I smiled and stretched as the snow flurry cool Lakewood, OH sunlight reluctantly nudged my eyelids…shaking my mind alive. “One more day”, I thought. One more day and the King of unfinished work returns to his roots…roots that seemingly strangle every inch of his being as Cleveland blood rushes through his still developing mind. His has to be the mind conflicted…blood experienced. Does he hate December 2nd? Will this would be arduous task change him for the better or intimately worse? How will he see this teaching moment? Will he reminisce with vicarious bliss of Cavs good times…joyous moments on and off the floor or will his mind go dark…rehashing imagery of burned 23 jerseys in The Decision’s polarizing aftermath? How should he go at the Cavs Thursday? It may be absurd thought considering LeBron James is a flash point athlete with definitive professional responsibilities, but can the question be asked if he truly wants to win Thursday?
I would wonder this of any athlete in his position, and don’t think it’s diminishing of his character to want to go for 50 plus but ultimately clank a sure game winner to the delight of the Q faithful. Yes, he would be excoriated by the media and also the NBA, but wouldn’t such a story book result be apropos considering the fire raging between LeBron and Cleveland fans? It wasn’t that he left, it’s how he left that hurts tremendously, so a LeBron James game winner with so much rich thick drama and hype would rip Cleveland’s hearts out again and render The Decision pale in comparison.
As the nation anticipates a moment so unique, the true epicenter of the sports world lies in Cleveland, and one can only wonder how much the city financially capitalizes from the return of a prince gone too soon. Cleveland is destroyed. James was seen as an economic savior, and when I covered Cleveland recently, I felt none of the same excitement and admiration for a Cavaliers game as I did just a year before. His likeness is nowhere inside the Q, and a priority is now placed on making the slogan “All for one, one for all” the fabric which is this city’s true identity. Maybe what can be considered such a burden made LeBron’s decision that much easier when he weighed the pros and cons. How would you feel if the hopes of an entire city were placed on your Chosen One emblazoned shoulders and you were not yet 30? The air was let out of Cleveland the day he left, but there were bigger issues before LeBron. “The city is dead”, neatly stated Cliff, a Cleveland cab driver, as we conversed on the way to my Lakewood destination. He continued: “There’s mass corruption in the government here and politicians have been arrested. LeBron was all we really had left to hope for. It’s bad here. It’s really bad.” This genuine sentiment only encapsulates what the nation cannot truly feel. LeBron was a power ball ticket shared by all; a piece of homegrown paper born of the state’s trees…firmly in grasp of citizens young, but old and shockingly, without true consideration, snatched from their now depressed hands. Hands embarrassed and left cold…withdrawn with only a distant memory of what LeBron once was and the Miami pain surely left for all of the world to see.
His return is their comeuppance, a chance to shove all the emotion back in his face suffered through that fateful Thursday night this past July.
Where is ESPN now?
LeBron James roasts and “parties” are scheduled all over the city and surrounding suburbs tonight. Some advertise 23¢ beer drafts if an item of LBJ garb is brought to the bar, and also #6 pig roasts (huh?) where Cleveland Cavaliers fans certainly will voice their displeasure between scorned pursed lips sips of ever flowing community ale. It helps the Browns are on the rise and that Ohio State crushed Michigan Saturday, but nothing else envelops the minds of the people here lately (outside of life) than the return of King James. I walked through Lakewood the festive drinking night before Thanksgiving to get a sense of what people were thinking about a moment their own. Lakewood is a mere 11 miles from the Quicken Loans Arena and spending a little less than 2 months the last two years in this working class suburb, an opportunity was presented to get a true sense of how the community lives.
I didn’t know what to expect but those I spoke with seemed like good people. There were obviously curses exclaimed at the mention of LeBron’s name but trust it was nothing Philly. Those I spoke with were closer to LeBron’s age than I anticipated — which also highlighted the maturation process. A process we must all go through before we know of life and how to go about making life changing decisions. Folks were just as conflicted as maybe LeBron is, because there were responses where hate and love were contradicted in the same sentence. There was a rush I saw in the faces of most as they gave their thoughts…minds wandering to the Q floor cheers they once felt. It’s not hard to explain, for LeBron was their king. He is everything here he is now criticized for nationally. These people were energized when LeBron was Cleveland. He was their escape from lives made difficult by the times. This game is wanted. This game has to happen. This game will change things if only for a 48 minute span, and I’m afraid that once LeBron leaves depression will reset and reality will once again kick in.
Here’s what one Cleveland fan told me true:
Michael Tillery: How do you feel about LeBron James?
Giovanni Ruggiero: “LeBron James…honestly…is like that girl you break up with but can’t stop chasing. You want to hate him all you can but at the same time you know how good he is and you want him back.”
MT: As he was growing up here and eventually picked by the Cavs, what went through your mind?
GR: “Cleveland has suffered for so long without a championship, and we thought he was gonna bring it here, and then he went to Miami. He had no allegiance at all to Miami. Disgusting.”
MT: Why didn’t Cleveland win a championship?
GR: “Because they didn’t have the right parts. I think it’s 50/50. 50% his fault and 50% the teams’ fault. We’ve got to take 50% of the blame for how good he is. If you put LeBron on last year’s Cavs team and play the Heat now with LeBron, I think the Cavs would beat them. You are going to have people here who can’t stand LeBron…and rightfully so. He also has the choice to do whatever he wants to do to ensure what’s best for his career, but when he said in 2006 that he wanted to win a championship for the city of Cleveland, the city was full blown behind him. We wanted him to win so bad, and that is why most of us feel betrayed.”
MT: Will Cleveland ever get another player of his ability?
GR: “No. I think he’s the greatest NBA player of all time already. He’s the greatest athletic specimen ever in any sport.”
MT: Do you ever see a time where Cleveland gets over this?
GR: “I think so, but I don’t think so with him. People loved him. I loved him. I’ve been a Cavs fan since I was a little kid because my father Modesto is the biggest Cavs fan I know. I just don’t know how to take this.”
Giovanni’s response was the best I received that night. Yeah it’s that dramatic. I’m not here to judge anyone, but I have to be honest and say that once I got here, I’ve expanded my scope of how these people should feel. These people are different no matter what color they are. Where I’m situated in Lakewood there’s this bar, Harry Buffalo, close by that was jam packed on what is labeled the biggest drinking night of the year. Folks were enjoying themselves. I saw many camera flashes of pictures surely to be posted on facebook, and had an appreciation for the smiles. What I see is a well rounded sense of humanity. They say hello on the street. They know I’m a stranger before I speak. There is no notion of running ahead of the pack. LeBron did that, and behind him they followed, wished, hoped, dreamed and moved as one. Yes, they were living through him, and now that he is gone they want to give it to him.
Thursday how will this be expressed? We should all take notice and take from their example…no matter what transpires.
“The deep pain that is felt at the death of every friendly soul arise from the feeling that there is in every individual something which is inexpressible, peculiar to him alone, and is, therefore, absolutely and irretrievably lost”–Arthur Schopenhauer