LeBron James’ departure is eerily similar to that of another all-time great.
I honestly thought it was a joke when I first heard that LeBron James had signed a four-year deal with the Lakers. We heard all along that the Lakers were a serious possibility, yet I just couldn’t foresee him leaving home again. I was wrong along with so many others. We’ll see how this plays out for LeBron and his legacy. As for Cleveland, it sure feels like we’ve seen this movie before.
LeBron fulfilled his promise to bring a championship to Cleveland. It was the first for Cleveland since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964. June 19, 2016, is a day that Cleveland sports fans will never forget. It brought out emotions that many thought they would never experience. It erased the brutal losses the city had experienced in coming so close in the past. Our first championship in 52 years was and always will be special.
The King’s departure on a July 2 got me thinking about the retirement of the great Jim Brown on a July day in 1966. Sure, LeBron isn’t retiring, but for most of us, he might as well be. The similarities between the two departures are easy to see.
Jim Brown was only 30 years old when he retired from football. Think about that the next time someone is ranking the top backs of all time. His nine-year career could have been much longer; Emmitt Smith played 15 seasons. Brown led the league in rushing in 1965 and was clearly still in his prime. LeBron is 33 now, yet his play this past season was as spectacular as ever. He played with the same power and intensity that we have all come to expect while demonstrating an amazing touch that we hadn’t seen a lot of in recent years.
Jim Brown played one more season after being the main reason the Browns won the title in 1964. LeBron stayed for two additional seasons after the Cavs came back from being down three games to one to bring win the NBA Championship. Both were clearly at the top of their craft as they packed their bags. Jim Brown was pursuing his acting career, while LeBron is clearly looking for something that he feels Cleveland cannot deliver.
LeBron James and Jim Brown are arguably the two greatest athletes to ever play in The Land. You can try to make cases for a couple other guys, but that’s it. Bob Feller and Otto Graham are in the discussion. I don’t believe anyone else is. Their sheer greatness seemed to form a bond between these two men. Few athletes have ever dominated their sport in the manner in which both Brown and James have. When Jim Brown passed the torch to LeBron prior to Game 3 of the 2015 NBA Finals, it was a testament to the greatness of both men. Remember, Brown has been very vocal over the years regarding the lack of greatness of many football players. If you don’t recall that, ask Franco Harris.
Neither of these two greats had a tremendous relationship with their owner. That may be an overstatement for Jim Brown. It is most certainly an understatement for James. Dan Gilbert was the oil to LeBron’s water in Cleveland. The all-world small forward was able to put the volatility of that relationship aside in order to come back and win a title.
Was his decision to leave again due to an awful relationship with Gilbert?
We can’t say that’s the main reason, but it must have played a role. Meanwhile, Art Modell had the gall to threaten to fine the greatest player in the NFL for being late to training camp. Brown ran into delays while filming The Dirty Dozen. Modell’s threats hastened Brown’s decision to retire. The greatest running back of all time was pursuing his acting career, but he was willing to play at least one more season.
Cleveland has had a lot of great athletes play for our teams. None have been greater than LeBron James and Jim Brown. They both left our town in their prime. We can rue the days of their departures or we can celebrate their greatness and the titles they brought home. We were fortunate to be witnesses.