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SportsColumnistsNeil Best

LeBron James' homecoming also the right basketball move

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) throws up

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) throws up powder along side of his bench moments before the start of game four of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals basketball game against the Orlando Magic in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday, May 26, 2009. Credit: AP / Reinhold Matay

It was plain to anyone who watched and listened to LeBron James the past two or three years that the former teenage prodigy who grew up before our eyes finally grew up for real in his late 20s.

James evolved into a leader on issues on the court and off, a voice of reason, an all-NBA mensch.

So it should come as no surprise that four years after The Decision, the sequel that posted Friday was a model of class, grace and humility in which even Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was forgiven.

All along it was evident that James returning home to Northeast Ohio would be popular not only there but pretty much everywhere other than South Florida, given its unavoidably warm and fuzzy nature.

But the elegant execution, aided by Sports Illustrated writer Lee Jenkins, made it a public relations slam dunk.

James made an excellent analogy in the piece, comparing his four years in Miami to other people's college years, a chance to get away from home and learn more about himself.

The bonus was that unlike other basketball stars, he got to stay all four years and to get paid legally. And to not have John Calipari yell at him.

All of the above is good not only for James but the NBA in general, which now has a story line that will cross over to casual and even non-sports fans and presumably resonate for the next several years.

It's fair to say the Cavaliers will be making a few more appearances on TNT and ESPN than in 2013-14.

And the bigger picture is delicious, too. Cleveland's sports autumn could start with a certain Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback in the spotlight. Nothing short of LeBron's return could have turned Johnny Manziel into a supporting cast member.

Cut through the theatrics and backstory, though, and there is a compelling basketball angle to all of this, one that will resonate after those focused on the human interest stuff have moved on.

Here's the thing about James' original decision: Despite the clumsy delivery, he clearly made the right basketball call, leaving a mediocre Cavaliers roster he had willed to success in favor of an instant contender in Miami.

Result: four conference championships and two NBA titles in four seasons.

Now James again has made the smart strategic play to remain in the mix for one or more additional rings, thanks to the Cavs' talented young roster, flexibility, money and motivation.

Let's just say there was no point guard on par with Kyrie Irving on the horizon in Miami, nor has there been since James got there, come to think of it.

Assuming Carmelo Anthony decides to re-sign, this development is good short-term news for the Knicks, because it figures to blow up the recently predictable Eastern Conference as the Cavs take at least a season to sort themselves into a contender.

(LeBron's assessment of their title chances in 2014-15: No way.)

But over time James figures to find a way to deliver Cleveland's first major pro championship since Manhasset's own Jim Brown led the Browns to one 50 years ago.

And even if it doesn't happen, no one will be able to accuse him of not going all-in to try.

Come autumn, schoolchildren in Cleveland and Akron might be reciting lines from James' essay after they finish the Pledge of Allegiance, given how perfectly they align with how the region views itself.

"In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I'm ready to accept the challenge."

The rest of us are ready to watch.

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