Book Review: Return of the King by Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin

It wasn’t all that long ago that I reviewed Marcus Thompson II’s Golden which traces the meteoric rise in popularity of the NBA’s Stephen Curry.  I felt it was only fair to give his current arch-nemesis equal time.

Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin, both of ESPN fame, have co-authored a book detailing LeBron James’ return to Cleveland and how it snowballed into the city’s first major championship in fifty years.  Their work is entitled Return of the King: LeBron James, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Greatest Comeback in NBA History.

Return of the King is a thorough account of the Cavaliers’ last two seasons compiled by the two men most qualified to tell the story.  Both have worked tirelessly covering the league, and more specifically LeBron.  Note:  this is Windhorst’s third book on James.  Return chronicles in Cav-centric detail how the team rebuilt, essentially from scratch, and how it all resulted in their first ever championship.  Like the Cavs’ title, this book was years in the making.

In retrospect, it’s a rather unlikely story.  Remember, it wasn’t all that long ago that LeBron had left Cleveland for Miami and the Cavaliers were forced to rebuild around a number one draft pick named Anthony Bennett.  For anyone who’s ever wondered just what it takes to put together a special team, this book is definitely for you.  Even more so if you’re a fan of LeBron and I know there are a ton of you out there (I’m kidding.)

As one who has been a fan of the man, I enjoyed Return, especially since reading both it and Golden coincided with these two teams meeting once again in the Finals.  Okay, so I’m that geek who wears the concert t-shirt to see the band that’s playing.  Sue me.

Windhorst and McMenamin include plenty of juicy tales about things we did not know, locker room camaraderie and huddle banter.  I love NBA rumors, the what-would-have-been-ifs and this book is chock full of them.  The authors confirm and dispel much of what we thought we knew regarding who else could sign LeBron and the difficulties Cleveland faced in getting him back.  The authors step us into their NBA time machines back to a time when LeBron returning to Cleveland was as unlikely as ever, never mind it culminating in a championship.

They discuss the hiring (and eventual firing) of David Blatt, LeBron’s break-up with Pat Riley in Miami and the businesslike nature of their relationship, the crucial role of Cavs’ GM David Griffin, the foresight of hiring Tyronn Lue as a top assistant and how re-signing LeBron shook up the basketball landscape for obvious reasons.  There was also the importance of how to handle his return since his “Decision” years prior was so heavily criticized; Sports Illustrated’s Lee Jenkins ensured that didn’t happen a second time.

There was the trading of Wiggins, the number one draft pick who never played a single game in a Cavs uniform.  There was the recruiting of Kevin Love, the signing of Iman Shumpert and the unforeseen personal and professional turnaround of JR Smith.  While LeBron is the focal point, there is much more to this story than just him.  For example, did you know that Kevin Love was almost traded to Golden State for Klay Thompson?  It was a trade that Jerry West threatened to leave Golden State over.  Imagine how that would have changed things.

There were the early diplomatic riffs with Coach Blatt as the team failed to live up to its potential, how Blatt and James interacted and how LeBron’s relationship with Lue was entirely different.  Remember, Blatt was hired before Cleveland had any idea LeBron was coming back.  Blatt’s inability to stand up to James ultimately cost him his job.

And then of course there are the last two Finals and how they both went down.

I will say this.  Windhorst and McMenamin are both reporters and fans but I was never offended by that.  They don’t apologize for it.  The book is still journalistic in nature.  They make you feel like you were courtside when all these deals were taking place.  For anyone who’s ever built a championship team playing fantasy sports, it’s fascinating to hear how it happens for real.

Return is a Cleveland and LeBron-centric two seasons full of basketball unlikeliness culminating with a comeback the NBA had never before seen.  It has probably already been read by half the city’s sports fans looking to relive it one last time.  As It should be, it’s a story worth telling.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Return of the King by Brian Windhorst and Dave McMenamin

  1. LeBron James and his people (publicists) should have known better than to make his return to Cleveland a real dog and pony show. It was highly embarrassing for James , it dented his image even further , even though he claimed the $250,000 paid to him by ESPN went to the Boys & Girls Club of America. When you’ve been earning on average over $55 million a year for the last five years and then state to the public, you gave quarter of a million to the Boys and Girls Club , well that means absolute $hit.

    Moving forward, LeBron James has been able to guide the Cleveland Cavaliers to their very first NBA title , but the question now becomes, how many more will he be able to lead them to ? He’s been in the league for over fourteen years and his body isn’t getting any younger. His supporting cast feeds off him , unlike the Golden State Warriors, who now have a team where either Steph Curry , Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson can light it up for the Warriors and beat just about any team in the NBA . This is something I believe the fans and analysts have completely overlooked. In this series the two games played so far have been a complete embarrassment with Cleveland losing by double-digits each time.

    The NBA Finals this time around isn’t even close and all that the Cavaliers can now hope for, is either divine intervention or Adam Silver asking the referees to give more favorable calls to Cleveland. It’s that simple ! No amount of optimism from fans hoping for their being excitement from both teams can disguise that fact, especially when only one team has come to play.

    Tophatal …….

  2. I don’t want to count them out just yet, Al, but Game Three will be huge.

    Cleveland cannot come out flat. They have to play nearly perfect basketball and they have to get some contributions from someone other than the Big Three.

    Otherwise, this series will be over with the quickness.

  3. No denying LBJ’s greatness but I have mixed feelings about the rise of the Cavs in his return. I don’t begrudge him his success, I just hate Dan Gilbert as he was one of the main voices crying about the CP3 trade that led to the Lakers veto. So he whines along with Mark Cuban and Michael Jordan about how unfair it is that the Lakers build a squad despite the new CBA designed to stop them and only a couple of years later, he’s hoisting a trophy because of the guy he lambasted for bolting to Miami…While he stockpiled #1 picks BECAUSE he bolted to Miami. Just doesn’t sit well with me.

    Jerry West is a genius. I knew he had threatened to quit if they traded Klay but I didn’t know it was for Love. Yet another Klay/K-Love tie-in…..I recently learned on a snippet during the Finals that they were teammates in little league. Interesting stuff.

    Still pisses me off that Jeanie doesn’t offer Mr. Clutch a spot in the Lakers front office, despite his letting it be known publicly that he’d love to come home. How a brain trust thinks they couldn’t use his input, even in a limited role, is beyond my comprehension. The guy has the Midas touch.

    Now the Clippers are rumored to be making a play for him. If that happens, I think I’ll literally throw up.

  4. Nice to see you’re over the Paul veto, Bleed, hehe.

    Did you ever finish that book on West?

    I’m currently in the middle of Kareem’s new book on John Wooden.

  5. lol, yeah right…Fuck David Stern.

    Yep. Finished two books on West last year.
    Recently picked up a couple on Wilt, Pat Riley and Kareem for $2 each at the Goodwill recently. Looking forward to reading those. My Lakers library continues to grow…Even as a cheap bastard.

    As I may have told you in the past, I had breakfast with coach Wooden twice. I have about 5 or 6 of his books. One signed. Few people I hold in as high esteem as coach….Even as a hard core USC fan.

  6. Yea, Bleed, after I finish the Kareem book, I have another book on Wooden on my list. I think it’s Seth Davis’. Is that one worth the read?

    I’m also in the middle of Chuck Klosterman’s latest. Interviews with Jimmy Page and Eddie Van Halen? Yes please.

    And I trust you saw ESPN’s upcoming two-part 30 for 30 on the Lakers-Celtics rivalry.

    Get your popcorn ready!

  7. Interesting post SC. Did you see this article online regarding highest paid athletes? I’ll post the link below and put you on the spot to write us up something to raise hell about.

    https://www.forbes.com/athletes/list/#tab:overall

    Got my popcorn ready for tonight’s game for sure. I’m thinking that somewhere along the line somebody’s just gonna jump shoot from behind the half-court line – it’s getting crazy how far out from which they throw them in.

  8. That’s quite the list, Moose.

    Andrew Luck in the top six? That kid’s agent is working overtime.

    Derrick Rose number twenty-two? At least he can afford his own hospital bills.

    Dwight Howard makes the top fifty? Again… why?

    I’m surprised not to see Tom Brady on the list. What’s that all about?

    And I’m assuming Floyd Mayweather is not on the list because he’s retired?

  9. Pingback: What the Cleveland Cavaliers can learn from Van Halen | Sports Chump

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