Words. Max Sheridan
This was a different era. It had to be. Sure, a few years back, us Cleveland sports fans knew all about Cleveland’s infamous dry spell, title-less since Jim Brown led the Browns to the AFC Championship in 1964 (not even a Super Bowl). But come on, the drought couldn’t really go on much longer…right? Yes, the Browns and Indians have been as uninspiring as of late. But, the Cavaliers had a new owner, new state-of-the-art practice facility, new colors, and most importantly, an 18-year-old that would become the best athlete, and one of the best players, to ever step on a basketball court. And, to give the story its final Hollywood touch, he was from just a few dozen miles down the road in Akron. What could be better?! It wasn’t a matter of if we were going to win a championship, but when. But, on Thursday night, in front of the millions of people, while certainly not his chief intention, LeBron James broke our hearts forever.
For Cavs fans, while the night’s eventual outcome of LeBron leaving Cleveland to play for the Miami Heat was incredibly disappointing, how it happened is what truly sent the agony dancing through our veins.
In the first few years of his career, Clevelanders had been treated with the fun-loving, team-first LeBron. Expectations were high for the future, and playoff exits were attributed to youth and inexperience. However, as the years went on, pressure began to mount on James to win a ring for himself and for all of Cleveland, and a transformation began. For the last two years, Cleveland has earned the best regular season record in the NBA and amassed legitimate title hopes before unexpectedly bowing out in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. During that time, the hopeful, amusing LeBron James slowly yielded to the terrible, narcissistic LeBron James, obsessed with selling his brand, and eager to separate himself from the negativity that surrounded Cleveland when playoff expectations went unmet.
In the midst of this year’s shocking second round loss to the Boston Celtics, James candidly declared, “I spoil a lot of people with my play…[when] you’ve had three bad games in a seven-year career, then it’s easy to point that out”. With a quick lash of the tongue, LeBron James confirmed that he was, in fact, too good for Cleveland. This was not a complete surprise, as he had before gone out of his way to clarify that his hometown is Akron, not Cleveland, and also began feeding the free agency hype machine in the summer of 2009, over a year before the his actual free agency period began. Though not a surprise, it was certainly a sad realization that Cleveland was never going to be nearly as important to LeBron James as he was to the people of Cleveland.
Cleveland fans hoped that he would accept one of the steepest challenges in all of sports by trying to bring the city of Cleveland a championship. Many people, myself included, would have bet anything that it would one day happen. Instead, James opted to take the easy way out. LeBron decided to concentrate on building his popularity instead of winning. Ultimately, James was able to bask in his unprecedented, around the clock free agency attention. He has often stated his desire to become the first billionaire basketball player and expand his image into China and other parts of the world. On LeBron’s list of priorities, “Bringing a championship to Cleveland” was just never as high as Cleveland fans hoped. While it would certainly be nice for everyone if it were to occur, James was not willing to truly sacrifice to achieve it.
This is one of many gripes that Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert expressed in his fiery letter published after James’ announcement Thursday night. Gilbert ripped LeBron for “cowardly betrayal”, and while that is an overstatement, he certainly had a valid point in criticizing LeBron’s belief that “some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.” James wanted a championship in Cleveland, but only if it happened his way, while he built his brand and became the most sought after figure in sports. The “Chosen One” made plenty of wrong choices that hurt his overall image around the United States and the world. Not calling owner Dan Gilbert, your employer for the past five years, before announcing your decision? Classless. Hopefully we can consider that a slip up. But requesting to announce his decision during an hour-long ESPN special? That’s just narcissistic. Classic LeBron.
It seems in Cleveland, no matter how much things may seem to change, they only stay the same. It’s too bad LeBron didn’t want to be a part of a championship team in Cleveland as badly as his fans wanted it. Clevelanders had a golden opportunity to experience true sports euphoria and uncover the city’s lost sports mojo, but alas, we will continue to wait for our eventual title parade. I think the whole city of Cleveland can agree that while we are jealous that Miami fans get to watch LeBron James: The Player, we are in no way upset to see King James: The Brand and Narcissist, leaving northeast Ohio for good.
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