While Miami celebrates, small-markets weap

It was an ending fit for a king. Finding out which team LeBron James chose to play for via text message wouldn’t do the situation justice; nor would seeing it scroll across the bottom of your screen during a baseball game. “The Decision” was all anyone in the sports world was talking about, and having an hour special on ESPN was a fitting way to make the announcement. How they went about conducting the interview I didn’t care for so much, but that’s another story (and besides, who tucks a shirt into jeans?).    

I got the feeling James was going to the Heat in the days leading up to the event. The Knicks needed too much work. The Nets are even worse than the Knicks, and you don’t want your friend as a boss. He couldn’t wear 23 in Chicago (but judging from the picture it wouldn’t have mattered anyway), and Los Angeles seemed like a long shot. All that left was Cleveland and Miami. Once Wade and Bosh announced they were both going to play with the Heat, it really hurt the Cavs’ chances. No Tom Izzo, and now no free agent signings. All they had left to offer LeBron was sentimental value, but millionaires don’t tend to listen to people yelling “you owe us.” If things are bigger in Texas, then they’re certainly hotter in Florida–Miami especially. For the spectacle of LeBron James, his brand, and his legacy, the aura of Miami seemed too much to ignore.    

Thursday morning, things got crazy. Every radio show and sports site was talking about LeBron. Nick Mendola may or may not have broken news that LeBron was scheduled to fly to Miami and meet with Pat Riley. Whichever guest host was murdering the Jim Rome show that day (I know, I know. Cut me some slack… that’s what WGR has on when I get my lunch break) had all kinds of people on from Ohio saying how LeBron better come back and how much they will hate him if he doesn’t. Facebook and Twitter were loaded with predictions and suggestions… some less serious than others.    

About five minutes before the start of the show, I posted one last thing about LeBron: “Hoping he stays in Cleveland.” I had given a lot of thought to where I actually wanted him to go. (I am becoming more and more aware of this sick/awesome obsession avid sports fans have with having an opinion on everything in sports; i.e. if you flip on a random college football game let’s say, and about three minutes into it you find yourself beginning to root for one of them to win. That’s something I could talk about for hours, but I bring it up only to discuss how I decided what I wanted LeBron to do.) Comparisons are often made between Cleveland and Buffalo as sports cities (mostly for losing), and I couldn’t help but feel bad for them. They’re a bigger city than we are, both we’re both considered to be small-markets. 
When James finally said he was going down to South Beach, I was really kind of sad. I don’t know how he came to that decision, but I can offer a comparison: If I was ever lucky enough to be drafted to the NHL, it would be a dream come true. But if I was drafted by the Sabres and was the best player in team history? There’s no way I could leave ever that behind.  I don’t know how he made up his mind–and even if I knew his logic, I probably wouldn’t understand it–but he sure broke a lot of hearts when he left.   


I asked a college friend of mine who lives in Cleveland what the scene was like and how they were taking it. He said, “Everyone hates LeBron. It’s pretty crazy. I don’t know if there is even anymore LeBron apparel, everyone is burning everything.”         
I knew the fallout would be bad in Ohio, and burning expensive things  is my case in point. Another part of the fallout that was publicized was Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert’s furious open letter to LeBron. Anger often provides the best fuel for writing, and although you may regret it later, it frequently proves to yield some really good writing. I thought the letter was a stroke of genius on Gilbert’s part, and I love that he used Comic Sans MS and blue font for it to take down the tone. He also took the focus off the fact that Cleveland just lost their best player, and put it on how much better they will be without him, when they clearly won’t be (and made a few thousand hometown fans in the process). I have the letter saved on my computer should something happen and it be mysteriously deleted from the Internet like some other things during the LeBron saga. My friend said, “The good news is that there is a new king, Dan Gilbert… got to love an owner like that.”       

When you think about it, you do love an owner like that. I wish our owners were more like that. He personally guarantees the Cavs will win a championship before LeBron will. While our absentee and aged owners don’t seem to know games exist after the regular season, their owner personally guarantees them a championship. In all honesty, that’s probably a bet he’s going to lose, but either way, you have to admire the passion he has for his city, something James seemed to be lacking.      

I actually got a letter from James in the mail a week or two ago. In it, he said, “No matter which team I end up playing with next season, I promise to continue to work hard and remain dedicated to the game of basketball… without the support of the fans, basketball would not mean nearly as much.” Guess basketball doesn’t mean as much to him. And if not basketball, then the city of Cleveland.      

Eventually though, The Forest City will do what us small-markets do best, pull together and be resilient. It’s not going to be easy and it will certainly take time, but Cleveland will start to get over it and LeBron will stop being headline news, maybe when the Browns start-up. Art Modell will still be public enemy number one, and eventually, Clevelanders will make their way to the acceptance stage of grief. One of the last things I asked my friend was if they had a feeling LeBron was going to leave. He answered, “I knew he was going to leave. I think everyone knew but didn’t want to admit it.”      

Through writing this I’ve realized that Cleveland is going to be okay. It may take some time to become title contenders again, but when the wounds heal, they heal stronger than before. And Cleveland–if you need a hug along the way, Buffalo is just a short trip away.       

Not really relevent to the piece, but you knew this was a big deal when dictionary.com even got involved. Take a look (note the extension is 666): http://hotword.dictionary.com/?p=666. They know grammar and things of that nature, but I would have liked to see them make note of Gilbert’s use of a double negative “nor NEVER.”