For the rational people of Cleveland — this includes most of hardened citizenry yet excludes delusional Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert — pat yourselves on the back.
Last night, with the world watching, you manned up. You sat down with the one who scorned you, LeBron James, the villainous scoundrel who broke your hearts and humiliated you on television before millions.
“King James”, “The Chosen One” and any other outlandish moniker that you foolishly attached to James has come and gone to Quicken Loans Arena looking as tantalizing as ever, punishing the Cavaliers with the type of singular excellence (38 points, 10 more than Cleveland’s combined starters) Cleveland became accustomed to in a 118-90 loss to James’ new team, the Miami Heat.
The vitriol directed at James was palpable. The five guys in the white tees that spelled out “LeBum.” Signs referring to James as “Queen James ” were everywhere, and James, who was gracious in his praise of the fans in the post-game presser, was roundly booed every time he touched the ball.
Watching from afar it dawned on me that this was, at the end of the day, nothing but a necessary and understandable catharsis for Cleveland fans, perhaps the most tortured fans of professional sports in all the land. It was not a public stoning. From all accounts there was no need for the additional police officers stationed at Quicken Loans.
It’s time for both sides to let go, to move on and turn the page.
When James returns to Cleveland later in the season it is unlikely that this will be the epicenter of the sports world as it was on Thursday. In all likelihood it will be a game between an awful team and James’ Heat.
Or is it Wade’s Heat? Chris Bosh’s, perhaps?
That’s actually the bigger issue here now. Seven years into his career James has two MVP awards, multiple endorsements and unimaginable wealth. However, this all rings hollow when juxtaposed against, say, the five championship rings that Kobe Bryant has earned with the Los Angeles Lakers.
While Wade led has the distinction of having already led the Heat to a title, this collection of talent, this “Big Three” has James as its unquestioned centerpiece. And if he doesn’t lead them to multiple world championships he will be viewed, fairly or not, as having failed to live up to his billing.
Thus far, the Heat’s season hasn’t come close to living up to the hype. It started with a disappointing loss at Boston in which they scored just 80 points, and has been characterized by mediocre play. One week ago they were in a stretch of games that saw them lose four of five, including embarrassing losses to Indiana and Memphis.
They have been exposed as a team with a gaping hole in the middle and no depth. And recently a bumping of the shoulders between James and undecorated coach Erik Spoelstra as James came off the floor during a loss at Dallas saturated the 24-hour news cycle, adding to circulating rumors that there is already tension between the two.
The difference here is unless James’ Heat (12-8) don’t quickly recalibrate and start stringing together wins , Spoelstra will eventually be jettisoned and replaced, perhaps by proven winner Pat Riley, the team president.
James, on the other hand, will still be in Miami, bearing the increasingly more burdensome weight of unfulfilled expectations, first in Cleveland and now in Miami. In fact, the last time we saw James in the playoffs the conversation was whether or not he had actually quit on his teammates in Game 5 of their series last year against Boston. Hall of
Fame players such as Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan criticizing James for taking his talents to South Beach.
This is really not the legacy James expected to be constructing.
James, of course, can change the narrative moving forward with championships, and there is no shortage of basketball experts who believe that he has the skills and the time to do so. He is just 25 years old, three years younger than Jordan was before he won the first of six titles with Chicago. And while the easy thing to say is that James was unable to bring a championship to Cleveland, the argument that the Cavaliers’ front office didn’t adequately provide him with the necessary pieces to do so is equally legitimate.
James has offered an olive branch to Cleveland fans previously, and he did so again on Thursday, saying, “I have nothing bad to say about these fans. I understand their frustration. I was frustrated also because we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to at the end of the day.
Gilbert, meanwhile, is still carrying a grudge. He has already embarrassed himself with a childish tirade directed at James after James exercised his right to leave town via free agency. Yahoo! Sports has reported that Gilbert is paying a Midwestern law firm “hundreds of thousands” to investigate whether Miami’s courtship of James was illegal.
This will probably turn out to be a big waste of a wealthy man’s money, much of that money the result of James’ laboring for him. Hopefully the city of Cleveland, haunted by The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, The Move and, most recently, The Decision, won’t have the same problem letting go.