It was an image that could have been plucked from the most heartwarming of Christmas tales.
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LeBron James, affectionately and deservedly called ‘The King’, returned to his Miami kingdom on Thursday for the first time since departing for Cleveland last summer. James was, and is, still loved in South Beach. Florida sports fans, especially in the state’s cultural hub, adore a hero and after winning two NBA titles, he will forever be one.
The four-time MVP received a warm welcome and clearly loved being reunited with old friends – no more so than Heat star Dwyane Wade, his partner in points during the recent glory years.
James is a brilliant competitor. One of the all-time greats. Yet as the Cavaliers slipped to a 101-91 defeat, James illustrated another trait which many other sportsmen, certainly those who inhabit the hysteria-inducing world of the English Premier League, would struggle to pull off.
Cleveland fans, worrying that another defeat has hampered their push for the playoffs, won’t have enjoyed seeing their star man loving being back alongside his old accomplice.
There were laughs, hi-fives and hugs. They were seated next to each other, waiting for the second-half to start. It was as if they were back together training, rather than going head-to-head.
Such shows of affection would be scorned upon in England and across the footballing continent.
James though, and Wade for that matter, couldn’t care less. In their hearts, and on the scorecards, they proved that when the heat was on, they delivered.
Nothing can obliterate the friendship they have and continue to enjoy.
When Novak Djokovic began to establish himself as the No1 tennis player on the planet, the Serbian insisted his friendship with Andy Murray (they have known each other since they were teenagers) must come to an end.
Djokovic reckons the old pals act was not for him. Wade and James clearly operate with a different mindset. It won’t work for everyone, but it does for them. They are being honest with their feelings rather than hiding behind a PR facade. And, for that, they should be commended.
“We always talk,” Wade said. “We’re two guys that enjoy the moments that we get on this stage, and to look around us at that moment and see how everybody was kind of looking down on us, it was like, ‘Look at the moment we’ve been a part of creating, whether we’ve been together or apart.’ And it’s just being thankful for it.”
The superstar duo’s very public self-appreciation society certainly fits in the NBA’s approach to ensure all its protagonists conduct themselves appropriately, both on and off the court.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver, celebrating his inaugural year in the hot seat last week, is supremely conscious of the nightmare scenarios his counterpart in the NFL Roger Goodell continues to be sucked into.
The NBA is not packed full of saints with glowing halos. Charlotte Hornets’ forward Jeff Taylor is currently serving a 24-game suspension for domestic abuse, yet one feels they have found the balance between entertainment and serious business.
“The game above all,” says Silver when asked to describe his outlook for the good of basketball.
“Everything we do stems from what happens on the court. We need to make sure it is presented in the best way.“
At a time when many US athletes are exploiting their positions to support controversial social issues, sportsmen are being scrutinised daily. Silver, who enjoys regular dialogue with the league’s players, is open-minded about stars using the court as a platform of self-expression.
“I am very supportive and proud that the players are speaking out,” he added. “I want to see these guys aren’t one-dimensional. I would prefer that they not become a walking billboard but understand that it is allowed to happen.”
Seeing James and Wade reunited on Christmas Day certainly would have warmed Silver’s heart. Whether a grizzled, old school competitor like Roy Keane would agree is firmly up for debate.
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