Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Return

I’m two days early with this blog entry. However, I feel it is necessary to touch on something that for one night is bigger than the NFL sorting itself out and the Bowl picture becoming clearer in College Football. Tonight is the sequel to “The Decision.” Tonight is “The Return.”

I know I have written about LeBron a countless number of times. There are good reasons for this.
A.) He is arguably the best athlete in the world
B.) He is arguably the most controversial athlete in the world
C.) He is my favorite athlete in the world, and therefore, I know more about him than most subjects
D.) He pulled arguably the biggest jerk move of any athlete in the world

In my eyes, those are all good reasons to discuss someone. At least I’m not the only one who is enamored with LeBron. Heat Index, LeBron Watch, The Decision all ring a bell? Yeah, I guess ESPN has a little bit of interest in him too. For seven glorious years, the sports world was more focused on Cleveland, Ohio than it ever had been. When 18 year old LeBron James made his NBA debut in 2003, “The Mistake by the Lake” was brightened up. Gloomy and dark Cleveland was turned around. I know. I saw the change firsthand. I was in Cleveland at a Cavaliers game prior to LeBron James’s arrival. The arena was empty. The city was a mess. It was dirty. It was dark. It was boring. It was lifeless. I have been there a number of times in his seven years with Cleveland. LeBron James raised that city like no other athlete may have ever done. He was a savior. Seven years after his debut, LeBron James shut the lights off in Cleveland. It became a dark place again. People were angry and sad. And they still are.

On Thursday December 2nd the bright light will be shined once again on Cleveland. And it’s right in the eyes of LeBron James. In fact, it’s blinding. It’s not the spot light LeBron James is used to though. He has been in the spot light for nearly ten years now and for the most part, he has handled it extremely well considering the circumstances. LeBron James is a hated man. This is a rare case where the game within the game is bigger than the game itself. This is a social issue. This issue is between a man and a city. A city that feels betrayed. Often times an athlete can become the face of a city. A visual representation of a geographical area. Michael Jordan in Chicago, Derek Jeter in New York, Peyton Manning in Indianapolis. LeBron James was the face of a city, and the face of the people of the city. He was a visual and lifelike representation of Cleveland. Cleveland is an underdog, blue collar, hardworking town. LeBron James was a poor kid from nearby Akron, Ohio who rose above everyone else and became a superstar against all odds. He ended up on a Cavaliers team that desperately needed a boost. Together they exceeded expectations, and were oh so close to becoming the all-time underdog story. Then… it ended.

LeBron single handedly put an end to the underdog story. LeBron took his talents to South Beach. A flashy, popular and bright city, the polar opposite of what Cleveland is. As I prepared to watch “The Decision”, word leaked out that LeBron James was going to Miami. It didn’t seem right. I didn’t think it could actually happen. LeBron James was Cleveland. Rather, Cleveland was LeBron James. LeBron James brought the spot light to Cleveland. He rejuvenated a city in a way no athlete ever has. He was now going to take the spot light away. It didn’t seem possible. No man has ever had that kind of power over a city or over thousands of people, and then crushed them like he was about to. As LeBron James appeared on camera, things seemed weird. He looked nervous, unsure and uneasy, yet still arrogant and confident (if that makes sense). Typical LeBron fashion. Biting his finger nails on the bench during a timeout, and dancing as he makes his way back onto the court.

“In this fall, I’m gonna take my talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat.” The lights went off in Cleveland. “They’ve seen me grow from an 18 year old kid to a 25 year old man.” Yes they did. They backed him from day one and then he turned on them. The videos don’t lie. When LeBron James uttered those words, the collective heart of Cleveland broke. Not only broke, but shattered into a million pieces that could never be repaired. You could see it in people’s faces. Looks of disbelief and depression took over the Cleveland bars where many people were watching The King decide his fate and theirs. It was sad and hard to watch, even for me who was getting ready to move only 2 hours away from Miami and surround myself with a number of Heat fans. The spotlight had been moved to Miami, as if Miami needs any more spotlight than it already has. With this shift, a different kind of light could be seen in Cleveland. The light that will be blinding LeBron James tonight is the light of hell. It is the light of the fire that was set to his jersey after he made his decision. It is the negative light that Dan Gilbert cast over LeBron James in his letter to the Cavaliers fans. It’s a damning and punishing light.

Tonight is going to take the phrase “hostile crowd” to another level. The general safety of a player is at risk during this game. No one can convince me that all of the police and security will keep this from getting out of hand. No one can convince me that the words from the Cleveland Cavaliers management will keep this game civil. I fear for LeBron James and I think a lot of onlookers feel the same way. For so long he has seemed impervious to pain. He has seemed invincible. Tonight is different, he’s vulnerable. He isn’t just dealing with an opposing team’s crowd who similar to the rest of the league doesn’t like the Miami Heat. He is dealing with 20,000 people who once were witnesses. 20,000 screaming fans at The Q. 20,000 of his biggest fans and supporters. Now they feel betrayed. The fire that was set to the jersey of LeBron is going to be brought into Quicken Loans Arena tonight. How LeBron handles it I have no idea. As you can see I wrote nothing about the skills or legacy of LeBron James, the struggles of the Miami Heat or if the choice he made was a mistake. That material has gotten enough attention from me and everyone else. Like I said, tonight this is more than a game. This is more than two opposing teams playing each other on a cold December night in Cleveland. This is a man versus a city. LeBron James could have stayed in Cleveland; the dark city that he made bright with his dazzling play and genuine team continuity. He took his talents to Miami. A bright and vibrant city which now has a dark cloud cast over it. LeBron James was the hero of Cleveland. He is now the ultimate villain. Taking a quote from The Dark Knight, “You either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.”

Check out the most recent episode of The Captain's Corner, where Paul Clark and I discuss this issue, and the Week 13 NFL games. My NFL and College Football picks will be released on Saturday morning.