All it took was two words — “South Beach.”
That was it for him in Cleveland.
One second, he’s the second coming of Michael Jordan. The next, he’s as hated in Cleveland as Art Modell, the NFL owner who infamously packed up the Browns and moved them to Baltimore. To his hometown fans, James might as well have grabbed the sword from the Cavaliers’ logo and plunged it through their hearts.
The reaction was dramatic.
Fans drowned their sorrow in local bars and burned James jerseys in the streets. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert published a ridiculous letter on the team’s website, lashing out at James and foolishly guaranteeing that “the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA championship before the self-titled former ‘King’ wins one.”
Good luck with that promise.
The letter got better. Gilbert went on to call James’ decision a “cowardly betrayal” and added that “some people think they should go to heaven but NOT have to die to get there.”
Since when did the NBA turn into the army, where you’re charged with desertion for leaving your post? The NBA is a business. The Reggie Millers and John Stocktons of the league — guys who spent their entire career in one city — are getting increasingly rare. In fact, only seven active players (Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Tim Duncan, Paul Pierce, Michael Redd, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Jeff Foster) remain on their first NBA team after 10-plus seasons. It’s funny that Gilbert talks so much about loyalty, when NBA front offices are known to shop entire rosters in trade talks and dump players for as little as second-round picks or cash.
Many forget LeBron never picked the Cavaliers. The Cavs were simply a willing participant in Tankapalooza 2002, when the race for the worst record and No. 1 draft pick (James) was on. Former Cavs coach John Lucas (who was fired after that season) admitted the team tanked to improve its draft lottery odds.
So why fault James for his decision to move on? Yes, his hour-long infomercial about himself just fueled his massive ego and was the wrong way to inform Cleveland he’s moving on. Yes, it appeared James spurned Cleveland’s bigger offer for less money in Miami, even though in reality he gets to keep more salary in Florida due to the state having no income tax. But in the end, LeBron chose what he thought was the right move for he and his family. You can’t blame him for that.
The reaction from Northeast Ohio proved once again that in sports, a fan’s loyalty lies only with what’s written on the front of a team’s jersey, not the back. They don’t cheer for individuals. They cheer for any individual — as long as he’s wearing the home team’s colors.