Thursday, July 08, 2010

On LeBron

I swore I wasn't going to feed this anymore. I figured the media had driven it to absurdity months ago; I didn't need to contribute. But there's one thing I have up on almost all of the media, sports journalists, etc. I'm from Akron. And this hurts Ohioans. A lot. Sports fans are by definition emotionally invested in their teams, and this was a particularly high (and, while it lasted) great investment for Cleveland-area fans. To be spurned by the hometown hero, after all his alleged and professed love for his hometown not only feels like being rejected, but also being lied to. In short - it's really one of the cliched perfect storms for heartbreak.

Cleveland sports fans are used to heartbreak regularly. The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot. Art Modell. The Mesa Meltdown. The Sabathia Meltdown. The 2010 Conference semi-finals. More heartbreak in 23 years than some cities have had in 75.
But this one is the worst of all. And the reason is simple. This one took forethought.
Clearly, nobody in a game is putting forethought into the heartbreak. The Browns defense didn't say, "you know, Elway must feel pretty bad about that Cal-Stanford game....let's make it up to him!" Byner didn't think, "hey, I'll drop the ball on the goal-line!" Mesa didn't probably want to have that meltdown; Sabathia probably did wish he'd pitched better (too bad it only happened in 2009); and LeBron probably didn't even intend to be TEH SUCK against Boston.
And then there's Art Modell, the man LeBron will now rival for biggest villain in Cleveland sports history. Yes, Modell did decide to move, but by all accounts, the decision was sudden. And there was no multi-week (or multi-year) buildup to the decision-making itself. One day, the Browns are in Cleveland; the next day, it's announced they're heading off to Baltimore.
But this is different. LeBron planned this.
I have no idea how long he's known where he'd end up, but in some ways, it doesn't matter if it was 5 minutes ago, 5 hours ago, 5 days ago, or 5 weeks ago. Clearly, there was a lot of forethought both into the decision, and his opting to do it on television. It was the kind of heartbreak Cleveland sports fans have come to expect....but it was planned.
And that's what hurts the most. For those who haven't seen real salt-of-the-earth Ohioans, they defended Lebron, stuck up for him, took pride in him. That sounds silly, but as someone from Akron....there's not a lot to be proud of there, and a lot of people are never going to get out. It was great to see the hometown kid do good virtually in his hometown; to do good, by the community and for the community. And LeBron professed to feel it in kind.
But he either lied, or changed. He can't go back to Northeast Ohio now. He took the area that loved him like the natural-born son he is, and kicked it in the teeth. On national TV. He has his reasons, and from a sports perspective, they may make sense (though I'm curious how a team with three max-salary guys and 9 schlubs is going to do). But he took a region's pride, joy, and love, and threw it back. And he planned it.
Art Modell was never able to return to Cleveland due to the death threats he received everytime the Ravens played in Cleveland. I'm not advocating death threats towards LeBron or saying they will happen. But remember: Modell's was sudden. This has been weeks in the working.
And really, at the end of the day, that's why this is unforgivable. If LeBron had walked the normal way (i.e., press conference, twitter post, whatever), that would have been one thing. Sad for sports fans in Cleveland, but hey -we're used to heartbreak.
But to kick the people who supported you through all these years, from your high school years onward, to go on television to tell people who are where you're from but who will never be able to leave for better money, that they can piss on their support and their hometown....that's too much.
Make no bones - this is far from the end of the world. Dan Gilbert (the Cavs' owner) has plenty of money, and has said that he wants to build a winner and bring the first championship to Cleveland since 1964, with or without LeBron. And he spends enough of his own money on the Cavs (unlike Gordon Gund), I believe him. And it still remains to be seen if 3 max-salary-stars and 9 schmoes can win it all (I sure hope not).
But this was the perfect fairy-tale sports story: hometown kid becomes very good and ends up playing for the hometown team, bringing pride to an area desperately needing some.
And it ended the only way it could, Cleveland-style: in heartbreak and rejection. Good thing we've been trained for it.