Yesterday, I wrote a piece telling Cleveland fans that it is not time to panic. This is a different year, a different team, and LeBron James is a different player.
I was offering hope to a fanbase in desperate need of hope. I pleaded, “do not lose the faith!” to everyone who has had the misfortune of being indoctronized from birth that you will root for the home team no matter how badly they have hurt you in the past.
You root for the Browns, the Indians, the Cavaliers, and the Buckeyes. I was raised to believe that it is considered poor parenting skills to dress your son in Steeler, Yankee, Celtic or Wolverine gear.
I love you dad…but today I am really mad at you.
I fight with friends and family members for spewing out what I call “garbage without proof.” But I am honestly running out of logical explanations for why Cleveland fans are being tortured the way that they have been since 1964…which, by the way, is three years before I was born.
This torture I speak of is not relegated to only one sport. Baseball, basketball, football…it does not matter…the Sports Gods have struck us down with a mighty vengeance at every turn.
It does not matter that the City has sapped us of our energy in every way imaginable. Closed factories, empty buildings, high unemployment, crooked politicians, increased poverty, polluted water, brutal weather…inconsequential to us if we could just see one blessed championship!
And if you are not from here, we do not need to hear any condescending remarks that we have this “whoa is me” attitude. Because unless you have walked a mile in our shoes, you have no idea what you are talking about.
It’s not as if we cannot take a joke. Hey, we have the ability to laugh at ourselves as sort of an inbred defense mechanism (see video below).
It just adds insult to injury when the national pundits put the City of Cleveland down and tell us that a player of the star-caliber of LeBron James has no business being in such a “small market.”
What those outside of middle-America just do not get is that there is no more passionate or loyal fan base anywhere for an athlete as long as that athlete is as passionate and loyal to the game as we are.
Don’t get lazy or jerk with our hearts. We can morph from loyal subjects to angry mob in a heartbeat. Ask Andre Rison, Keith Hernandez, Jim Thome or Art Modell.
But we do not just willy-nilly turn on athletes (like they do in New York or Boston). You have to give us a reason to hate you besides poor performance.
Take, for an example, a player such as Bernie Kosar. Kosar, statistically was a decent but not great football player. He never won a Super Bowl. But Kosar gave what little God-given gifts he did have to the game. And Cleveland adored him for it.
In fact, despite those heart-breaking losses to John Elway and the Broncos, Browns fans still look fondly at the players on that team. I can easily tick off a dozen or so names from those teams who are still worshiped in this town (Dixon, Minnifield, Banks, Matthews, Golic, Mack, Eddie Johnson, Langhorne, Slaughter, Newsome, Brennan, Risien, Baab, Bahr, etc.).
So Michael Jordan ripped our guts out on countless occasions. We still love Dougherty, Nance, Price and the boys.
Star center Jim Chones breaks his leg before the Conference Finals? We still pay homage to Chones, Bingo Smith, Nate Thurmand, Campy Russell and the rest of The Miracle of Richfield.
Even a player like World B. Free – who took a rag-tag team of misfits to the brink of upsetting the mighty Boston Celtics – is honored in spite of failing to attain a ring.
Cleveland supports a winner, even a flawed winner, if we feel we are getting maximum effort (from players and management). We sold out 455 straight regular season Indians games without even a single World Series Trophy. Yet players like the Alomar brothers, Omar Vizquel, Orel Hershiser, and Kenny Lofton are revered here.
That is why yesterday’s loss to the Celtics was such a bitter pill to swallow.
We start the day off with news from LeBron James' co-author (Buzz Bissinger) that win or lose…LeBron is a goner in Cleveland. We finish the day off with one of the worst performances we have ever witnessed from The Chosen One.
All types of conspiracies abound when we wake up. LeBron is disinterested…the players have purposely tuned out the coaching staff…certain players are unhappy with their roles…James is not showing any leadership.
Some, none, or all might be true. But one thing we can measure with certainty – that was the worst playoff game we have ever seen from James.
The local media, the fans, the coaches, and management have all been pretty soft on The King. Perhaps it is over a fear that he might get angry, take his ball and go home (and I am not talking about his mansion in Peninsula, Ohio). Mostly, it is because he is such a great player.
We put up with his tug-of-war with our emotions and his constant need to stoke the flames over the “will he stay or will he go” melodrama. And don’t feed me the bull that he “put it to rest” by not talking to the media about it during the season. If he was going to stay, he would have just said so.
We excused the show-boating…the poor sportsmanship…the pounding the ball at the top of the key until the shot-clock ran out…the failure to win a championship. The latter of which, we excused because we realized that James was not given the necessary help of a full roster of weapons.
We excused it all…and we heaped as much praise upon him as humanly possible in doing so.
But this time it’s different and a lot more personal.
Management has bent over backwards to give him everything he needs to succeed and be happy here in Cleveland. The red carpet has been laid out. The roster is deep and talented. Chinese investors were brought in to increase his possibility of advertising dollars. We wear t-shirts imploring him to stay.
No player who has never won a championship had been coddled, and treated to as much adulation by his home fans as LeBron James.
And what are Clevelanders getting in return? A slap in the face by his biographer and a disappointing performance in what could be his last game as a Cavalier.
LeBron James may believe he owes us nothing. He may even be right about that. But one thing we do know: LeBron cares about his legacy.
He may go on to win a championship in another city, but he will never be forgiven for leaving us high and dry, especially after a performance like yesterday. That scar will never heal if he leaves.
So LeBron, do you really want to be a legend like you say you do? Here is your chance. Otherwise, the only legend you will be…is a legend in your own mind.