A Reaction Unfit for a King
The Commish on Cleveland fans.
Yesterday evening, LeBron shot off this tweet from his @KingJames twitter account: “Don’t think for one min that I haven’t been taking mental notes of everyone taking shots at me this summer. And I mean everyone!” There’s going to be a massacre at Quicken Loans Arena on December 2.
Immediately after LeBron James told the world he was taking “his talents to South Beach,” reactionary vitriol started flooding out of every American crevice. Research showed his Q-rating plummeted after “The Decision.” He went from hero and homeboy to punk and pariah. One of the many resulting, dire sentiments was that, perhaps, LeBron would never be able to return to Northeast Ohio again. Cleveland? Forget it. Hometown Akron? Done. In fact, folks were saying he’d have to sell his Bath Township mansion.
But then, less than a month after “The Decision” and the outsized Miami-welcome, with the wounds and open sores still visible and painful, there was LeBron in an Akron t-shirt, cruising on a mountain bike for the Fifth Annual LeBron James Bikeathon. Later he took to the mic to thank his hometown and homestate fans for years of support. Guess what? No boos. I doubt this will be his welcome December 2 when Miami visits to play the Cavs.
I can’t recall a fan-base reacting to rejection more petulantly than the folks in Cleveland and northeast Ohio. Cleveland fans have gone in so hard on LeBron – who, ultimately, exercised his open market freedom, albeit, in some disturbing displays of self-indulgence – that, to me, they are no longer sympathetic figures.
It started with burning his jerseys and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert making like Syndrome from “The Incredibles” and firing of his Ether Letter, a frothy-mouthed missive that called James, among other things, a traitor and a coward. And it didn’t stop from there. The Great Lakes Brewing Co. made “Quitness,” a special brew for LeBron. Fans created spiteful and downright reproachful t-shirts. LeBron’s entry in UrbanDictionary.com became a public censure. A few days before LeBron’s return to Ohio, the Omada Group bought this ingrate-billboard for $3,000 and stuck it on the highway connecting Cleveland and Akron. Weeks before, there were billboards begging James to stay.
Gilbert paid LeBron about $55 million in salary over the past five years. During that time, his franchise’s worth has appreciated $100 million and he’s seen about $90 million in operating profits during a period when so many teams have struggled to even break even. Yet, he wrote a letter drenched more in a tone of “you owe me/us,” than betrayal.
Between high school and the NBA, LeBron gave northeast Ohio 11 years of transcendent, transfixing basketball – he helped revitalize Cleveland’s struggling downtown. But that obviously wasn’t enough to keep the region from joining together to make momma-jokes and besmirch the dude every chance they got.
If LeBron’s decision was disappointing and his ESPN Special was classless, the collective Ohio reaction has been bush-league.
In a lot of ways, I get Cleveland. I grew up a in Buffalo, NY, on the other side of Lake Erie. Buffalo and Cleveland, like many other Rust Belt cities, are struggling to keep up with modern commerce and industry. Our cities are depressed in many ways. Check this tongue-in-cheek Cleveland tourism video, which could be about Buffalo, Detroit, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, you name it. As result, of course, we place way too much emphasis on sports, which inches perilously close to life-or-death importance.
And, in cities where teams routinely disappoint — like my hometown Buffalo and, germane to this piece, Cleveland – a cat like LeBron becomes a beacon. To watch him spurn you on national television, for a glamour city, had to be nauseating. Natural, human feelings of hurt, betrayal and disappointment are reasonable and expected. But the bile, the personal attacks? Wack.
LeBron’s December 2 return will be interesting. I expect an angry mob reaction that will make Brett Favre’s return to Green Bay seem like Obama’s election-win rally at Grant Park. LeBron — who never said a bad word about Cleveland, never retaliated to the attacks, only gave the region 11 years of great basketball – won’t deserve it. I hope LeBron drops a triple-double and Miami slays the Cavs by 40.
Vincent Thomas is a columnist and feature writer for SLAM, a contributing commentator for ESPN, writes the weekly “From The Floor” column and co-hosts the Hang Time Podcast for NBA.com. You can email him your feedback at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @vincecathomas.