LeBron James vs. Art Modell Is An Easy One

I did a segment for a sports radio show called The Sports Insiders out of Buffalo this weekend on WECK 1230.  They wanted me to talk about Cleveland sports in general, specifically the Cleveland Indians and what LeBron James is doing in the playoffs.  The host, Joe Major, read the name of this website to the delight of his two co-hosts who noted that it could easily be a Buffalo Bills website as well.  We talked about the Indians’ start and how it is mostly tied to pitching and that will be the only path for it to continue.  This was obviously before I saw the huge outburst of runs the Tribe offense put up last night.  Eventually, the question came of who scored higher on the Cleveland hate scale between LeBron James and Art Modell.

I answered quickly and easily.  Without a doubt, it is Art Modell by a landslide.  I know we’ve talked about this a few times already since “The Decision,” but it bears repeating as we continue to gain distance from LeBron toying with the city of Cleveland.  LeBron James for all the negative feelings he implanted in us by handling his business in such an awful fashion can never ever do to us by taking himself away from us what Art Modell did by moving the Browns to Baltimore.  Never.

The fact of the matter is that LeBron James is just a player with a finite career length.  Even if LeBron goes Moses Malone, that will still be only twenty years.  When Art Modell moved the Browns it could have cost the team history and future if not for the fight in that generation of Browns fans.  In the end it cost Browns fans 1996-99, but it could have been so much more and so much worse.

Even as LeBron handcuffed the team, dominated the culture and then skipped town for some contrived dream team, he didn’t take anything but himself with him.  He couldn’t threaten to take our past even if he did sour those seven years of memories.

At the end of the day, I know that despite what LeBron James did to Cleveland with his exit, he is a surefire hall of famer.  He doesn’t even need to win a championship to be considered one of the greatest players ever.  Sure, it is fun to point out his shortcomings and laugh at his receding hairline and weakness of character.  There’s still nobody more dangerous driving down the crowded lane of any basketball game on the planet earth.  That makes him worthy of the hall of fame someday.

I can’t say the same for Art Modell.  He did some things that would have made him worthy of the hall of fame too.  Those arguments are undeniable.  Ultimately though, his body of work as an owner is forever tainted and ruined because he ended up with one of the biggest failures in the history of professional sports on his résumé.  He managed to find a way to not make his business work with some of the best fans in the NFL.  He threatened to take the history from one of the most storied franchises.  He did all this to make up for his complete and utter ineptitude as a business man and NFL owner.  Completely unforgivable. Do not pass go, etc.

So, no.  LeBron James can’t hold a candle to Art Modell as angry as I am with him.  I do feel as if LeBron abused the franchise on his exit, but it is just a temporary effect, hopefully. What Art Modell could have accomplished with his nefarious and dastardly betrayal was far, far worse and should keep him out of Canton forever as far as I’m concerned.

(Photo: David Liam Kyle/Time & Life Pictures/Getty ImagesNov 05, 1995)

  • oribiasi

    Hmm, is this a repeat? http://waitingfornextyear.com/2010/06/lebrons-departure-could-look-like-art-modells/

    Also, for a relatively unbiased look at why Modell left (and be fair, he did so for a lot of reasons, most of which where the city of Cleveland’s reluctance to treat him on the same level as the Indians/Cavaliers), see this book: http://www.amazon.com/Fumble-Browns-Michael-G-Poplar/dp/0936760117

    Anyone else read it? It’s an amazing read. Shatters a lot of the misconceptions about why he left, what kind of man he was, and what his views are of others/himself.

  • The Conductor

    Ray Lewis once earned a SuperBowl MVP in the same year that he killed somebody.


  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    The Browns are back. LeBron will never be back. Modell isn’t from Cleveland. LeBron is. You expect to get screwed over from a businessman from NY. You don’t expect to get screwed over on national TV by one of your own.

    I agree with you that most people in Cleveland probably dislike (don’t like using the word ‘hate’) Modell more than LeBron, but I personally feel more betrayed by LeBron and am more angry with LeBron than I ever was with Modell. But that’s probably just me.

  • christopher

    See this is where I get a little confused and maybe somebody can help me understand the timeline better with Modell.

    From what I understand of the situation the city of Cleveland voted on turning the Muni into the Rock Hall/Science Center/Park/Northcoast Harbor etc. project.

    The city obliged the Indians and the Cavaliers with new state of the art facilities in the “Gateway Project” but left Modell on his own to build a new stadium.

    They offered to kick in a few dollars but wanted Modell to pay for the majority of the new stadium himself and at the same time destroying all the available parking for said new stadium by putting up the other mentioned stuff in it’s place.

    Modell refused and said if you don’t build me the new stadium, i’m outta here.

    The city held it’s ground and he bolted.

    Where am i off in this story?

  • christopher

    And if I am not off in this story then I don’t blame Modell one bit for what he did.

    The fans, the city, the team did everything the could to appease #6 and he turned his back on all of them.

    Seems to me the fans were the only ones doing anything to keep the Browns around.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    I don’t have the same expectations of a player as I do of a team owner who should realize that they own something that relies on the public for its value. I don’t expect a man playing for a contract to have the same responsibility to a region, even one he is originally from, that I do an owner of a franchise.

    The way LeBron left is officially the biggest twisting knife in the back in the history of professional sports free agency. He leads the universe on that front. Still, a free agent NBA player can never elevate their importance to that of the Cleveland Browns owner.

    Just my opinion. Kind of like a Senator can only create a scandal so big, where the President, by default, can create one much much larger just by virtue of his elevated position.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    @Christopher… Modell leased Cleveland Stadium for nothing. He invested in the stadium and leased it to the Cleveland Indians, but refused to share any of the suite revenues. He made the situation so difficult for the Tribe that they went out and got the Gateway project approved.


  • B-bo

    It kills me that anyone has ever thought these two things are remotely close. LeBron’s antics hardly register when compared to what Modell did. I will never in my life forget or forgive the Browns being taken away. The only way Modell should ever make it into the Hall is as a paying customer.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    @ B-bo… and even then…

  • forrealmccoy

    @Andrew… yeah that’s just you

  • humboldt


    I wouldn’t say Lebron will never be back – stranger things have happened. My sympathetic interpretation of his “decision” (and I have less sympathetic ones, of course) was that he needed to make a clean break with the place he grew up (many of us ex-Clevelanders can certainly relate to this). I think he still considers the area home, and has even stated publically he’d be open to coming back. Would be an epic story of redemption if he closed out his career in Cleveland, was re-embraced by fans, and won a title.

    Regarding the pic above, does anyone else get depressed by the “We love you man” sign? Sad to see marketing campaigns permeate so deeply into peoples’ lives, and makes you self-conscious about how current marketing slogans/logic are woven into our everyday speech.

  • Garry Owen

    Over it. Both. Moving on.

  • christopher

    thanks for the futher pieces to the story Craig.

  • B-bo

    @Craig: and even then he should be tased (tazed? tasered?) randomly by a group of Browns fans for as long as he is inside the building. They could sell raffle tickets for the chance to push the button.

  • kdev

    I have to say I am not at all comfortable with that statement. While I’m sure many fans hate Art Modell more, I am not one of them. The difference is simple: while Modell did rip our hearts out, he was up front about it. He didn’t “Irsay” us and move in the middle of the night, he said he would move if certain conditions were not met. They were not met, and he left. Did it hurt? Yes. Could he have handled it better? Sure. But he did not go out of his way to make the move more painful for us as fans. LBJ did. He was, obviously, far more admired and revered than Modell, and he threw our loyalty and support back in our face with gusto. Then, he finally decided to apologize for it after beating the team that he quit against during his last game with us. I have forgiven Modell. Really. We have our Browns back and all is well. I will never forgive Lebron for what he did. Not because I don’t have the capacity to do so, but because I will never truly believe that he is actually sorry for it.

  • crobarred

    Art Modell will forever be known as the guy who fired Paul Brown as well as the guy who took the Browns from Cleveland. The only way LeFraud could pass Modell on the most hated list would be if he held a victory parade in downtown Cleveland the year he won a ring.

  • stin4u

    They’re both dumb. Moving on.

  • 5KMD

    Oribiasi, this is from the summary of the book you referenced:

    “The author is the former executive vice president- treasurer of Cleveland Stadium Corp, a company formed by Browns owner Art Modell”

    How is that “relatively unbiased”?

  • mgbode

    @crobarred – not even then.

  • Allen

    Cleveland Frowns has quite a few articles and links on the Modell tip, if you’re looking for further reading . . .

  • Mark

    I’m stunned to read any comments disagreeing with Craig’s basic sentiments. LeBron did what he did. Badly I might add. However, we still have a team! I can’t even believe one would put James action even in the same ball park as Modell’s. He stole OUR team. He was in a piss poor financial shape of his own making so he took a sweetheart deal and fled town. He f’d over everyone. LeBron f’d over himself.

    If I was walking down the street and saw LeBron, I’d ignore him. If I was walking down the street and saw Modell I’d seriously contemplate punching him in the face, even after all these years.

  • mgbode

    @Mark – whenever Art is on his deathbed and it’s time to ‘pull the plug’ they could raise an awful lot of money for charity if they auction off that honor.

  • http://waitingfornextyear.com Andrew

    @Mark: Just think back to when the Cavs won the draft lottery. Try to remember how much emotion was involved in that moment. And then think about how LeBron James grew up in front of all our eyes. LeBron was Cleveland. The two were iconic mirrors of each other. And then in one night, on national TV, he threw all of that away and gave Cleveland maybe the most public humiliation it has received in decades.

    Think about all that, and I think you’ll be able to better understand why some of us are more angry with LeBron than we are with the guy who took away the football team that we got back 3 years later anyway.

    I have no love for Modell, but I do understand why he did what he did. I’m furious that he did it and I’ll never forgive him for it, but I do get WHY he did it. But LeBron? Man, Cleveland gave him everything he ever asked for and he still told the world that Cleveland wasn’t good enough for him, thus validating every single person across the nation who laughed at us for 7 years that we believed that he would actually have the audacity to willingly choose to stay in Cleveland when he could go live in so many “better” cities.

    I’m sorry, but I dislike LeBron more than I dislike Modell.

  • DMike

    I agree with Andrew. The Browns weren’t close to winning a championship the year they were taken. Lebrons cavs were a series (without “giving up”) away from one. Lebron is an once in a generation type of talent, which I believe makes it worse because we all believed in him. And trusted him to stay.

  • HRD53

    I can’t believe there would be even a discussion about this… Modell was the worst. He took our team and was going to take the history with him too (I think people forget about that fact). Lebron just left poorly because he’s clueless… Modell had been riding a gravy train for years and when Jacobs wanted out (rightfully so), he couldn’t handle it. When he couldn’t get what he wanted, he skipped town. How anyone could compare what Lebron did to Modell is beyond me.

  • http://www.thefinestinfantasy.com Stephen

    The reason this is even up for discussion is because LeBron could have helped us win a title. The thing is, it takes more than 1 guy to win a title. In fact, when Miami gets beat this year, next year, and the year after that, people will realize (including LeBron) it takes more than 3 players, too. It takes an entire freakin team. However, if that entire freakin team bolts town, then you have NO chance. Therefore, Modell is the ultimate Cleveland scum in my opinion.

  • GhostToMost

    It kind of surprises me that there is still a healthy disdain for Modell. He actually did the city a favor by leaving. I mean, Browns fans always hated him anyway, they couldnt wait to get rid of Art when he was here. Modell moved the “Browns” to Baltimore, and in return Cleveland got rid of the owner they always hated AND a brand new stadium. It kinda stunk not having a team for 3 years but in the end, Cleveland got a pretty good deal out of that situation. Cleveland Stadium was falling apart, and when Modell couldnt get a new stadium deal he pretty much had no choice. Meanwhile, Randy Lerner continues to take peoples money and give them a lousy product in return, but everyone is A-OK with good ol’ Randy. I dunno, I dont get it. I could understand the hate towards Modell if Cleveland had never gotten another football team. AND, not to bag on anybody, but much as people complain about fans not being “over” LeBron, there is still an awful lot of people who haven’t gotten “over” Modell. Cleveland was better off without Art and he did us a favor. In a twisted sort of way we should be thanking him.

    As far as LeBron vs Modell is concerned, I think its a wash. They are both a-holes.