Loyalty in sports is dead. It’s been dead for quite some time, actually, but we’ve been too blissfully ignorant to open our hearts and let the truth in. We deluded ourselves into believing that even though Cleveland continuously gets stomped on and left behind by stars, that LeBron was going to be different. He’s from here, so he’s going to be the one to change everything. We heard for 7 years about what a loyal person LeBron is and how he loves this community and the people here and how he understands what it is to be a Cleveland sports fan.
The only problem is, we all forgot that loyalty in sports is dead. I guess we asked for this pain by daring to give our hearts to a spoiled millionaire athlete and to a spoiled billionaire owner, but for those of us who really truly care, that’s what sports is all about.
And so it is that we’ve been burned again. You’d think we’d be used to it by now. You’d think we’d have some kind of defense mechanism that evolved within our psyche to numb us from the misery and anguish. This is so real, though, that there’s no possible way to desensitize ourselves to it.
I’ll get to more specifics on The Decision and what it all says and what it means to me in a minute, but first I need to dive deeper into this experience as a Cleveland sports fan. It would be easy to look at this as us just wallowing in our own misery and wearing it as a point of pride….as a way of proving how much more it means to us because of the pain we’ve been through. There’s some truth in there somewhere, but we didn’t ask for this. For most of us, we didn’t even choose it. This was a birthright handed down to us by our fathers.
Cleveland isn’t a hotspot, it’s not known as a destination city. People don’t migrate to NE Ohio in droves. There isn’t a massive University that brings in people from around the world like Ohio State in Columbus. As a result, while Columbus is a mix bag of people from many different backgrounds, Cleveland is a home grown town. People there have been there for generation after generation and sports is not only intertwined into the DNA, but the rooting interests of the local teams is something passed on from birth.
Living in Columbus, it’s fascinating to see how almost every single one of my friends is from somewhere other than Columbus. It’s the reason why there’s a diversity of rooting interests in sports (other than the common bond of OSU, of course). I truly love Columbus and it has become my home, but I am always envious of the culture of Cleveland. The plight of the Cleveland sports fan, though, is something that gives us all a common bond, and for most of us, we can’t fathom it being any other way.
I’m not trying to say this is the only place that it works like this, but I’m just trying to drive home the point that this isn’t what any of us signed up for. It’s not a choice. It’s just who we are. And I know, I just know, that people are going to take delight in our misery and others will call us classless and will take Dan Gilbert to task for his letter (again, we’ll get to this later as well), but I’m sorry, unless you’ve been a lifelong Cleveland sports fan, you cannot possibly fathom what this is like.
To be perpetually stabbed in the back by our heroes, to face continuous reminders of the seemingly endless string of painful losses in the most heartbreaking manner possible on the biggest stages, to having our most beloved franchise torn away from us only to watch it win the Super Bowl in another city just a few years later…..and through it all we have the resiliency to get back up and to do it all over again. We move on to the next hero who we will put our hopes in, and ultimately, probably be let down by again. It’s who we are and it’s what we do.
So no, we don’t deserve this. No, we don’t revel in this latest devastation. But we will get back up from this and we will persevere as Cleveland sports fans. LeBron James took a lot from us last night, but I ask that we not let him take away our passion. That passions is ours and is what makes us who we are.
In a similar manner, then, I want to ask Cavs fans to please not turn your back on the franchise or on the NBA. Dan Gilbert’s letter may have been a lot of things to a lot of different people, but to us it was a rallying cry. For 7 years this franchise gave LeBron James literally everything he asked for. He didn’t ask the Cavs to make room for Wade and Bosh because he knew all along he was going to drive this stake through our hearts and spit on us by leaving for Miami, so instead he asked Dan Gilbert to mortgage the future flexibility of the team to try to give him one last chance at winning in Cleveland.
And when LeBron realized in Game 5 that he couldn’t beat Boston and that he was done in Cleveland, he quit on us. Even then, though, he couldn’t mercifully let us off the hook. No, instead, he dared us to still get our hopes up that he was staying even though he clearly knew all along that he was leaving. He lied to us all on Larry King and said we had the edge. Rather than just announcing with Wade and Bosh, he had to make us sweat nervously through 2 additional days. He challenged us to believe that we were still in the running. He leaked a far fetched story about how he was trying to recruit Bosh to Cleveland when it was a bunch of nonsense. The plan was hatched in China 2 years ago, and he all but admitted it on The Decision last night.
That’s the worst part. He didn’t have to do us like that. He didn’t have to continue to play with our emotions and string us along. He forced us to think that up to the very last day we had a chance, and as a result we all had to sit through those miserable last 2 days and he forced us all to watch his stupid little show on TV. We said there’s no way he’s going on national TV to do this to us. If he was going to Miami, he would have just announced it with Wade and Bosh. There’s just no way he’s going to destroy Ohio like that on TV. Except, he would, and he did.
So please, please, please don’t take the easy way out and just give up on this franchise. Take heart in what Dan Gilbert said last night. He is going to fight for us in a way that LeBron never did. We held our tongue on a lot of things with LeBron over the years because we wanted to show him the same support and loyalty we thought he was going to give us, and so did Dan Gilbert. So no, I’m not going to sit here and blame him for firing off that letter last night. I’m a little worried about the impact it could have on signing free agents in the future because LeBron is a very popular player with a ton of friends in the league and none of them probably thought it was too cool. But this was personal for Gilbert. It had to be. It may have “just been business” to LeBron, but it wasn’t business for us in Ohio. This was about as personal as it gets.
For LeBron to not even be a decent enough human being to be straight with Gilbert and give him a call and let him know before hand was so egregious. I can’t imagine the deep level of betrayal Gilbert must have felt after he did everything LeBron asked him to do over the years in belief the support and loyalty would be returned, only to have to watch The Decision on TV and find out the result like the rest of us. And then to find out that this was the plan all along, going all the way back to Beijing? Fine, maybe Gilbert could have taken the high road, but he gave us all a call to arms and something to believe in even in the wake of this disaster.
I will answer Gilbert’s call, of course, mostly because I love the NBA and my love is for the Cavaliers above all else. Yet I’ve heard so many people say they are done with the Cavs and/or the NBA, and it just breaks my heart even more. I hope everyone can find it in themselves to also answer the call and to continue to support this franchise. Gilbert is an owner who deserves and has earned our trust and support. I doubt he’ll be able to live up to his promise of giving us a Championship before LeBron wins one in the Heat. That’s how it works in the movies, but not in real life. But I’m excited to watch the Cavaliers try. It’s not going to be easy, and the Cavs now have a lot of work to do, but at least we know that our owner is not going to give up. I hope the fans don’t give up either.
We have a choice now. Do we give LeBron the satisfaction of this all being about him, or do we show him what true loyalty is and continue to support the Cavs and continue to go to games at The Q? We made the Q one of the premiere places to watch an NBA game, and it can continue if we want it to. It really can. We just have to continue to stand behind the team, continue to buy merchandise and tickets, and continue to show our passion.
In the coming days I’ll break down the cap for everyone and we’ll talk about the roster and where we go from here, but today is about reflection. I have no clue how to put the last 7 years into any kind of perspective. It wasn’t all for nothing, and it was the highlight of my life as a sports fan getting to watch a player like LeBron play every single night. That’s what I’ll miss the most. It will be far too painful to watch him play in Miami, and so now I’ll hardly ever get to watch him play anymore, and when I do, it will just bring back the deepest sports pain I have ever felt.
At some point I’ll probably be able to better appreciate everything he did for the Cavaliers and for the state of Ohio, but today it all feels so hollow because he just undid all the good deeds. It’s his right to do whatever he wants and he didn’t owe us anything. That’s not what this is about. Just because he didn’t owe us anything, though, it doesn’t mean that staying home wasn’t the right decision. The reason I have a problem with it is because of the lies about his intentions. It would have been nice to have known that what he really wanted was to be handed a Championship by Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. The Cavs could have cut salary and tanked seasons too had they known. But he never even considered staying home, and that’s why it hurts so much more. We never even had a chance and we didn’t even know it. Now we all look like fools for actually believing he was decent enough to not put us all through this whole ordeal just to slay us on national TV in front of the entire world.
The joke was on us all along. After all, loyalty is dead is sports. Now we know for sure. Maybe this time we won’t forget.