Thursday, July 12, 2018

296. Abandoned again, naturally

Probably the last thing people living in Northeast Ohio want to read is another opinion about LeBron James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers again.
There is a glut of sportswriters and talk shows that have been debating this all season, with mostly unoriginal and recycled thoughts. For that I apologize — but I find the range of opinions to be fascinating. Some think LeBron did what he came to Cleveland to do, so there are no hard feelings, while others (maybe not to the jersey-burning extreme like last time) still feel slighted by his decision.
I have mixed feelings. LeBron did come back home and win a championship, ending an agonizing 52-year pursuit for the city. James is a hard-worker, stays out of trouble, and gives back tremendously to the community. At the same time, it is hard not to question his motive: Did he come to Cleveland to win a championship, or to preserve his legacy — one seemingly forever tarnished in “The Decision”? Did he evaluate the roster and know with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love they had a competitive team right away?
What bothers me is his letter to the city when he came back. He made us feel proud. He raised our spirits. I remember just feeling so content that he tried to make things right.
However, some of James’ words now disappoint me.
“My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn’t realize it four years ago. I do now,” he began. And so, four years later, where is that relationship? In Los Angeles?
“I always believed I’d return to Cleveland and finish my career there. I just didn’t know when,” he said. Finish his career in Cleveland? Is he coming back again?
“Of course, I want to win next year, but I am realistic. It will be a long process,” he said. It wasn’t long process, and I don’t think he ever believed that — he was just taking some of the pressure off himself. But obviously he no longer seems committed to the process in Cleveland, even with an owner who will spend freely. He delivered his championship and feels “allowed” to leave.
“I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I want kids in Northeast Ohio… to realize there is no better place to grow up,” he said. LeBron loves it so much, he and his family left again. Now LeBron’s kids will grow up in Los Angeles.
And most famously he wrote, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned.” Now it seems that he gave himself a new team — giving up on the one in Northeast Ohio.
I am not a fan of the NBA as much as I am a fan of Cleveland. I think the game is nearly impossible to referee consistently, the regular season is meaningless, and the playoffs take too long. And if LeBron didn’t ruin it when he went to Miami with his buddies to win a championship, Kevin Durant ruined it when he joined a Golden State team that went an NBA record 73-9 the prior season. I never say his name without mentioning what a coward he was to join that team.
For those of us who grew up with the likes of Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Julius Erving, and Isiah Thomas, who played most of their careers with one team, its hard to understand the modern players. It’s all immediate gratification and not much fun for the fans.
And so everyone is chasing a ridiculous obstacle in Golden State. I don’t understand how the other teams in the league survive when the players have made a concerted effort to put together a few super teams. As I am writing this, DeMarcus Cousins reportedly just signed with Golden State, giving them, if healthy, an all-star at every position.
Meanwhile, LeBron again leaves the team in Cleveland in ruins. He chased off their next best player in Kyrie Irving. His presence created an urgency to win now (since he wouldn’t sign a long-term deal in Cleveland), which initiated many bad contracts the Cavaliers are now left holding. They will, like last time, be terrible for some time.
Cleveland will retire LeBron’s number one day, and they should. As for a statue? For a player who twice left the city to he proclaimed to love and only delivered one championship in 11 seasons, I’d have a hard time warming up to the idea.

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