Looking Back at The REAL Reason LeBron Left Miami For Cleveland: Climate Change


Editors Note: President-Elect and climate change denier (“It’s a hoax created by China”) Donald J. Trump visited with President Obama at the White House on Thursday to ensure the smooth transition of power from one Administration to the next. Later that same day, the outgoing president had what must have been a much more enjoyable meeting when he welcomed the NBA Champion Cleveland Cavaliers and their incandescent star, LeBron James, to the White House. Not only did James lead the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit vs. the Golden State Warriors, the team with the best regular season record in NBA history, in the NBA Finals to win Cleveland’s first championship in any sport since 1964, he also stepped out on the political stage during the campaign, endorsing and speaking out on behalf of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy. While his efforts on the stump went for naught in Ohio and nationally, LeBron should be an important progressive voice in the years to come, especially in our celebrity-addicted culture. His public image, which took a tremendous hit when he left the Cavs for Miami (“I’m taking my talents to South Beach”) in 2010, has largely been restored since his now-triumphant return to Northeast Ohio. James’ highly regarded supporting role in the movie “Trainwreck” (he was, by far, the best part of that otherwise forgettable flick) demonstrated his crossover appeal. The important work of the LeBron James Family Foundation on public education quality and access to higher education for at risk youth in Akron gives him credibility on a crucial public policy issue. 

My hope is that, as Mr. Trump takes office, LeBron continues to speak out on issues of the day, especially including climate change. It makes sense for him to do so as climate change’s most calamitous effects will be felt by those least able to adapt—the at-risk populations James is most concerned about. And, from GreenSportsBlog’s perspective, having an athlete of the wattage/Q-rating of LeBron James publicly joining the climate change fight would be, forigve me, huuuuugggge.

And, while James has not publicly taken on climate change as yet, it’s clear that he “gets it.” And that’s why we are reprising a GreenSportsBlog column from July 14, 2014, “The REAL Reason LeBron James Chose to Leave Miami for Cleveland: Climate Change”


On Friday, LeBron James, in the words of Muhammad Ali, “shook up the world” by announcing he was re-signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers, and, in the process leaving the Miami Heat, whom he had led to two NBA championships. Two main reasons were given: 1. A child of nearby Akron who’d gone straight to the Cavs from high school only to leave for the Heat as a free agent in 2010, LeBron was “Coming Home” to win a title for championship-starved Cleveland (last pro sports title of any kind: 1964), and 2. The Cavs have the young talent and draft choices to build a championship team around while the Heat are getting old. But the biggest reason was somehow ignored— until now, that is.

“Going to the Cavs.” I was sitting at my desk late Friday morning when a friend texted me these four words. Many other texts, from a wide cross-section of friends and colleagues immediately ensued, discussing the latest “Decision” from LeBron James.
Yes, the greatest basketball player, post-Jordan, was taking his talents from South Beach back to Lake Erie. In one well-written and seemingly heartfelt statement to Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins (no dimwitted and tone deaf “The Decision” special this time around), James righted the wrong he inflicted on Cleveland four years earlier, when he left for Miami.
While “Coming Home” certainly is a compelling rationale, James almost certainly wouldn’t be back in Northeast Ohio if the Cavs didn’t have dynamic young talent at key spots, the chance to acquire free agent-to-be Kevin Love and a bushel of picks in upcoming drafts. Bill Simmons of ESPN.com’s Grantland and its NBA pre-post game shows, details the basketball reasons for Decision II in this terrific piece, “God Loves Cleveland” (please read!).
But Simmons and Jenkins and everyone else missed the real reason LeBron is moving from Miami to Cleveland…CLIMATE CHANGE.
Cavs Fans WSG

Cleveland Cavaliers fans rejoice at the news that LeBron James has decided to return to the team he left in 2010 for Miami. The fans are likely unaware about the role climate change played in James’ decision to leave South Beach. (Photo Credit: WSJ.com)

Miami is in trouble—and I don’t mean just in basketball terms. It is seen by climate scientists as perhaps the most vulnerable of all US cities to the effects of climate change. Last summer, Rolling Stone’s “Goodbye Miami,” by Jeff Goodell, was not a prescient prediction of LeBron’s departure. Rather, his story detailed the disastrous fate Miami faces (“it’s due to drown”) because of significant current and future sea level rise, combined with more frequent and intense storms—both due to, in large part, human-caused climate change. LeBron obviously read the story and took heed.
But, per an article by Robin McKie in Friday’s The Guardian (same day as LeBron left…coincidence?), developers in South Florida are not paying attention to climate change. Rather they are, pun intended, flooding back in, post the 2008 economic meltdown, to “Build, Baby, Build”. And why would they believe that climate change poses an existential threat to Miami (McKie: “Miami and its surroundings are facing a calamity worthy of the Old Testament.”) when the state’s senior Republican political leaders, all, look the other way? McKie again: “Senator Marco Rubio, former governor Jeb Bush and current governor Rick Scott, all Republican climate-change deniers, have refused to act or respond to warnings of (climate scientists) or to give media interviews to explain their stance, though Rubio, a Republican party star and a possible 2016 presidential contender, has made his views clear in speeches. ‘I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy,’ he said recently. Miami is in denial in every sense, it would seem.”
Rubio Protest Joe Raedle:Getty Images

Protesters gather near Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio’s office to urge him to stop denying climate change. If Floridians knew that climate change was the main reason LeBron James signed with Cleveland, there would likely have been many more of them at this event. (Photo Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Cleveland (and Ohio), on the other hand, is not. It has a vibrant Cleantech scene. Ohio, like Florida, has a Republican governor and one senator from each party. But Ohio’s governor John Kasich is on record as being “concerned about climate change” (radical stuff for the GOP, I know, but very welcome). Its Republican senator Rob Portman at least tried to work with democratic colleague Jeanne Shaheen (NH) on an energy efficiency bill last year. And while Cleveland does sit on a lake, it is not nearly as low lying as Miami nor does it face the ferocity of Atlantic storms. In fact, when the cities most vulnerable to climate change in the US are listed, Miami, New York City, and New Orleans are often cited, but not Cleveland.
So, while Marco Rubio may be, in the words of South Miami mayor Philip Stoddard, “an idiot,” LeBron James most certainly is not. He saw that free agents wouldn’t come to Cleveland to help him win championships back in 2010 so he went to Miami. Now he sees that Miami and the Florida political establishment has its collective head in the sand on climate change, so he goes back to safer ground, climate-wise, in Northeast Ohio. And that, as Bill Simmons should have written in “God Loves Cleveland,” is the real example of LeBron’s genius.

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