As LeBron James nears free agency, we leave you with this video from the Cavaliers official site. I’d be lying if I said it was easy to keep a dry eye while watching it, and it serves as a reminder that while basketball is just a game, LeBron James in Cleveland is about more than basketball and more than a player.
Lost in all of this over the last month has been what LeBron truly means to Ohio. Sure, the talking heads have found it empowering to wax poetic about poor old little Cleveland and the fans here. But the focus has been on money, on Championships, on influence, and on status. But there are real people involved here. In a way nobody outside of Ohio can truly understand, LeBron James means more to us than something as petty as winning some NBA games and maybe a Championship or two. For us, this is about pride and a way of life.
If LeBron chooses to stay, sure, fans in Chicago, Miami, New York, Brooklyn/New Jersey, Los Angeles, Dallas, and anywhere else that once imagined him in their uniform will be let down and disappointed. But for them, life goes on and they’re on to the next one. If LeBron leaves Cleveland, the profound effect it will have on literally hundreds of thousands of people in Ohio will be heartbreaking beyond words.
We’ve lost heroes before. We’ve seen Bernie Kosar shipped out of town. We saw Albert Belle chase the highest dollar to our bitter in-conference rivals. We watched Manny Ramirez get ripped away from us on national TV in an ESPN special. We had to sit through Jim Thome’s tearful press conference as he was introduced in Philadelphia and thus shattering the hearts of the Tribe faithful and officially marking an end to an era. CC Sabathia made it clear he wasn’t coming back and had to be traded. Victor Martinez was sent away against his will. The list goes on much longer than this.
In some ways, all of those moves were able to be rationalized. But this one? LeBron? No sir, this one was going to be different. He was one of us. He understood our pain. He understood our passion and what sports means to Ohio, and particularly Northeast Ohio. We may not have all the amenities to offer that other cities with brighter lights and more sparkling economies have to offer, but we have always had our sports teams. To have one of our own, though, who grew up in our back yard rise to this level and to give us this gift of the past 7 years is more than we could have asked for.
So to lose LeBron James isn’t to just lose a basketball player. It runs deeper than that. If we can’t even keep LeBron James in town, then you almost begin to wonder what’s the point of sports in Cleveland. There’s a lot of unnecessary hyperbole here, and yes, life will go on in Cleveland long after LeBron James is finished here (whenever that may be). But watching that video about 5 times in a row, I was reminded again why I care so much.
LeBron has given us a lot over the last 7 years and perhaps it’s unfair for us to ask more of him. Nothing, though, is unfair about having a desire to continue on this journey where we left off and to continue to actually enjoy our cold winter evenings just a little bit more as we cheer for LeBron and the Cavaliers.
As LeBron is about to begin this free agency journey in a couple of hours, I truly hope he finds what he’s looking for, and I hope he finds it here in Cleveland. I’m glad the Cavaliers organization shared this video with us to remind me of what was at stake and to remind me why LeBron was different and why he belongs in Cleveland. Here’s to hoping he feels the same way.