The Chosen One might not choose Cleveland, and the suffering that would ensue has been dissected everywhere. The wise man doesn’t argue that there won’t be severe fallout from a palace without a King. Subtract LeBron James, the reigning back-to-back MVP — the guy who just stacked up two of the most statistically outlandish seasons in NBA history — and your pop’s going to lose its fizz.
And LeBron might go. The reasons why spew forth by the hour on ESPN’s LeBron Tracker, Deadspin and Esquire’s LeBron Watch, The Plain Dealer’s daily LeBron Rumors section, and the neighbor guy cutting his grass. Everybody’s got a backroom angle on the Most Important Decision in History.
But even if LeBron departs, we’re stuck with ourselves. The smart money says Mayor Jackson won’t hawk us for bus fare to Buffalo. There’ll be no diving board installed at the 480 bridge.
Take a moment to whisk off two years’ worth of ten-cent predictions of doom, and you might just notice that we’ll be better off without him here.
It’s all well and good to love LeBron the ballplayer and pine for his return to the Q. But somewhere on our way to idol worship we’ve lost our collective stones to groveling — seven years’ worth and counting — in hopes he won’t leave us as so many others have. LeBron in Cleveland validates our place on the map; LeBron anywhere else wipes us out. It’s sad, but no more so than our false belief that the guy ever loved us in the first place.
Not buying it? Then stop by “LeBron Appreciation Day,” the City of Akron’s official ass-kissing ceremony, scheduled for June 19 at the University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium. The goal: “To bring together as many people as possible to send a unified message of support to our hometown hero LeBron James,” reads the widely quoted press release.
Add to it the best argument in a long time for a close shave: Local ESPN affiliate WKNR has introduced “Beards for ’Bron,” a campaign urging listeners to put down their razors in support of … what exactly is it again?
“We need to make sure we show how genuinely we feel, not for LeBron — he’s not going to base his decision on some fan demonstration — but because of the way the city’s being perceived,” says Aaron Goldhammer, assistant program director and co-host of WKNR’s Really Big Show.
“There’s a lot of Ha-ha, look at Cleveland, we’re going to steal LeBron, you’re miserable! A lot of people taking joy in the misery of Cleveland. I think it’s important for Cleveland to stand up to that before July 1.”
Surely, our collective ability to grow facial hair will make New Yorkers see they’ve got it all wrong.
But if there is one thing worse than those who believe LeBron’s choice somehow affects our self-worth, it’s the people who care what people outside Ohio think of us.
Behold “The LeBron Community Campaign,” put forth by David Gilbert, president of the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission. It’s his job to attract amateur sporting events to Cleveland, the kind of games LeBron played practically half his life ago. Now Gilbert is moonlighting in civic therapy.
“While opinions abound as to whether LeBron James chooses to continue his playing career in Cleveland and its effect on Northeast Ohio,” reads the press release, “one thing is clear — national media outlets are bashing our community and portraying this as the last place a person would choose to live.”
Not sure about the bashing, but there’s no shortage of negativity. Everyone — no really, everyone, from former players you hardly knew then and sure don’t know now, to the President of the United States — has weighed in on their choice of destination for LeBron. The anti-Cleveland vibe has been constant if civil, mainly some variation of Who wouldn’t want to leave Cleveland and move to New York?
“We need a response that is not just about convincing LeBron to remain, but demonstrates the passion and commitment that we all have for our community,” Gilbert continues in his pitch. “We need this to show the nation, and reinforce to ourselves, that we take pride [in] who we are and where we live.”
Members of the media are urged to convene at WKYC’s offices for a brainstorming session on June 4. It’s our opportunity to game-plan the great LeBron PR war. Seriously. As if the decision of one spoiled millionaire punk athlete — one who has smugly and slyly fabricated this narcissistic charade — is now a formal referendum on Cleveland and its people. We’re still fielding lame jokes about river fires; now we’re worried about one guy’s career choice?
There’s a natural, understandable intertwining of cities and their sports teams — anybody remember where the Baltimore Ravens came from? — but the mistaken and desperate conflation of LeBron’s free agency, Northeast Ohio, and an NBA championship reaches a whole new level of misshapen sensibilities. For a town starved like no other for a winner, it’s as if the LeBron sweepstakes is a surrogate championship — We might not win on the court, but he picked us! Oh yes he did! — and Cleveland’s dug in its heels for a pissing match.
ESPN said something bad? Swarm, swarm, swarm! Forbes says we’re the most miserable city in the world? We’ll show ’em — LeBron loves us! New York took a potshot? Get Akron mayor Don Plusquellic on the phone and have him say something mean about the Big Apple. (Which he did, painting a faint yellow line, while getting some on his shoes, by saying, "Who the hell would want to live in New York?")
All for a 25-year-old kid who we thought belonged to us, when we actually belonged to him. The quotes about lighting Cleveland up like Vegas, about bringing a championship to Cleveland, the constant Akron references, the “330” tats, and the Nike designs — it was just as much about marketing as it was sincerity. Who could pass up the local-hero-making-good narrative arc? That shit sells sneakers. Stir in a big chunk of superhuman talent and you’ve got yourself a global icon.
Yes, there’s a very real void in Cleveland. For a championship. For an ambassador to the world. For a hometown superstar. But LeBron has done nothing to earn the undying trust we’ve bequeathed him thus far. The fickle happenstance of ping-pong balls landed the Akron sensation here in 2003. (Unlike the deft and intentional maneuvering by Bernie Kosar to land on the roster of the Cleveland Browns.) LeBron’s existence in Ohio has so far been a matter of convenience, chance, and dough. All that, but not loyalty — at least not loyalty to us, as most seem to assume.
LeBron might fill that void by re-signing this summer, and by God let’s hope he does. For the sake of the Cavaliers and for the chance to validate our belief that he is indeed a civic King — a title he’s done little to earn so far but could put a lifelong claim on if he chooses. Either way, it ain’t validating you. It ain’t validating me. And it ain’t validating our city.
If he leaves? It means we were wrong, and there’s a lesson in that. Maybe we’ll stop searching for that unnecessary stamp of approval. Maybe next time our love won’t be quite so unequivocal and unconditional or misplaced. If there’s one sure reason we’d be better off without LeBron, that would have to be it.
Follow me on Twitter: @vincethepolack.