In an essay in Sports Illustrated about his return to play for Cleveland, LeBron James announced, “I’m coming home.” The awful truth is, as Thomas Wolfe titled one of his best-known novels, you can’t go home again. After we leave home and are battered about by life, we are changed. Home becomes a symbol of our innocence, a place where we dreamed limitlessly and were loved unconditionally. But that home, too, has changed because of our absence. So it is with LeBron and Cleveland.
When LeBron left Cleveland, he celebrated the move as if it were the exodus from Egypt, and that arrogance left a bitter taste in his fans’ mouths. He can’t go home again–at least not to the home he once knew. The residents may be joyful, but they are also wiser. Like a betrayed spouse, they will have to be wooed. But his return to the Cavaliers is good for basketball. Each game will come with a movie narrative attached–underdogs, redemption, forgiveness. I certainly will be watching.
Abdul-Jabbar, a TIME columnist, is a six-time NBA champion
This appears in the July 28, 2014 issue of TIME.