LeBron is back in Cleveland. Who else can return home?
Jerseys can’t be unburned, but perhaps the love between a city and an athlete can be rekindled.
LeBron James will put that to the test with his return to the Cleveland Cavaliers and his home state of Ohio. His exit — ahem, taking his talents to South Beach — wounded an entire city in 2010. Four years and two NBA championships later and James will return to team that drafted him.
The move is somewhat unprecedented. Rarely has an athlete, never mind one of the greatest in the world, gone from hometown hero to archvillain and back to favorite son. All while he's still in his prime.
We asked ourselves, what would be some of the other returns in the sports world that could compare? Which would be the most awkward, and somewhat plausible, reunions in sports?
Here are our 10.
Steve Spurrier to Florida
Perhaps one of the closet parallels to LeBron and Cleveland. Spurrier won the Heisman at Florida and built the Gators into one of the premier programs in college football. After Ron Zook was fired, a segment of Florida fans wanted Spurrier to return when the Ol’ Ball Coach was looking for work after his short-lived tenure in the NFL. Florida hired Urban Meyer instead, and Spurrier went to South Carolina. The idea of a Spurrier return to Florida may warm the hearts of older Florida fans. Meyer on the other hand...
Rick Pitino back to Kentucky
Pitino brought back the Kentucky program back after NCAA sanctions. He led “The Unforgettables” to the Elite Eight and won Kentucky’s first national title in 18 years. When Pitino left for the Boston Celtics, he left enough for successor Tubby Smith to win a national title of his own, but what really burned Big Blue Nation was Pitino’s return to the college game at rival Louisville. Kentucky fans are thrilled with the coach they’ve got now, but they had to go through the Billy Gillispie dark ages to get there.
Peyton Manning back to the Indianapolis Colts
Yes, the Colts' offense is in perfectly good hands with Andrew Luck under center. However, the organization's, and, perhaps more important, the fan base's bond with Manning remains. Besides, Manning certainly isn't getting any younger, so perhaps playing time won't be an issue another year or two down the road? After all, the only Super Bowl Manning has won so far has come in a Colts uniform.
Michael Vick to the Atlanta Falcons
Believe it or not, but it's been 13 years since Vick was taken No. 1 overall by the Falcons in the 2001 NFL Draft. Obviously a lot has happened between now and then, but Vick's clearly not the same person (or football player for that matter) that he was when he first entered the league as a young, electric, dual-threat quarterback. They say time heals all wounds, so perhaps the timing is just right for a reunion. And the Falcons wouldn't have to worry about a potential quarterback controversy either, as Vick already seems to have embraced his backup role with the Jets.
Albert Pujols back to the St. Louis Cardinals
Pujols was starting to be mentioned with Stan Musial around St. Louis before bolting for the Angels. Cardinals fans were heartbroken, but they’re doing just fine without him with a trip to the World Series and the NLCS. The longer St. Louis goes without a championship and the more Pujols starts to look like his old self, the more the Cardinals may start to miss him.
Greg Schiano back to Rutgers
Rutgers had one bowl appearance in over 100 years of football before Schiano showed up in Piscataway. So after six bowl appearances and building a posh on-campus home, Schiano broke Scarlet hearts when he tried his hand at the NFL in 2012. His disciplinarian tactics didn't go over well in the pro ranks, and he was shown the door. He’s out of work now, but we're pretty sure the Knights would beg him to return to Jersey.
Texas A&M back to the Big 12
Awkward, yes. Realistic, no.
Bobby Petrino back to Arkansas
Petrino already returned to where he built his name with a return to Louisville. If not for a fateful motorcycle ride, Petrino may still be at Arkansas, where he had the Razorbacks just a step behind Alabama and LSU. Few things would be more Petrino than using Louisville (again) to take a better job.
Kurt Busch back to any former NASCAR team
Busch has burned so many bridges in NASCAR that a return to anywhere (Team Penske, Roush Fenway Racing) would be beyond awkward.
Brett Favre back to Green Bay
Where is Ed Werder when you need him? We set out to look at only active athletes, but retirement is all relative when it comes to Favre. After an ugly divorce in Green Bay, Packers fans weren't all that upset to watch their departed quarterback squirm during a Deadspin-fueled scandal with a Jets broadcaster or when he was on the wrong end of Bounty Gate while playing for the rival Vikings. Green Bay has a fine quarterback of their own now, but you never know when he might need a new backup.
David Fox, Braden Gall, Mark Ross and Matt Taliaferro contributed to this post.