21 June 2018

Return of the King by Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin




How do I describe my feelings for Lebron James? I can tell you that I've gone to sleep not speaking to my boyfriend ~5 times this playoff season because he disrespected Lebron. Or that when my friend Stefan said Lebron was the greatest athlete of all time I felt like he could have complimented him even more.

Because of my undying love and admiration for Lebron, I decided to try my first "sports biography" to try and advance my status as a basketball fan. I'd already committed to watching games everyday on League Pass, I went to a game in Toronto, I started a basketball podcast, lead a failed all-female rec league, AND spent my days reading long-form player profiles... this was the next step.

As a reader I usually avoid biographies (Meg and I have always leaned towards memoirs), but I decided it was finally time to start collecting player biographies and so I bought one on Michael Jordon (The Life by Roland Lazenby) and Return of the King: Lebron James, The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Greatest Comeback in NBA History by Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin. Once Lebron retires I'm sure he will write a memoir and I will be lining up at 5 a.m. to buy it.

What follows is less a book review than it is an open love letter to Lebron James:

I got into basketball after a particularly bad breakup. I didn't originally choose the Cleveland Cavaliers as my NBA team because of Lebron. I actually chose them because of a family connection between JR Smith, a shooting guard for the Cavs, and Chris Smith (JR's younger brother), a player on my local professional basketball team at the time. My second thought was "oh and Lebron James is on that team, even I know who he is." And yes, this was the year the Cavaliers became the 2016 NBA Champions.

So imagine I pick an NBA team, casually watch them play all year, AND THEN WATCH THEM COME BACK FROM A 3-1 DEFICIT TO BEAT THE GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS, AS WELL AS COUNTLESS NBA RECORDS!!! This was the first championship for the city of Cleveland in 52 years. Naturally it can be assumed that I broke the Cleveland curse, and I've been in love with Lebron ever sense. His narrative is just too good.


Lebron is the greatest athlete of all time, better then any living or deceased athlete that ever stepped on a basketball court. He's in his 15th season and his story already reads like a beautiful piece of literature: he returned home, promised his native-state of Ohio he'd bring them a championship, and against all odds, he delivered.

But it's not just the pure athleticism that makes me so obsessed with him. It's him calling Donald Trump a "bum" on Twitter, his marriage to his high school girlfriend Savannah, and his ability to deal with pressure that would literally kill me. It's also the fact that Lebron hasn't even really done anything wrong ... I know this isn't really something that should be treated like an accomplishment, but in the world of celebrities it's often more rare than you'd like to think.

Return of the King opens up with a forward from Richard Jefferson which was only just okay. I do love Jefferson and I think he will make a great broadcaster, but his write up was a little too heavy on him telling everyone he was retiring and then taking it all back. I wanted more Lebron.

Windhorst and McMenamin's book never really gets too personal about Lebron, which was kind of disappointing. They try to paint you a good picture of what his mindset must have been when he "took his talents to South Beach" and what he was going through when he returned home to Ohio.


I will say that while this book was missing a lot of the personal details I hoped to learn about Lebron, I did learn A LOT of random stuff about players on the Cavaliers:

I learned that POS-Dan Gilbert bought the Cavs in 2005 for $375 million dollars. I got to read his disgusting letter calling Lebron "disloyal and a coward," which enraged me.

I learned how even though Lebron leaving made most of the world hate him, it was a big step for player freedom and autonomy in the NBA.

James had been badly burned by the Decision broadcast in 2010, even though he and his team still believed it was a forward-thinking idea that put the power in the player's hands. It had raised seven figures for charity and changed the nature of the way athletes looked at making big announcements." 
I learned that JR Smith "had been offended when he heard how the Knicks were basically attempting to give him away and attach him to Shumpert like a bad debt. [And that] he told Griffin he'd 'walk to Cleveland.'"

I learned that Lebron watches games in the league CONSTANTLY. I know this sounds obvious but I think he watches more than any other player. He has a TV in his car with a game always on, and he's had family and friends waiting for him after one of his games while he sits in the locker room finishing up streaming a game on his phone. He once complained about the NBA app and some bugs it had and they quickly fixed it.

I learned that the San Antonia arena is hell on Earth.

AND I learned that Iman Shumpert delivered his wife's baby in their mansion and was directed over the phone to use a pair of headphones to sever the umbilical cord.

Other then all of this, I didn't take too much away from the book. It was a lot of describing how games ended - who had the last assist, who sunk the last shot. I found it pretty boring up until they get to Game 7 the year the Cavs win the finals.

I remember sitting on the edge of the couch at my parents house watching this game. My stomach was in knots and I kept saying "they aren't going to win" and my parents kept accusing me of "jinxing it" ... HOW WRONG THEY WERE.

Windhorst and McMenamin are good at bringing you back to that moment. They detail Lebron's infamous block of Andre Iguodala, Kevin Love's stop on Curry, Kyrie's 3-pointer, and the eventual meltdown after the win. While I was reading it I was kind of holding my breath - just like I was when I was watching the game live.

Winning the 2016 NBA Finals after a 3-1 deficit will always be Lebron's greatest achievement in my eyes. I know a lot of people are saying the fact that he dragged this year's shit team to the playoffs - after two Game 7 series, and a sweeping of the Toronto Raptors (lol) - is an amazing achievement (and it is), but nothing can amount to that 2016 win. Sometimes I sit at my desk and rewatch the last 8 minutes of that 2016 Game 7 and cry.

So overall I would say this was a not-great book about an all-time-great player. I want to end this review by saying may all the Lebron haters rot in hell.

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