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Maybe We Should, But Cleveland Will Never Forgive LeBron

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I’m a Clevelander. I was born 28 years ago in Cleveland. For all but a handful of the days in these past 28 years, I have been a short twenty minute car ride from the city. I have also been a short twenty minute car ride from the city of Akron, home of LeBron James.

Cleveland is normally only mentioned as a desolate place where only the most hopeless would care to live and no one in their right mind would care to venture. Media one-liner by media one-liner, Cleveland takes a beating. The jokes are easy: “Cleveland is so dirty the rivers catch on fire.” “How do you keep a Cleveland Brown out of your yard? Paint an endzone on the lawn.” Even Clevelanders mock Cleveland as is the case in the admittedly hilarious “Cleveland Tourism Videos” linked below.

Cleveland is a proud town. Cleveland is also a struggling town. Faulty leadership has led this ones booming Midwest metropolis astray and anyone around during the downfall was caught in the crossfire. Businesses are rapidly moving outside city limits if not out of the area altogether. There are sections of town where even police officers are afraid to go. Most concerning is that young professionals are leaving the area at alarming rates. One such professional that left town is LeBron James.

James, like so many other promising talents from the Cleveland area chose to hop on the first thing smoking out of here. In his case he “took his talents to South Beach.” Sure, James has different talents than the up-and-coming marketing gurus, computer engineers or other rising star professionals that choose to flee the city, but it’s the same situation. So why then, should Clevelanders be mad at him for moving on to supposedly greener pastures when those all around them are doing just that? The difference is that LeBron wasn’t just fleeing a city in distress, he was the city, and he had a chance and the ability to singlehandedly make it great again.

LeBron likes to pretend that he’s just a little kid from Akron. On one hand, it’s hard to argue that he isn’t. It’s been said that the age at which celebrities achieve fame is the mental age that they stay for the rest of their lives. In LeBron’s case, he was gracing Cleveland newspaper covers before he could drive. Is LeBron really a 14 year old in a 25 year-old body chiseled out of granite? I can’t make a definitive argument that he isn’t.

That said, would four generations of Clevelanders hold a 14 year-old accountable for the continued downfall of a city? Can we, as Clevelanders really be mad that a 14 year-old wants to go hang out on the beach with his buddies? If you answer no, you probably aren’t from Cleveland, and more obviously don’t understand the mind of a Cleveland fan.

Boston fans caught the heart of the nation when they were “struggling” through the Red Sox World Series drought. They spoke of Buckner and the curse as if the 17 Celtics Championships, 3 Patriots Super Bowls and 5 Bruins Stanley Cups never happened. Chicago gets the same media treatment with the Cubs. Reporters write heartwarming stories about how this year, whichever it may be, just may be the year. They speak of the heartbreaks, the pain, and the disappointment of the Chicago fan as if the Bulls 6 Titles, Blackhawks Stanley Cups, and the fact that they had one of the greatest football teams ever assembled in the ’85 Bears slipped their mind. I understand that Cubs fans and White Sox fans get along about as well as Met fans and Yankee fans, but the Sox World Series win was still a win for the city.

It’s been 46 years since Cleveland has won any type of major sports championship. Cleveland has fumbled away chances, allowed 98 yard drives, watched Art Modell move their team out of the city and win a Super Bowl. Cleveland was a Jose Mesa blown save and Tony Fernandez error away from a World Series title. They suffered through “The Shot,” sad idly by as Bill Belichick became one of the greatest coaches of all time, after leaving Cleveland of course.. On and on the disasters go…it has gotten to the point where even the most fervent of Cleveland sports fan just shake their head and let out a despondent “OIC” whenever something truly Cleveland happens. OIC is the unofficial Cleveland sports motto, it means “Only in Cleveland,” and if you think it’s a tad overdramatic, you must be in the overwhelming majority who flips the channel when a Cleveland highlight comes on.

Truth be told, I, like every sports fan, have teams that I pull for to succeed. They aren’t all based in Cleveland; most are, but all aren’t. I try to keep things in perspective and see things on the grand scheme rather than get sucked into the secular landscape. I don’t think that “God hates Cleveland” like so many of those in the area do, nor do I think that the city is cursed or doomed to an eternity of bad fortune. I think that you make your own fortune and create your own successes, but with the way things have gone for the last few generations, I can’t fault anyone who believes otherwise.

LeBron was supposed to be the savior of the city. He was glossed the “Chosen One”, well truthfully he glossed himself the “Chosen One”, tattooed it on his back and everyone else tagged along. It was apparent that he knew how much he meant to the city and repeatedly slapped the fans in the face on any public stage possible. During the Indians playoff run in 2007, he showed up to Progressive Field proudly displaying Yankees gear. When the Browns played the Cowboys he hung out on the Dallas sidelines in Cowboys garb and didn’t bother to acknowledge the fact that the Browns were even on the field.

He has even gone so far as to publically announce that as a kid he “hated Cleveland” and there are “a lot of people in Cleveland he still hates to this day.” His rationale that “Clevelanders were bigger-city kids that looked down on (those in Akron)” is complete garbage. Clevelanders don’t look down on Akron; Clevelanders don’t look down on any city, well except maybe Detroit. Pittsburgh used to be in the conversation, but most Browns fans I know wish they were born in Pittsburgh instead of hard-luck Cleveland, that’s how bad it has gotten.

Clevelanders shouldn’t be surprised that he left, but we are, I am. Even on the day that “The Decision” was to be staged and reports were buzzing that LeBron to Miami was a “done deal” we still didn’t believe it. Then came the moment: we watched, we rewound, we re-watched, we sat staring blankly at the television screen, we looked up, looked back, and we just sat. All in one moment Cleveland was shattered, scorned, stabbed in the back, embarrassed, and any other adjective to describe the feeling of pain that comes from something out of your control. Cleveland was numb. In one sentence, generations of Cleveland fans were taken back to the great failures of the past. In LA or Boston or Chicago riots would’ve gone on for days, but not in Cleveland. Cleveland was greeted again by that utter emptiness inside as if it were an old friend.

We shouldn’t be surprised because LeBron is, and always has been, a frontrunner. To see that clearly, all you have to do is take a quick look at his favorite teams during his youth in the 90’s. The Cowboys, The Yankees, The Bulls: 12 titles between them. I don’t know if LeBron likes hockey, but I’m guessing that he doesn’t; there were no dynasties during the 90s.  He likes to tell everyone that he’s a leader. There is one problem with that: if you have to tell everyone that you are a leader, you aren’t. Leaders make everyone around them better. Jordan elevated the games of everyone around him. Go through the list: Kerr, Paxson, Grant, Pippen, Cartwright… Who did LeBron make better? Whose game did he elevate? Certainly not Boozer, Gooden, Hughes, Mo Williams, Varejao, Shaq or any of the countless others the Cavs put around him. Each of those players is much better with him not on the court. A team without him will probably win fewer games, but the players themselves will be better players without him. Imagine working with the CEO of your company watching you all day long. That’s what it’s like when LeBron is on the court. Leaders form bonds and inspire through those bonds. They create an environment where people want to succeed for you more than for themselves. They accept blame. When things go badly they don’t single out everyone else’s mistakes. Think about LeBron, his actions, his demeanor, his number changing, his comments, the writing was right there on the wall in plain sight. Clevelander’s just didn’t want to see it.

He wasn’t always this way though. I met him socially in his younger years on a couple occasions through a friend. He wouldn’t know me more than he would know a stranger in a strange land, but one thing was apparent, the personality transformation that I witnessed was almost as instant as it was astonishing. Something happened from his sophomore to his junior year at St. Vincent-St.Mary that turned him from a regular, polite 16 year old to a 17 year old egomaniac. Maybe it was Sonny Vaccaro hanging around. Maybe it was ESPN showcasing him. Maybe it was the thousands of people telling him how great he was. Whatever it was, in his mind, he went from everybody’s equal to their superior faster than you could say “King James.” He went from laid-back with a mellow demeanor, to, in his own words “a big-headed jerk” that walked into parties exclaiming: “Who’s going to f*** me tonight?”  In LeBron fashion, he doesn’t take responsibility for the transformation. Instead he pushes the blame on “adults who treated him (like royalty) and then sat back and smugly watched the self-destruction.”

That brings us to the present: December 2nd. LeBron James’ first game back in the city that he once owned; the city that he turned his back on. The city and surrounding areas filled with millions of people united by a common bond: hatred of their one-time hero.

I honestly don’t know what is going to happen tonight, nobody does, and that’s what makes it scary. It will be ugly, but exactly how ugly remains to be seen. In this case, as opposed to other sports riots, the majority of the sports-loving population will understand. They understand that the hometown kid not only spit in the face of his city, but he also kicked dirt on them after. His comments bleed arrogance and naivety. He thinks that a city with 46 years of pent up pain, anger, and disappointment can just “get over it.”

This game may be the most anticipated meaningless game in professional sports history, but in Cleveland it’s far from meaningless. This is bigger than the game, this is about civic pride, years of unrequited love, and most of all, revenge. I would set the over/under for number of incident related game stoppages at 2 and take the over. If the game ended in a forfeit it wouldn’t shock me, after all it wouldn’t be the first time for Cleveland. LeBron James will be long gone from this Earth before Cleveland takes heed to his suggestion and “gets over it.” Sometimes forgive and forget is the best way to handle a situation, but with the sports history of Cleveland, this town will never forgive nor forget.


5 Responses to “Maybe We Should, But Cleveland Will Never Forgive LeBron”

  1. “Most anticipated meaningless game in professional sports history”…hahahah, so true.

    Posted by Kevin Hocevar | December 2, 2010, 2:26 pm
  2. I will agree Detroit is as “run-down” a city as any in the United States. However, to put them in the same category at Cleveland when it comes to sports is ridiculous. Detroit has won 9 championships since Cleveland last sniffed a victory. Tigers = 2, Pistons = 3, Red Wings = 4. I agree with 99% of the previous article but will be the first to admit Lebron made the right decision and would have never won a championship or “saved” the city of Cleveland. Good luck Lebron.

    Posted by Steve Antoniotti | December 2, 2010, 5:53 pm
  3. I’m with you Steve. As far as sports success goes, Detroit is miles ahead of Cleveland, it’s not even a discussion. I was more speaking to the general Cleveland view of the cities. Most times when someone from Cleveland is bashing Cleveland, they end it with: “Could be worse, we could be Detroit.” Thanks for the read and the comment.

    Posted by Jason Marlo | December 2, 2010, 6:03 pm
  4. Great article. You’re right about Cleveland never forgiving. However, Lebron had the right to go where ever he wanted. I don’t think his leaving is the big issue here. It’s how he left not that he did leave. He got some bad advice from his people. Having watched the game so far tonight, I don’t think he’s too rattled. He’s out to prove a point and he’s playing his game. The city of Miami is not much of a basketball town and they don’t seem to care much about him one way or the other. Time will tell if he make a good move or not.

    Posted by sportnuts679 | December 2, 2010, 11:02 pm
  5. For me, it’s the fact he LEFT, and decided to leave, two years ago, and didn’t live up to his “desire” to win the City of Cleveland it’s first Major Professional Championship since ’48. For a city sporting 3 teams in the top three sporting leagues, that is bad.

    The worst part about it, is that all along, he said the right things, and he sold it to us that he meant them….he sold us that he BELIEVED them….He had us all fooled. He did not care to the level he projected, and that, more than “the way he left”, is what pisses me off.

    Posted by Bobby Digital | December 3, 2010, 1:39 pm

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