I don’t write often about sports, even though I am a fan of the Cleveland teams (baseball, football, basketball in that order). Fred Wilson wrote a post about LeBron James leaving the Cavs and I responded. It is hard for people not raised with the Cleveland sports mentality to understand. So I wanted to include my comment here, mostly for my own history.
Unless you are from Cleveland (I was born there but moved to Portland, OR in college) and are a sports fan of its teams, there is just no way to understand the emotions of the city right now. (And for those of you critcizing Dan Gilbert, you are absolutely right. It was silly and probably stupid but that letter was not aimed at players; it was aimed at Cleveland fans. And every fan in the city wanted to give Gilbert a ticker-tape parade just for saying it.) Some of this is about LeBron James but most of the reaction is to a lifetime of heartache, of almost wins and our players bringing championships to other teams and teams moved and hopes dashed. It is visceral and emotional and had absolutely nothing to do with LeBron leaving. Well, not totally anyway. It is anything but rational.
It is a long history of this. It is Michael Jordan’s shot over Craig Ehlo when the Cavs were the best team in the league, it is Jose Mesa imploding in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the 1997 World Series to an expansion team that bought a championship. It was about Earnest Byner fumbling on the one yard line that would have sent the Browns to the Super Bowl and John Elway driving 98 yards for a touchdown and the win in another playoff game with one minute left on the clock. It was about Bill Belichek cutting Bernie Kosar and Manny Ramirez winning multiple World Series’ in Boston and Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia facing each other in game one of the World Series last year both playing for different teams. It is about Brian Sipe’s interception in the end zone that cost us the Super Bowl appearance in 1980 and about 30 years of futile owners and managers who traded away championship players for over the hill nobodies. It is a little about LeBron James and the fact that our best hope for a championship in a long-time was unable to do it even when the Cavs surrounded him by five [actually, four as LeBron was the fifth] former All-Stars. And it was, most of all, about Art Modell ripping out the heart of the city and selling it to Baltimore in the back of an airplane (and then that team winning the Super Bowl shortly thereafter).
Rationally you and your commenters are right. The balance of power in the NBA has shifted to the players. There are four major teams in the NBA and the rest are also rans: Boston, LA Lakers, Orlando and Miami. Each team has multiple All-Stars who were brought together in circumvention, you could say, of the intention of the rules of the league. And I don’t think anyone in Cleveland would begrudge LeBron for saying he wants to win championships and he feels his best chance of doing that is in Miami with Wade and Bosh. He happens to be right, in my opinion, given how the NBA works. Even Clevelanders would say we have lost good players before and will in the future, too. Sure, the initial hurt feelings would have been that but that is not what drove fans into the street to burn LeBron jerseys. What drove fans into the street was the way he did it.
What did LeBron do? He signed a three year contract and, one year into it, started courting the media and talking about free agency, giving the impression he was just waiting out his time. He didn’t tell the Cavs until he was on the air, giving Cleveland no chance to sign another top notch free agent (whether they could or not), he did it with an in-your-face style that is completely not Cleveland, and he did it in the most narcistic, self-serving way. It was an embarrassment for the city and an affront to the state.
And given everything else, given all the close calls and stolen dreams, it was completely unexpected from a Cleveland native son.