Well it happened, you decided to head West and play in the bright lights of Los Angeles. Thank you for another summer of keeping your closest fans on edge wondering what you were going to do. Thank you for putting the best fans in the world through utter disappointment again. Please bear with me as I take a trip with you down memory lane. Forgive me as I jump around.
You left in 2010 and I could feel it. You went on national TV and completely embarrassed your beloved Northeast Ohio. You went on to win two titles in Miami and it made me envious. I just wanted to see that happen in Cleveland. I saw you hoist your first Larry O’Brien trophy and it flashed me back to 2003. I remember sitting with my dad and watching David Stern come out and hear him say:
“With the first pick in the 2003 NBA draft, the Cleveland Cavaliers select…LeBron James.”
I had grown up watching you on TV playing for SVSM. I immediately couldn’t wait for you to play in the NBA. As a fan of the Cavs ever since I could walk, knowing that 10-year-old me was about to see you play for the Cavs was a dream come true. I watched you grow from an 18-year-old rookie to a dominant force in the NBA. I watched you take over the league. I watched you hit miraculous shots and throw down spectacular dunks. I watched you score the final 25 points against the Pistons in the 2007 Eastern Conference Finals and take the Cavaliers to their first finals. We got swept by a far superior Spurs team but you restored something in this city, hope. Then the 2010 playoffs came. We lost Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals and you left the floor and took off that Cavs jersey and it killed me.
Fast forward to July 8, 2010. “The Decision”, an hour long special where you would announce where you were going to be playing was looming. All throughout the day, I heard rumblings that you would be going to the Heat. I refused to believe it. I thought there was no way that my favorite athlete would leave and go play somewhere else. I had two friends over and we sat there and watched you go on live TV just to announce that you would be taking your talents to South Beach.
Those words shook me to my core.
Those words floored me.
I could not believe it.
You were really gone.
I was 17 years old and I felt like it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. All of the miraculous shots I watched you hit in The Q would be no more. The crowd roaring with each dunk that you threw down would be no more. The pure excitement and passion of Cavaliers basketball would be no more. I sat and wished you would never win a title ever again. I said some pretty awful things about you. I watched as people burned your jerseys. I took down all of my posters in my room of you (which basically was all of my walls). I got rid of your shoes, your jerseys. I wanted to rid myself of you like you rid yourself of Cleveland. t would only be a few summers later where that feeling would change, though.
I remember watching the 2014 NBA finals with a few of my friends and the question was brought up:
“Think he could come back?” “I’m not banking on it, why would he at this point”. Then the Spurs won it and I remember thinking to myself, “maybe”.
I quickly disregarded the thought as to not get my hopes up. I mean we burned your jerseys, said horrible things about you, tried to erase ourselves of you. Dan Gilbert wrote a horrible letter about you. Why would you want to come back to a place you were resented? I remember wishing you would come back though because I couldn’t watch another 10 plus game losing streak for the Cavs. I couldn’t watch a young budding star in Kyrie Irving be hindered by a bunch of other average NBA players. I believe I tweeted something about being able to forgive you, buy all of your merchandise again if you came back. Man, did you listen.
July 11, 2014. I will never forget I had just gotten back home and was laying down scrolling through twitter and I saw a tweet get retweeted “Lebron: I’m Coming Home” with a link to an article from SI. I immediately refreshed twitter what seemed like a million times to see if it was actually real. I read your letter and I instantly was brought back to 2003, when I was a 10-year-old little boy sitting there with my dad watching you get drafted to my Cleveland Cavaliers. You really were coming home. I was 21 years old and I was acting like I was on draft day 2003, 11 years earlier. There were things you said in that letter that gave me goosebumps:
“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize that four years ago. I do now. I always believed that I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when.”
I immediately envisioned titles coming to Cleveland. The King was home to reside on his throne until he chose to retire.
That first game back against the Knicks was unbelievable. I was watching LeBron James play for the Cleveland Cavaliers again. You would hit a shot and I would go back to 2005 when you were just 20 years old and taking the league over. I could not believe it was happening again. The season went on and things were a bit rough, but I knew they would be. You even said “I’m not going anywhere ever again. I don’t have the energy”. We went to the finals that first year and you lead us to our first finals win. We lost Kyrie in Game 1 and Kevin Love had been hurt since the Boston series. We lost that series 4-2 and I remember being disappointed, but I knew we would be back. I knew that the Larry O’Brien trophy would be coming back to Cleveland. Hey, you even said it yourself…
“I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver” “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.”
Your essay kept coming back to me and I would reread it over and over after that NBA finals. I’m glad I did because next summer was going to be even sweeter.
The season was another rocky one. We made a coaching change and hired Ty Lue to coach the team. I remember watching every game of the NBA finals with my friends at local places around my apartment. I remember going down 0-2 and not even feeling a doubt in my mind because we had you, Lebron freakin’ James. Game 3 we came back home and won by 30. Game 4 we dropped by 21 and I remember leaving the bar I was at and thinking “there’s going to be next year.” Klay Thompson said you “just got your feelings hurt” and you laughed it off in a way that I knew you were going to come out and dominate. Game 5 and 6 were each double-digit wins for us and we went Game 7.
I do not think I had ever been so nervous for a game in my life. I was at the Q for the Game 7 watch party with a group of friends as you were in Oakland for Game 7 of the NBA Finals. It was in that game where you would make one of the most iconic plays in NBA history with an unbelievable chase down block on Andre Iguodala. I have a picture of it framed up on my wall. It is a collector’s picture as only a handful were made (I am unsure if I am going to keep it hanging up but that is something we can discuss later). We were up three and you went to the line after being fouled hard on a dunk attempt. You could hear a pin drop in the Q as you laid on the floor in pain. You got up and made one of the two free throws and made the score 93-89. Steph missed an ensuing three-pointer and in the words of Mike Breen:
“Cleveland is a city of champions once again!”
I was 23 years old and I cried because you lead us to a title. I hugged my friends as tears filled our eyes. I have never hugged/high fived so many random people in my life than I did that night. Cleveland Rocks was coming from the jukebox in every establishment in downtown Cleveland and boy did it certainly rock. My lifelong dream of seeing you hoist that Larry O’Brien trophy was finally here and the ups and downs that it took for it to happen all seemed so worth it.
That offseason you wanted JR Smith and Tristan Thompson to get top of the line contracts and the Cavs gave them to them. The Warriors had KD but who cared. We were the defending NBA Champions and I was ready to defend that title. The Indians made a spectacular postseason run and you and your Cavs teammates were at what seemed like every home game. Game 7 of the World Series you had on a shirt that said, “Cleveland or Nothing.” I never thought that the words on that shirt had ever been truer than they had in 2016.
We lost the 2017 finals and it seemed like the wheels fell off. I remember thinking it took Draymond Green crying to KD after Game 7 of the NBA finals to take you out. David Griffin, the architect of this team, was not retained and Kyrie Irving was traded. I remember thinking everything was fine because we had you and you were not going anywhere ever. Sadly, my worst nightmare was slowly becoming a reality. I heard the rumblings over the course of the season as the team struggled at times “LeBron is leaving.” I did not buy the rumors. I remember thinking, “but he said he wasn’t leaving.” That is what kept me going. I continued to read your letter that you were coming home and were here to stay. As the Cavs got swept in the finals and you walked off the court before the game ended I thought, “he didn’t do a curtain call, maybe this isn’t it.”
Then the rumors of FA started to fly, you were going to Houston, Philly, LA. You weren’t staying in Cleveland. You opted out of your contract which eliminated Houston and I clung to my hope that you couldn’t say no to a five-year deal worth over $200 million to stay in the town that treated you as its son and watched you grow from a rookie into the best player in the league (save those four years in Miami). I knew you were leaving, I just tried to keep myself from believing it.
I got that notification on my phone and the feelings of 2010 came over me again but it was different this time. I told myself all along you got us a title, I will be ok with him leaving. I am going to be a fan of wherever he goes. When it came down to it, though, I am unsure of how I will handle it. I mean, after all, you didn’t feel like you could win here anymore even though you were the one who got us in this terrible salary cap situation. You were the one who said “Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball” and that you were here to stay this time.
Once again you left the Cavaliers in the dark. The team who worshipped the ground you walked on. You now go to a franchise who doesn’t have real fans. You go to a franchise with 16 championships and is already an established franchise. Wasn’t it you that said “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is Earned.” I am less mad that you left this time as you did deliver on your promise and you won a title. However, all we got for it was a grainy picture that said: “Thanks for the last 4 years Northeast Ohio.” We have no cap space and we are not able to make any moves because you wanted JR and Tristan to get massive contracts. You claimed your relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball but maybe, just maybe it isn’t. I am going to stop myself there because you do a lot of great things for Akron, but leaving it isn’t one of them.
As the saying goes LeBron, all good things must come to an end and boy what a ride it was. I will remember the crisp October nights of 2016 seeing you rocking the “Cleveland or Nothing” shirt. I will remember where I was when you came back and I will never forget the 2015-2016 NBA season. Thank you for those.
As you rock that Purple and Gold for the next three seasons, it will bring a lot of mixed emotions. What would have happened with a healthy Kevin Love and Kyrie in 2015? What if KD didn’t go to Golden State? What if you had actually meant all of those things you said? I realize that it may just be me sounding bitter, but after the last four years and all of the great memories we have all you are leaving us with is that grainy Instagram picture, a garbage press release from Klutch Sports and the team in a worse place than when you came here. I will never forget the last four seasons and I told myself this wouldn’t bother me, but how little it doesn’t bother you bothers me.
A lifelong Cavs fan,