Of Pain and Pleasure

By on July 12, 2010
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LeBron, Dwyane and Chris... Will they be all smiles in June 2011? Rocket Sports & Entertainment says, "Don't Bet on it!"

“It’s just getting old…. I don’t want anymore distractions for my teammates, for my organization, for my family. This will be the last time I answer a free agent question for the rest of the year”—LeBron James
That’s precisely how I felt, LeBron. As a fan of all things Cleveland (except for the freezing winters), I’ve suffered through plenty of heartbreaks and disappointments since watching my first Indians games on my grandfathers’ lap as a toddler. The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot. I’ve also seen firsthand the devotion and passion Cleveland fans have for all of their teams; and when they had a hometown hero fall right into their laps, they never took it for granted. They expressed gratitude for him actually wanting to be a part of the city and not seeming like he was ready to bolt for the next big contract. They showed appreciation for all the talent he had to offer our team. They gave him respect for being a part of the community and not acting as if he was too big for this market.
For the past two months, LeBron James has held the basketball-loving world (and most sports journalists and anchors) hostage with the anticipation of his decision on what color jersey he prefers to wear next season. He has kept quiet on his intentions, not uttering a breath about which team has the edge on the “LeBron James Sweepstakes”. Many major sports networks, publications, and the entire Cavalier fan-base, however, have been chattering, tweeting, speculating, and…occasionally, breaking news on each and every move that has been made by this man since he made that above statement Mid-November last year. Every time I turned on the TV to watch a game, flipped on the radio while I drive, or picked up the newspaper (they DO still exist) I had to hear about the next person’s opinion on where James will go. “Will it be the Bulls?” “Does he really want to live in Jordan’s shadow?” “Could it be the Heat?” “I don’t think him and D-Wade can co-exist.” “What about the Knicks?” “Really…The Knicks?!?!”
It’s just getting old. It turned into the Tiger Dilemma–you know, the point when the player becomes BIGGER than the game. For example, the day after the 4th of July, I turned the TV to a major sports TV network to check out the scores and happenings from the previous day. The highlights from the AT&T National are on but the only highlights I see are of Tiger Woods, playing poorly…shot after shot after shot. On a bright note, they did show one nice short iron shot by Justin Rose (who just so happened to win). So, I guess it wasn’t all for naught. By the way, did you hear Tiger cheated on his wife?
It’s not necessarily the player’s fault for this phenomenon. The media and the fans alike are both equally accountable. The stars just become engulfed by it. Kids don’t play ball in the park
until dark and say to their friends, “One day, I’m going to have an ego so big that even ESPN can’t cover it!” It’s manufactured, brick by brick, by 24/7 media coverage and adoring fans until, next thing you know, they’ve gotten lost in the hype.
What we have been subjected to as sports fans in this whole circus is a subliminal reality TV show. From the press conference in Connecticut to Dwayne Wade’s “visits” to Chicago to the rumors from LeBron’s camp that one day Chicago is the frontrunner, then the next it’s New York, then it’s Miami. It’s all been one big act. Bill Simmons of ESPN wrote, “after the 2008 Summer Olympics… LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and Chris Paul…made a pact in China to play together.” There were even reports of a documentary crew with access to the entire “free agency tour” before it was canceled.
The most excruciating part of the whole process was the day leading up to the announcement. Living in Northeast Ohio, I could tell how much this really affected almost everyone. It was the first thing most fans had on their minds all day long. I was asked “what do you think,” on more than a few occasions by strangers that wouldn’t normally say more than hi to me. My response….I don’t care anymore. Hey, I can always look forward to football season now, right?
Just a few minutes before 9:00pm, my friend Kory sent a text that said, “I think I’m gonna to be sick.” I paced as if I was awaiting the results of blood work from the hospital. Little hope was reserved that he would decide to stay with the team and city that embraced him like a savior. He couldn’t possibly have the moxie, though, to announce to the world he’s NOT coming back to Cleveland on national television without, at least, a courtesy call…could he?
In a 2006 issue of ESPN Magazine, he said “I don’t want to go ring-chasing. I want to stay with the Cavs and build a championship.” Even though everyone expected him to go elsewhere, all of Cleveland held out hope that it was a good sign no one in the Cavs front office had heard from him. Why wouldn’t he give his old franchise a heads up if he were leaving? Perhaps that was expecting too much out of the global icon. No personal phone call or conversation with owner Dan Gilbert or GM Chris Grant. He didn’t care about doing what was right by the city that stood by him for more than just the seven years he donned a Cleveland jersey. I hear stories about his ego being born well before that fateful lottery ball fell our way. “Do you know who I am,” was the end to more than a few.
The general consensus around the Cleveland area is anger–not necessarily for him choosing someone else, but for the way he went about it. It’s widely speculated that the decision was made long before the morning of his announcement. Yet he toyed with teams, fans and the media so he could have the spotlight on himself. He waited until after the top free agents had agreed with other teams and left the Cavs with a second tier crop of unsigned players. Perhaps
the Cavs front office was foolhardy for believing he would stay forever. Maybe it was a mistake for them to sit back and react instead being proactive in the market.
Having reflected the past few months on all that has happened since he became a Cavalier, I see it more clearly now. The Yankees hat he wore, in Cleveland, during an Indians-Yankees playoff series. The sideline visits with the Cowboys (again, in Cleveland). Hell, he was even a Bulls fan growing up, watching Jordan eat the hearts of Cavs fans with the infamous “Shot”. That alone is blasphemous enough to blackball one in Northeast Ohio. The culmination of all three will likely get you shipped up to Canada. What that says is that the man is a follower, not a leader. He proved it once again, on his own stage—one he had been setting up for two years. The set-up he and his entourage plotted and schemed on to make him the center of attention. He followed Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to Miami. He had the chance to go to New York or Chicago and have his own team…but he took the easy route; the route that screams more “look at me” than “crown me”. We can now add The Decision to that list of heartbreaks.

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