I’m not an expert about much but Cleveland is something I know a lot about. As much as I like to have some fun with our cousins to the Midwest – it’s been a healthy rivalry ever since Art Modell stepped foot into Parking Lot D in Nov. 1995 – today a little piece of me is angry for them.
It’s true – anger is to Cleveland what fake breasts and sunshine are to California. People in Cleveland are perennially angry. They hate the Browns. They hate Art Modell. They hate losing. They hate whoever is the quarterback of the Browns. They hate that they haven’t won a championship.
They hate me.
And this morning, for the first time since Modell brought us the Ravens, they have a right to be burning 23 jerseys and “M-F-ing” Lebron James into perpetuity.
Sure, “King James” had the freedom to play wherever he wanted to play. Sure, Miami has prettier girls (although I always had a good time in Cleveland, wink, wink) and more sunshine and Chris Bosh and Dewayne Wade and Pat Riley.
But Cleveland held something intrinsic and legitimate that Lebron James sold away in one sentence last night, something that can’t be bought with a check from South Florida (even if it’s just with the tax money saved and put back into his deep, Ocean Drive pockets).
It’s called authenticity.
Lebron had it the way Cal Ripken had it and Tony Gwynn had it. The way Derek Jeter, despite being an outsider, will always have it in New York and Kobe Bryant will have it in Los Angeles, just like Magic Johnson before him.
But even more so, Lebron James was “one of them.” He was an Akron kid who never left home and created a basketball craze in Cleveland that you’d have to see to believe. There’s a whole city of commerce and bars and jerseys and enthusiasm in a forever depressed and decaying community.
It gave people in Cleveland the most precious commodity that sports provides and one this is sorely lacking in Baltimore regarding baseball: hope.
In my private times with Art Modell, it’s the one thing he always talked about that was essential for any fan of a sport or a franchise. If you have hope, you have something that gets people interested.
I don’t need to tell you that Cleveland has been the armpit of America for years and hope is a wonderful thing for depressed communities.
This is where I should tell you that I really love Cleveland. I’ve gone there religiously for almost 20 years and despite having some of the worst sports fan in country (only contested by Philadelphia, in real terms) I pull for Cleveland to at least not be a doormat.
Cleveland and Baltimore are a lot alike. And it wouldn’t take you a few hours there chatting with the people to see it and feel it.
In my humble opinion, “Cleveland rocks!” (Just don’t tell anybody I said that…)
Cleveland was spurned last night. And they’re angry. And they’re burning jerseys. And they should. Hell, it’s what I’d be doing if I gave my soul to Lebron James and the Cavaliers over the last five years.
For the same reasons we collectively booed Mark Teixeira last Opening Day at Camden Yards, the people of Cleveland will forever hold a special place in their hearts for the anger and outrage of what Lebron James has chosen to do.
Like any other self-interested mega-star who is treated like a “King,” Lebron James eschewed any civic responsibility and chose to abandon his community.
Most of you know, I used to be a pretty huge NBA fan. The last 10 years I’ve chosen to ignore it and it’s been a fine decade for me. I think the players come off as a bunch of collective douche bags, the games are awful to watch and I have zero interest in the personalities or the standings.
But, this isn’t about Lebron James or basketball or the NBA. This is about doing the right thing. The thing that’s bigger than you. The thing that REALLY makes you “special.”
Lebron James chose selfish. And any 25-year old is allowed that privilege.
But Cal Ripken didn’t run off to the Dodgers. And Tony Gwynn didn’t run off to the Mets.
And they will forever reap the rewards of their “sacrifice.”
Lebron James, the man, will forever be remembered for an absurd evening of a July “Lebronathon” on ESPN where he took every negative stereotype consistent with “Rod Tidwell-ish” behavior and displayed it on worldwide TV and chose THE WRONG PLACE!
There was no Jerry Maguire, no happy landing for this imbecile. Wait’ll that first Christmas Day when the Miami Heat come to Cleveland to play a lunch time game. Just wait…
There will be a price to pay for the rest of eternity for Lebron James, even if he wins seven rings and surpasses Michael Jordan — and only time will tell how that script will be written.
But last night was memorable – for all of the wrong reasons. The NBA jumped the shark for a lot of people last night with that display.
I know I’ll always cheer against him. The Miami Heat are interesting to me because they’ll be my least favorite team in my least favorite sport.
The ultimate price for Lebron James will be that he can never go home again.
Somewhere in Northern Baltimore County Art Modell has felt the weight lifted from him.
Lebron James will be the guy they burn in effigy in Cleveland for the next 20 years.
Maybe Lebron should give Art a call for some advice.
Last night, Cleveland – the city that hates — was given a fresh, new gaping wound that will probably never be healed unless the next Lebron James is on some playground in Parma Heights right now.