“Hey, LeBron. I’m just a guy who doesn’t have a dog in this fight. But, for the sake of your safety, your image, and your legacy, for the love of God, stay in Cleveland. Thanks. P.S.: Don’t EVER call a hyped press conference for crap like this again, lest you wanna be hated by most of the country.”
That was a Facebook post I wrote on July 8, 2010. For those who don’t remember (or who just prayed to forget), this was the date of LeBron James’ infamous “Decision”, spurring the Cleveland Cavaliers and “taking [his] talents to South Beach.” In the over-publicized spectacle, he single-handedly planted visions of titles and 70-win seasons into Heat fans’ heads, while simultaneously destroying the hopes and dreams of NBA titles in his home state of Ohio.
I still remember that day, only because it had been such a huge deal and had been endlessly talked about on ESPN for the past few days. I remember thinking, when James uttered the words “this is tough,” that it wasn’t going to be good for Cleveland. I, along with everyone else in the country who wasn’t in the Arms Race for LBJ, realized how much he meant to Cleveland fans, and how bad it was going to play if (or when) he decided to fold up his tent and head elsewhere. Anyone could see it coming from a mile away – he would certainly catch Hell if he left. And, boy, did he.
Just minutes after uttering those nine infamous words, it was as if the city of Cleveland had imploded on itself, sparking utter chaos. Grown men and women crying, set off like dynamite; James jerseys burning in parking lots; not to mention the tactics Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert used to get back at LeBron’s supposed betrayal – the open letter he sent to Cavaliers fans, selling wall decals on his website for $17.41 (Benedict Arnold’s year of birth).
In short, all manners of vitriol spewed from different directions at the former “King” of Ohio. No longer would he be viewed as “Cleveland’s son” – he would forever be a title-chaser, a coward, and a outright traitor.
And, tonight, he returns to the place he abandoned; to the people he scorned; to city he seemingly betrayed.
Now, this whole episode was difficult to watch – from the ill-conceived “Decision” to the venomous reaction from a contemptuous fanbase. As an outsider looking in, I could only hope that, in time, the city would move on from this. After all, there was a Cleveland Cavaliers team before 2003, when LeBron was drafted #1 overall. And, judging by the reaction by Gilbert and the Cleveland fans, there will be a Cavaliers team long after. As a sports town, Cleveland has shown it is a resilient city.
I can also hope that, in time (most likely, in the distant future, but hopefully, sooner), the city of Cleveland can at least accept LeBron’s decision. I realize that they are not bitter and angry for the fact that he left, but in the way that he left – humiliating an entire city in front of the entire country. And, I’ll admit – what he did was cold-blooded, no matter how you slice it. But, to hold a bitter grudge against one man is above any city.
However, while LeBron comes back to his former home, it certainly isn’t how he was expecting to return. It isn’t how NBA fans thought he would, anyway. LeBron comes back to a Cleveland team that is 7-10, yet he brings with him a Miami Heat team with an uninspired 11-8 record. At this point of the season, many believed this team, armed with a “Big 3” of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, would have a record more along the lines of 18-1.
Cleveland, on the other hand, was thought to have fallen off the NBA landscape with the loss of James. Instead, they are only 2.5 games back of division leader Chicago, steadily in third place. They have a promising young star in J.J. Hickson, as well as consistent mainstays in Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams. While they have shown – at least up to this point – that there is life after LBJ, they can also look at the other side of the pond, with the peace of mind of watching their “prodigal son” have inklings that he made a terrible mistake.
At least, for now, Cleveland can take solace in that.