Seven years of excitement and hopes and passion, the towel waving and the series-based tee shirts, the chalk tosses while Kevin Rudolf permeates through Quicken Loans Arena. I wanted to discuss just how much LeBron James meant to the city of Cleveland and what good times he flushed down the drain one year ago today.
As Red Smith would “open a vein” and let it bleed on to the paper, I wanted to bang away at this keyboard until it recapped all seven years of amazing basketball while dismissing The Decision as an act of immense narcissism cloaked in a veil of humility at the expense of to the Boys and Girls club. To work in an arena such as professional sports – rife with shoe deals and naval gazing and athlete brands – and still be singled out as of the utmost arrogance is a pretty amazing accomplishment. But also an accomplishment is what James provided Cleveland when he took that direct flight from Greenwich to Miami.
James took wins. Lots of them. He took national interest, at least that of the positive variety. He took a mural that had graced a historical Cleveland building for years. He took away any face that would be attributed to the city’s basketball franchise, replaced with a mere jersey clad with the numerals one and zero. But in his desire to team up with friends in South Beach, James also indirectly gave.
He gave Mo Williams and JJ Hickson more prominent offensive roles. He made this town root feverishly for players like Ryan Hollins and Christian Eyenga, guys who would not have broken the seven-or-eight-man rotation years prior. And despite being rooted in unbridled fury, he gave Cleveland a sense of brotherhood. As the losses piled up, the city continued to come out to support their team; Luke Harangody called the last game of the season – a meaningless contest against the Washington Wizards – a playoff atmosphere.
Try as they might, one cannot – with good conscious – say that this past season’s win over the Los Angeles Lakers (or the Miami Heat for that matter) meant less than a win over the same opponents a year earlier. The circumstances could not be more inverse. In a nationally televised contest where James was found rapping to a Drake song on the sidelines, awaiting the referees whistle to inbound the ball in a win-sealing play, the Cavaliers would beat the Lakers without key offensive weapons. During the 2010-11 season, the entire year was founded without key offensive weapons and the Lakers were the defending NBA Champions.
As JJ Hickson blocks the attempts of rookie phenom Blake Griffin and his then teammate Baron Davis, ushering in a record losing streak-breaking win, Daniel Gibson greeted the media by telling them he could “now smile again.” Said losing streak was as embarrassing as it was long, but on this evening, it was all forgotten.
As Davis – now donning the Wine and Gold – was raining three-pointers, and Alonzo Gee and the abovementioned Hollins were playing the games of their careers, the Cavaliers and the 20,500-plus fans wrested back as much dignity as they could following the massacre that took place a little over three months earlier.
He left the team in such shambles that the first step in the rebuilding process was almost a cakewalk; the worst thing that could have happened would have occurred if this team stayed afloat in the Eastern Conference. Instead, after the season was all said and done, the Cavaliers were able to cash in on something else that James would ultimately provide: the draft selections of Kyrie Irving and Tristan Thompson, the two players who will officially signal the turned page for the New Expression.
It is all of these moments that cast a positive light. The 26-game losing streak, the disappointments and the aftershocks, the woeful road trips and the injury bug…they all disappeared, even if only for a split second.
As Jeff MacGregor said best, nostalgia isn’t memory. It’s the absence of memory. It depends on revisionism and not what we collectively remember, but what we forget.
Cleveland will never forget what took place one year ago tonight. Heck, I can’t imagine any entity affiliated with sport be it through corporate ties or fandom will ever forget that fateful night. But while revisionists want to claim wall-writing and crystal balling, they cannot show what is to come. They cannot predict when and where Cleveland will finally win. They cannot – without speculation – forecast just what all of the Cavaliers’ assets will turn in to come due time. And they cannot alter the hope, the tie that binds one Cleveland fan to another.
When James uttered those now infamous words to the smarmy Jim Grey, the collective wind was taken away from Cleveland’s sails. But in an unintentional act, James accomplished something that no other athlete in this town had been able to do – he provided a unification of fans that banded us all together, witnessing some of the worst basketball (both figuratively and statistically) that any one has seen in a very, very long time. But that unification has provided hope. And that hope can never be taken away, regardless of where any future talents are taken.