Former Cavs assistant Michael Malone happy for LeBron James’ return to Cleveland

LeBron James shows emotion as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. (Photo: Keith Allison)LAS VEGAS – Loyal.

It’s probably the one word Michael Malone would use to characterize who LeBron James is as a person and as a man. James’ loyalty to his roots and his upbringing is the reason why the Sacramento Kings head coach isn’t at all surprised by the 29-year-old superstar’s decision to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Ohio, Northeast Ohio, Cleveland, and especially Akron really mean something to him,” said Malone, who coached James during his last stint with the Cavaliers. “A lot of guys sometimes forget where they come from when they make it. One thing I respect the hell out of LeBron is that he’s never forgotten who he is or where’s from and who helped him get to where he is now.”

Malone knows James well. He spent five seasons in Cleveland, coaching James during the 29-year-old superstar’s formative years in the NBA.  Though he’s captain of his own ship in Sacramento these days, Malone still looks back fondly at the time he spent with James and the Cavs. Knowing Cleveland’s long history of sports futility, he was ecstatic for the city when he heard the news that James had decided to come home.

“I’m happy for all the great fans and the great people in that organization,” Malone said. “When that all went down (James’ decision to leave Cleveland), kind of was a whirlwind. They were on the top of the world to the bottom.  Now, they’re back on top. That’s how life is.”

James’ move to South Beach in 2010 indeed had ramifications on the Cavs as well as Malone. Despite a successful run that included five-straight postseason berths and an appearance in the 2007 NBA Finals, Malone had to move onto the next stage of his career after his previous boss, former Cavs coach Mike Brown, was fired by the organization.

“We had five years, a great run,” Malone said. “One of the most successful five-year runs probably in NBA history. He left, made a decision that he felt was best for him and his family and it paid off. Two championships later, he’s, I think, probably reconciled with the fact that ‘I’m going to go home and kind of leave my mark and see what I can do with a new team and a bunch of new young players’.”

James’ time in Miami taught him what it took to win, but it also taught him how to be a better leader. For all of the talent he had, leadership wasn’t one of James’ strongest assets during his last stop in Cleveland.

According to Malone, there were times when James could be counted on as a great leader and other times when he was just OK. But when it comes to James’ leadership ability these days, the Kings head coach thinks that the nine-time All-Star has made remarkable strides thanks to his experience in Miami.

“I think the biggest change is that he’s matured,” Malone said of James’ growth over the last four seasons. “He’s become a man and he’s not afraid to be the leader. Earlier, I think he always wanted to be liked. Now, LeBron is not about being liked; it’s about being a leader and doing what’s best for the team and he’s shown that the last couple years in Miami.”

When James left for the Heat four years ago, he did so to give himself a better chance to win a championship. The move proved fruitful as it yielded James his first two titles during a run of four-straight appearances to the NBA Finals.

There’s no doubt that title aspirations still weigh heavily on James’ mind. But the opportunity to do so in a region that bred him means just as much this time around.

“At the end of the day, this game is a great game,” Malone said. “It’s been good to all of us, but I think it’s all about doing what you have to do for your family and what’s best for them and I think that’s what LeBron is doing right now.”

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About: Jonathan Santiago

Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.