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Lebron James and the power of reconciliation

Just under 1,460 days ago LeBron Raymone James made an epic decision to take his talents, family and championship hopes 1,112 miles south to Miami Florida. It was a decision that left a ripple effect over the entire National Basketball League. Teams were left scrambling and Cleveland fans were just left fuming. What ensued was a storm of insults, threats and even a promise from Cavs owner. Dan Gilbert penned an open letter to his city and the league at large in which he says; ”I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN A NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE.” That’s a pretty bold statement to one of the planet’s best, most popular athletes.

We know what happened next; from the ESPN spectacle, to the media day in Miami where James states they will win not one, not two, not three, not four…and so on. The reality is, for the past few years it looked like he made the right choice. Cleveland was burning his jerseys in the streets while James racked up two more MVP awards, millions in endorsements and two championship titles for his new team. All was well in the Kingdom of LeBron.
What few, save his close inner circle, knew was that amidst all the success, there was a piece of James left hurting in the Midwest. Leaving things unfinished in Ohio caused him to be perplexed and concerned about his legacy. Was he the bad guy? Was he the quitter? Would Cleveland ever forgive him? All these questions were lingering until a few hours ago. Once again, James left us all speechless.

Many wondered if James, Gilbert and the city could ever reconcile. It’s one thing to act like every thing is cool. But to really be on the same page is a different reality. Reconciliation is an interesting concept that has been around since there were men to disagree with one another. In fact, the Latin word “reconcilare” means to bring together again; to smooth rough areas and regain trust. That goes much deeper than the initial act of forgiving someone.

His version of the “Decision 2.0” has proved several things and revealed key truths about what reconciliation looks like. Here are some things we can ponder:

* Reconciliation is much different than forgiveness: Look at it this way, forgiveness is acknowledgement of the deed and its wrong. This however does not negate the pain or consequences of the act. If you cut me, you can say you’re sorry and I can accept it. But there will still be a scar. And deeper than that is the issue that I now have to watch out for you. When James left, there was some time that elapsed and finally he was able to visit his home state with more ease. But a deal like this could not have happened two years ago. They had not yet worked through the process of coming together, or reconciling.
* Sometimes you’ve got to let some things breathe: Things have to air out at times. I like to call it a ‘cool down’ period where both parties can walk away from the situation and seek clarity. James admits that he handled the whole free agency thing immaturely. He made decisions based on other’s pressures and had to live with the fallout. He was the first to tell us that his heart will always be in Ohio. These four years have been a time for him to reflect and for Gilbert to begin the process of mending the fence.
* Reconciliation is always a choice: I heard one ecstatic Cleveland fan exclaim “This time he (James) chose us!” The funny thing about reconciliation is it speaks of a person’s willingness to step across the aisle. It’s the preverbal olive branch treatment. This time around, James made a clear decision to follow his heart, and embrace a city that was otherwise embittered. When we reconcile, it is a show of mercy that things are finally behind us and we are ready to build again.
* Reconciliation is not always an option: Thank the basketball gods this time James and the Cavs could work a miracle and restore hope to the fans in the Midwest. But in our day to day issues, that’s not always a reality. When people are unwilling to own their part, work for change and walk in transparency, reconciling is off the table. Notice I said reconciliation, not forgiveness. The latter is a necessity for our development and an internal matter. The former is dependent on the other party. To reconcile to someone who refuses to own up and change is to welcome abuse. Never assume or pretend that reconciliation is automatic. Quite the contrary, it requires tons of work.

Time will tell if LeBron James can restore a winning culture to a franchise that faltered without him. Many questions loom about the compatibility of new team mates and the front office. What is evident is they are all off to a hopeful start. Reminiscent of that night in June 2003 when they drafted the one anointed to be basketball’s next King, Cleveland is once again cheering the praises of their most successful son.