Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Return of the King

While most won’t acknowledge it publicly, for nearly three years the city of Cleveland braced for the Thursday, December 02, 2010 match-up between themselves and whatever team Lebron James flew into Quicken Loans Arena with.
Since 2008, when the buzz was about who would win 2010’s most coveted prize first began heating up, some Cavaliers fans had it in their minds that their hometown hero would spurn the opportunity to move onto another NBA city and increase his chances of winning not one, but multiple championships.  For some reason, they could not fathom that much like hope and opportunity; they would surely lose their basketball savior as well.  They all, Cavs owner as well, waited in anticipation as the free agency period began and the royal treatment was given to the greatest Cavalier since King Charles I.
And then everything changed with the utterance of 17 words on July 9th.  And at that very moment, Lebron “Taking My Talents to South Beach” James was the most vilified man in Ohio.  Cavs’ fans felt slighted by the man they dubbed The King before he had accomplished anything.  They felt he owed them his loyalty and that he had no viable excuse to leave.  After all, this was Cleveland and he was a native son.  And soon the shock turned to puzzlement to anger to outright hostility.  And for what?
Because a “free agent” decided to leave and explore his opportunities elsewhere?  But Clevelanders, indifferent to their surroundings and history, couldn’t and wouldn’t buy that even though the reasons for James’ departure far outweighed his reasons for staying.
Sure he could have stayed and helped make the franchise a contender, but James alone does not a team make.  How many more seasons was he going to have to listen to management tell him they would bring more talent to help him out only to see an aging Shaq or a defensively inept Antawn Jamison added to the roster?  How much more patience was James supposed to have when he watched Dewayne Wade lead a far inferior team to the finals and defeat the Mavericks while he was at home watching?  How many more seasons was he going to have to wait until the team finally came through on its promises and made significant moves in a very weak Eastern Conference?
Lebron and his people knew the answer before all the questions were laid out.  The Cavs had a history of doing either nothing or just enough so they wouldn’t be criticized for doing nothing.  The problem is they didn’t do enough.  The Knicks saw it, the Pistons saw it and Dewayne Wade definitely saw it.
And now 6 months later Cleveland fans, understandably, are still bitter.  They are angry that this guy left them when (in their minds) they were so close to a championship.  He abandoned them when they needed him most because as some of them put it, he put hope back into the city.  And since he chose to ditch them for his own selfish benefit, he has become Public Enemy #1 because he destroyed the promise and whatever adjective you can fit that would make these people feel better.
And so leading up to the return of James and due to the hysterics of selfish fans, the NBA and the arena have had to go through extraordinary changes to accommodate the safety of James.  No beer in bottles in order to eliminate the possibilities of projectiles.  No overly offensive shirts or posters.  Extra security and undercover officers will patrol the arena looking for troublemakers.
All of this because someone chose do what so many players across the spectrum of sport have done since the advent of free agency: check the market and leave if you get a better opportunity.  And without intentionally offending anyone, James made the decision to leave taking less money in the process because he wanted to do something he was never going to do in Cleveland—win.  And people hate him for that.  For exercising what epitomizes the American Dream to so many.  He had the opportunity to do something that works out for him, and in the end what everyone is going to have to realize is he has to take care of himself, not us.  
Any of us would do it and if someone says they won’t, then you’ve just met a liar.  I would like to meet the person that would refuse a promotion, more money and better opportunities because I guarantee of the American population, that number would be less than one percent of one percent.  It will never happen and that is what these so-called “fans” need to take a look at.  Just because he left doesn’t mean he hates Cleveland, although I understand.  It just means it was time to go. 
And it’s about time for fans to let go.  Burning jerseys and merchandise is just stupid.  First off, you give the person you are vilifying more credence, especially if he just watches it happen.  You also galvanize the new fans to support the person you’ve spat on and they in turn buy the gear to support "their" guy.  Secondly, why would you destroy things you own?  If you don’t like Lebron, don’t buy, don’t watch and don’t listen.
Finally, I was reading an article about the whole atmosphere in Cleveland prior to James’ return and I am reading how fans are making this thing out to be like James turned on Jesus.  On Sports Center archived footage was shown of fans crying and burning things.  They called him out of his name and in some relatively low instances, he, his family and his home in Akron were targets.  These were by so called fans.  But when you take a closer look, many of these fans were late 20s and so on.
So when you juxtapose James’ decision to the fans reaction, it doesn’t make any sense.  And out of the more than 3500 words written about his return, amidst the threats, the security mentions, the quotes from fellow athletes, stars and even the president, five words grabbed my attention: “the 25 year-old superstar.”
For everything that James has gone through in the last 6 months, what cannot be ignored is he is 25; basically still a kid.  A kid that has gone out of his way to do the right things, has never been in trouble, is a model citizen and above all else, has acted like the grown up throughout this whole process.
And we expect more from him as many sports writers have said.  No, we should expect more from fans and they need to accept responsibility for hanging their hopes and dreams on a kid at an age when most of us are still trying to figure out what we want to do in life.
I expect him to make mistakes, just as all of us have.  But I also expect him to take care of himself just as many across the business spectrum do but we don’t worry about them until it’s too late.
In James’ case, it basically comes down to penis envy, originating in Cleveland and resonating in spots throughout the NBA by execs and fans that wanted him on their team.
Through it all, James has stayed largely silent on the issue only releasing a commercial through Nike responding to all of his detractors by rhetorically asking “what should I do?”  And in brilliant fashion he runs the gauntlet of scenarios fans and peers have suggested. At the end, he stares in the camera and asks one final time, “What should I do?”
Fans should realize that they need to take a look in the mirror and ask themselves the same question because I’m sure everyone will get the same answer: whatever makes you happy.

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