Following Lebron James' announcement on Friday that he would be taking his talents from South Beach back to Cleveland, "the biggest Miami Heat fan in the world among pastors" expressed his surprise, grief — and admiration.
Tullian Tchividjian, who pastors at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, never dreamed that his team's best player would be leaving the squad following their defeat in the NBA finals last month.
"I was devastated. Literally. I'm a grown 41-year-old man — I shouldn't be that devastated about stuff like this, but we were just in shock," Tchividjian, a "diehard Heat fan," told The Christian Post, adding that he figured that given Pat Riley's persuasive skills and the fact that the Heat had lost, James would likely be sticking around for another year.
"I was actually more fearful that if they won against the Spurs, that Lebron might choose to go back to Cleveland. Because I was like, you've won three in a row, it's like 'I've come, I've conquered, let me go back to my hometown,'" said Tchividjian.
But Tchividjian's initial anger at losing his franchise player was tempered after reading James' letter posted on Sports Illustrated's website, in which he explained his decision as a calling which "goes above basketball" and one motivated by finding a home to raise his two sons and soon-to-be-daughter.
After reading through the letter, "I almost started crying," noted Tchividjian.
"This guy's a total class act. I mean it was really sweet. I told my wife, I said, 'If this guy applied for a pastoral position at Coral Ridge, I'd hire him in a second,'" he added. "...His decision had more to do with wanting to bring hope and help and inspiration to his hometown. You can't blame the guy from going to big market in Miami to a small market in Cleveland just because he loves his home."
Tchividjian said that he never believed Lebron would finish out his career in Miami.
"I have some friends in the Miami Heat organization who told me, even a couple years ago, that Lebron's always been a hometown Cleveland boy. His heart has always been in Cleveland and if he ever left Miami, that's where he would go," he said.
Tchividjian was also moved by James' forgiveness of Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert, who had famously criticized the basketball star's move to Miami as "narcissistic, self-promotional."
"It's a remarkable testimony to the power of forgiveness because if you remember when Cleveland, Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cavs just blasted him. Blasted him. Cavs fans were burning their Lebron jerseys. It was like an all-out assault on Lebron and his character for leaving and he even mentioned it in his letter and it just basically says something to the effect of, 'Who am I hold to hold grudges? I can completely understand how they felt,'" he said.
"I'm like 'Gosh, this guy's more mature than many Christians I know," he said.