Everything has changed.
Long-time Cleveland fans know that the only real way to deal with the series of miserable sucker punches that comprises our area’s sports history is to be pessimistic. Last night, a new generation of Cleveland fans learned the same thing. The jerseys of our Chosen One were set afire; watching the wine, gold, and white burn on SportsCenter seemed to be a fitting metaphor for… something. For everything we thought we understood, even within the reference frame of a city sport scene that hasn’t seen a professional title in decades.
We had to know he was leaving. But we thought he would stay. How could he leave? He was King of Cleveland. A city, a region that always seemed to be on Death Row in more areas than just professional sports had finally gotten its call from the governor. Cleveland was back. Even after watching Game Six, we still thought he would stay. Even as we watched our once-dynamic, court-controlling demigod sullenly ignore Mike Brown’s frenzied efforts to get his team to foul Kevin Garnett and Company, like a real NBA team would do in that situation. As the last ninety seconds of that game ticked away, we had to know that everything was dying. Our Chosen One’s teammates certainly did, taking his lead and looking like they knew what we had to know by that point: he’s gone.
And last night, King James quit. And Cleveland fans learned the truth: King James isn’t really a king at all. He’s just a… player. Just a basketball player who happens to have been born somewhere close to his first professional gig. “You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal.” Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s anger at the loss of the only thing that made his team worthwhile is understandable, but misplaced. If anything, finance mogul Gilbert should understand. The King’s decision was… just business. Putting the finishing touches on the King James brand. Cleveland gave their golden boy their hearts, their hopes, and the key to the city. He gave them a few mumbled words of thanks, an abject humiliation on national television, and an inability to drink Vitamin Water without getting sick to their stomachs.
So… sorry, Cleveland. He’s not a legend. Not like Kobe, Michael, Larry, or Magic. He’s not willing to stick around and allow a team to build up around him. And it turns out that he sure as hell isn’t good enough to bring a group of somewhat above average players to a championship level, like the true greats of the NBA. He honestly believed he couldn’t win a championship in Cleveland. Even with his skill set, somehow things would never fall into place around him. That’s an absolutely incomprehensible lack of faith for the most physically talented basketball player in decades to have in himself. And that’s the worst part: As it turns out, he’s not really the best thing Cleveland sports ever had. He never brought a little pride back to this area. He never turned a bottom feeder into a contender. Sounds ridiculous, right? Even our perpetually pessimistic city knew those things were true. Everyone did.
Everyone, except for LeBron James.