The circus is coming to town. When the schedule was announced, December 2nd sounded like a long time to wait, but the “Return of the King” is now just one day away. With his return, there is a swirling of emotion and anticipation not just in Cleveland, but even nationally. Across the country pundits are peering in with morbid curiosity just to see what might happen. Will Cleveland embarrass itself? Will Cleveland prove to be a scapegoat for LeBron’s defection? Will we boo? Will we laugh? Will we chant? What’s going to happen?
Of course, nobody really knows for sure what will happen, but there’s an insulting undertow to this national storyline that has taken hold. There’s this bizarre belief that somehow this upcoming basketball game is a referendum on the city of Cleveland itself. As if the actions of the vocal minority or a crazy individual should speak for a region as a whole.
There’s no question that Cleveland has a massive inferiority complex. And why shouldn’t we? For 7 years we had to listen to TV and Radio analysts poke fun at the city and tell us how we weren’t good enough for LeBron. For 7 years virtually every NBA writer spent untold hours writing, tweeting, and podcasting about LeBron’s future which had to exist anywhere but in Cleveland because, well, why would anyone choose to live in Cleveland freaking Ohio?
And we defended LeBron against it all. We had to, sure, but we bought into it with all of our precious little souls. There was no way LeBron was going to destroy his hometown (ok, fine, Cleveland’s not his hometown….then how about his home region?) and knife us in the back without giving us the Championship he told he was going to win for us. As LeBron himself used to always love to point out, he had never given any indication that he was unhappy in Cleveland and that he didn’t want to stay. If he was going to leave, surely he would brace everyone for it and make a clear and concise argument for why he needed to leave. So yeah, people in Ohio felt pretty confident that LeBron was going to stay.
Of course, he didn’t, though. He left, without ever giving us a real good reason why he needed to leave. There was something about needing to win Championships and playing with Wade and Bosh gave him the best chance to do that. There’s no question that sounds like pretty solid logic, except of course, this was the first anyone in Cleveland had heard about this. Here we were under the impression that the Cavaliers organization was building toward something, continuously adding pieces around LeBron as he asked for them, giving him everything he ever asked for.
It was never going to be enough, though, because as is quite evident now, LeBron was never going to stay in Cleveland. That simply wasn’t the plan, and the organization, the city, the state, all of us were out of the loop. We just didn’t know it, and that’s why it feeds into our massive inferiority complex. LeBron’s defection was more than just a basketball player choosing to play for a different team. To Cleveland, this was just validation that everything all those pundits and analysts said about Cleveland was right. Cleveland wasn’t even good enough to keep one of its own in town.
Last November, when all of us foolishly believed the Cavaliers were working on building the next step toward their Championship, LeBron was actually meeting behind closed doors with Pat Riley and Michael Jordan. The groundwork for all of this was already being laid back then, so when the perspective of “Game 5” is now viewed in that context, it makes it that much easier to buy into all of that “Quitness” hoopla and it makes it easier to understand why their is so much anger, so much vitriol, so much visceral and raw emotion amongst the Cleveland fans.
Which brings us full circle to where we are today. There are so many different variables, agendas, opinions, etc that are mixing together into this perfect storm of LeBron’s return to Cleveland. There are a lot of people telling everyone else how they should act and what they should do. Some say fans should boo, some say they should laugh, some say they should cheer, some say they should walk out in protest. As Rick pointed out, there’s absolutely no way a consensus on this topic is going to reached.
What a lot of people seem to be missing, though, is that this is a chance for more than just catharsis for Cavs fans. Rather, this is our closure. I remarked on the opening night of the NBA season when the Heat and Celtics were squaring off that as painful as watching LeBron wear that Miami uniform was going to be, I simply had to watch that game to begin the healing process. That was only half the equation, though. There’s only going to be one first time we see LeBron play against the Cavaliers, and that will be tomorrow night.
Sure, for the rest of his career LeBron will be unwelcomed inside The Q as fans will never cheer him or feel a greater sense of appreciation than betrayal. Yet the anger will never be as raw as this first time, and that’s what we need to embrace. I encourage fans to react however you best feel fit (as long as you don’t harm or offend others around you). If you want to boo, then boo your heart out. If you want to laugh, laugh. If you actually think showing LeBron appreciation for the last 7 years is right, then cheer. Do what you must, but let the closure in your heart. Let tomorrow night be the true beginning of the end of this circus.
Gregg Doyel wrote an interesting piece on LeBron’s return in which he makes an emotional plea to Cleveland to not “turn LeBron into a sympathetic victim”, and I agree with much of what he wrote. I agree that it’s unfortunate that some are embracing Scott Raab’s approach. I agree that it’s scary to think what some determined and deranged individual might do. And I suppose he’s probably right that whatever happens will reflect on Cleveland as a whole, but I reject any notion of any action speaking for the city.
I don’t believe that terrorists speak for the Islamic faith as a whole, I don’t believe that high school kids who shoot up schools speak for the disaffected youth of America as a whole, and I refuse to believe that anything that does or does not happen in The Q speaks to Cleveland as a whole. Our society is one big victim of circumstance, and both action and inaction alike often are the result of nothing more than one internal catalyst. No matter how artfully the likes of Gregg Doyel will beg fans not to do anything stupid, no matter how much I agree and echo his sentiments and ask that everyone please not do anything disrespectful to the game or to LeBron and his family, it doesn’t matter. People are going to do what they are going to do and behave how they will behave.
All I can really do is point out that tomorrow’s game doesn’t have to be damaging to anyone. I will continue to stress that this is our chance to bring closure one step closer to us all. After tomorrow’s game, we will know what it feels like to watch LeBron play against the Cavaliers, and after that we can eventually become numb to the pain. If anyone does anything stupid and harms LeBron in any way, we will lose that closure because then any game LeBron plays in Cleveland will be a reminder of said unfortunate event. So please, Cleveland, don’t give in to any temptation that might exist in your heart. Embrace the healing, let out your frustration in the most vocal way you know how, but don’t let it get physical.
You only get one chance to make a first impression, and this is no exception. I hope fans let LeBron know exactly how they feel about him and what he did to our beloved franchise, I hope the boos rain down on him louder than anything he’s ever experienced before. I hope he’s uncomfortable in the moment and I hope the Cavaliers find a way to beat Miami and send him out of town the same way he last left The Q, a loser.