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Cavs-Heat A Different Story This Time Around

The Kyrie Irving-led Cavaliers travel to Miami to take on the Heat, and it feels like things are different this time.

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Leading up to December 2, 2010, a swell grew in Cleveland. A lot of misplaced energy, anger, frustration and confusion boiled over online, downtown, in bars and in Quicken Loans arena as LeBron James prepared to play his first game against his former team.

At the time, the Cavs were 7-10, and many fans, including myself, were still clinging a misguided notion that the team was more than a shadow of its former self, of what once was, of what could have been. The gravity of just how important LeBron was to the team, and the city, hadn't been fully realized.

We were all in for a rude awakening. On December 2nd, James plunged Cleveland into an icy bath Inception-style with a 38-point outburst that led to - among other things - an epic fight between my girlfriend and I brought on by too many Great Lakes Christmas Ales that spelled the beginning of the end of our four-plus year relationship.

I was mad about so many things, and LeBron was a good excuse for a lot of it. In many ways, the year that followed The Decision led to plenty of decisions of my own. And no matter how hard I tried to blame everyone else, they were mine.

LeBron James left Cleveland because it was what he felt he needed to do. He needed a change. He needed to see what a pilgrimage South would bring. It wasn't tactful, or handled with a boatload of couth, but it was his prerogative.

And we held him responsible for what could have been - the promise of a championship, for hope, for the future. We spent months skewering him, calling him names, making him out to be a villain far and above anything Art Modell was.

***

Almost a year to the day of The Decision, I packed up a rental truck and left my apartment off Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights and drove down I-77. Past my parents' house, just two miles from LeBron's Casino of a house. Past Akron, where I had spent the last two years working. Past Ohio, where I spent my childhood and my post-college years.

And back into North Carolina - down I-40 - driving right through Winston-Salem on my way to the coast. To Wilmington.

I left because it was what I needed. I know it seemed cowardly to some (including the girl who hoped for so much, who I had promised a future to), but I had nothing left, and I needed to start over.

Maybe LeBron didn't give it all he had and could have done more in Cleveland. I honestly don't know. But, maybe he did. Maybe he just had nothing left to give and had to start over himself.

***

It's been over a year since the Heat beat the Cavs 118-90, starting a downward spiral that would see Cleveland lose 34 of its next 35 games.

Cleveland took the blows it earned for the choices it made, but paid its penance, entering the summer - just as I did - with new hope and new promise.

The present is here: Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson were selected. Familiar faces remain for fans; the past is not forgotten.

There is still a lot left to work on, and a lot to do, but the team is putting itself in the right climate, in the right position to make things better. It started with accountability. It started with looking in the mirror.

LeBron James is gone. No amount of hand wringing or anger or sadness is going to bring him back. But the Cavs are still here. And whether they lose to the Heat 118-90 or beat them as they did in March of 2011, I get the feeling things are finally different now.

The decision to let go and make a fresh start isn't a cure-all, but it's exactly that: a start. It's what you choose to do after that matters.

God willing, we'll do it right this time.

Photographs by spatulated, Triple Tri, and chrischappelear used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.