’s the story of what happened, but it’s not the end of the story.
Games are singular events, each one a blip in an 82-game season, and as such, can only accrue genuine meaning as they recede into the past. The story of LeBron going back to Cleveland comes with all the trappings of a Homeric epic: return, reunification, renewal, recompense. It is a complex, multifaceted thing, a season-long tale, a work-in-progress…the kind of thing that cannot be shoehorned into a convenient narrative, no matter how hard the folks at Nike or TNT or ESPN or even the NBA itself want it to be.
After Thursday night, the first chapter of LeBron’s return is written, but everyone knows that the story doesn’t end with the homecoming, it only begins anew.