When talking with fellow Cavaliers fans following the NBA Finals sweep, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that LeBron James will be packing his bags and heading out of town, again. Everyone from rabid fans to casual observers to the kid bagging my groceries say pretty much the same thing, “I wouldn’t blame him if he left.” The difference eight years and one NBA Championship can make.
I’m sure many of you remember 2010, we Cavs fans spent most of June licking our wounds and biting our fingernails hoping that the unthinkable did not become a reality.
On July 8, 2010, ESPN aired the 75-minute-long special called “The Decision” It was a fundraising opportunity for Boys and Girls Clubs as well as other charities which benefitted from the advertising revenue. The short version of the story, James brought the wrath of the Cavilers Nation down upon himself when, in a few unforgettable sentences, he dismissed his team and his city.
“This fall, I’m going to take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat. I feel like it’s going to give me the best opportunity to win and to win for multiple years and not only just to win in the regular season or just to win five games in a row or three games in a row, I want to be able to win championships. And I feel like I can compete down there.”
We remember the firestorm that followed “The Decision.” I believe that LeBron remembers it, too. He was a much younger man who, at the time, overestimated his place in the hearts of Cleveland sports fans. He also underestimated our love for our city and our teams. While some fans sided with James, donned Miami Heat jerseys and drew the contempt of the Cavaliers fans, many of us bristled at the sound of his name and became temporary Dallas Mavericks fans for the NBA Finals series between the Mavericks and LeBron’s Miami Heat.
Some finals, a few championships and four years later, King James returned to his roots and signed on the dotted line with the Cavs. He promised the city and the team championship gold and a new era. While some of us never forgave him (my mother went to her grave with complete disdain for LeBron), others stayed standoffish, but for the most part, he was welcomed with open arms and an outpouring of love. Since then we have had four tremendous seasons with one magnificent championship and three brutal finals losses.
For his part, LeBron fulfilled his promise to the city and the fans.
But what now?
In my opinion, LeBron’s bags are proverbially packed. However, this time around if LeBron leaves, I don’t expect the overwhelming outpouring of hate. Why? I think that since 2010, LeBron matured and he learned the lesson which the Modell family could have taught him: don’t underestimate Cleveland’s ability to love or hate you. There are no fans like Cleveland fans. We will prop you up in the worst of times and cram over a million people downtown to celebrate you in the best of times. But don’t make an international spectacle of leaving us.
If LeBron had understood the fans in 2010, I think his choice to relocate would have been done with the grace and dignity you would expect from a professional career move instead of with the hyper-ego-mania of an ugly high school break-up.
So, we now wait, the clock is ticking and July is looming. I hope he stays in Cleveland. I think he will likely take his talents elsewhere, again. Either way, this time around there are no hard feelings. (Maybe)