LeBron James may be a Dallas Cowboys fan, but he lived through the disappearance of the Browns at the dastardly hands of Art Modell. The one factor in LeBron’s continuing free agency saga that continues to pop up occasionally is how difficult it would be for LeBron to leave the Northeast Ohio sports community, particularly with the way the Cavs exited the playoffs this season. I don’t know LeBron, so I can’t say for sure, but all the talk seems to indicate that he understands that if he leaves Cleveland now, that his legacy, at least partially, will always include that embarrassing failure. Whether this makes Northeast Ohioans great fans or just really bitter people, he knows for a fact that he will always be remembered for that here where he lives. The naming of our sports tragedies is getting a little old, admittedly, but the point is that as a passionate sports fanbase, we never forget.. We can’t. While LeBron hasn’t been a fan of Cleveland sports, necessarily, he has lived here and he definitely knows. He has seen Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome leave the Indians. Most importantly, he has seen Art Modell move the Browns and leave Cleveland feeling hopeless.
A potential comparison between a guy like Art Modell and LeBron James is loaded with problems. Obviously one guy owned a team, and the other guy just plays for one. One guy has a career potential that could last 60 years, while the other would be lucky to get 20. There is always going to be a #1 slot on the charts in Cleveland for the Browns that will never be afforded to any of the other franchises no matter how well they do. We all know this. But, for LeBron, the comparison should shed a little light on how he will be remembered around the area should he decide to bolt in a few weeks.
LeBron James has this city in his corner. Sure, we sometimes get mad at him, and we sometimes get frustrated with things he does. Ultimately though, we only get that way because we care about him and we want him to do well. It was the same with Art Modell. He owned the Browns and we loved the Browns. We got frustrated with him, but it was only because we loved the Browns so much. If Art Modell kept the Browns in Cleveland, hired Ozzie Newsome and won a Super Bowl here, imagine what Art Modell’s Hall of Fame induction would be like. Imagine it.
When Art Modell decided to leave, it was all over. Take any positive things the man ever did and toss them out the window. This is like the debate over the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Did Art Modell contribute to the development of the NFL? Of course he did. At the same time, what he did to the city of Cleveland by moving the team away from arguably the most rabid NFL fanbase in the entire country was so unforgivable that even to this day, we won’t ever let it go. If LeBron leaves, it won’t be like moving our team away, but with the nature of NBA basketball it is kind of similar. We saw that when we saw how the team’s fortunes were turned the day they drafted LeBron James. A 180 degree turn the other direction could easily happen the moment he decides to bolt.
The fanbase that Art Modell screwed in moving the team is like Dan Gilbert’s commitment to the Cavs franchise. Art Modell turned his back on the fans and if he leaves, LeBron will be turning his back on a commitment level that is as sure as any in the world. Sure, Gilbert’s moves haven’t worked just yet in helping LeBron win a title in Cleveland, but his attempts have been all anyone could ask for. Much like Browns fans are arguably the most loyal in the country, you can’t name an owner who has been more committed to his franchise than Gilbert in the time that he has owned the team. When Art Modell left Cleveland fans high and dry it was a total injustice to all they had put into the Browns over the years. If LeBron leaves, he will be doing a similar injustice to the efforts of Dan Gilbert to put a winning organization together from facilities to personnel.
The Cavaliers’ roster is like the stadium battle that Art Modell was fighting. Art Modell ultimately left for money and used the stadium as his biggest excuse. Meanwhile, Modell had made some very bad moves along the way with his unwillingness to share in the profits with the Indians. He blamed politicians for everything, but Modell ultimately suffered for his own poor business acumen. LeBron James’ unwillingness to truly commit to the Cavaliers long term cost him his own best potential teammates including Trevor Ariza. Much like Modell was at least partially responsible for his stadium issues, LeBron was at least partially responsible for the roster.
One thing that is for sure is that if LeBron James leaves Cleveland, he will forever be painted with a certain paint brush in this town. It might not be quite as ugly a color as what Art Modell is painted, but it will be in the same family of colors. And again, LeBron James and Art Modell aren’t a perfect comparison, but ultimately, right or wrong, it is instructive as to the way things will be for LeBron in the Northeast Ohio region if and when he makes the ultimate decision to leave. Whether or not he has the stomach for that remains to be seen. From the reports that we are reading recently, it seems like it is at least something LeBron has considered.