It is with some trepidation that I am coming out of the closet as a Clevelander who still loves Lebron James. That’s right, I said it.
I didn’t always feel this way. I was a pretty big fan in his heyday here in Cleveland. I own his biography and a No. 23 jersey in red and gold. Even though I was upset when he left, I didn’t burn it. Now I’m glad.
It was hard, the way Lebron’s “Decision” put Cleveland under the always-harsh national spotlight. There was so much pride in hosting a superstar for a city that’s athletic legacy reads like a Greek tragedy.
For so many people nationally it was a foregone conclusion that he would leave. But Clevelanders were optimistic. You have to be optimistic in Cleveland; people here talk about how nice the weather is when it gets in the high 20s.
Beaten-down Cleveland seemed destined for a savior like Lebron, born just a stone’s throw away in Akron. It was a serendipitous twist of fate that brought him to the Cavs. And there were a few times during his career here when it really looked like they were going to win it.
When the team was out there having fun, they were so fun to watch. Especially him. He scored 30 points or more nearly every game, it seemed. It was amazing the way he could just turn it on at a critical moment. There were a lot of squeakers, and Lebron was the decider. He would decide that the team would not lose and that would be it.
I had the opportunity to watch of few of these games at the Q and it was pretty incredible. So were the streets of downtown after one of those games. The whole city seemed to be drunk on hope while simultaneously actually being drunk. That’s pretty hard to beat.
I knew he would leave after that series with the Celtics. He seemed to have just given up midway through. I told my 12 Twitter followers that he was dead to me. I really felt betrayed.
I didn’t even watch The Decision. I couldn’t understand why so many Clevelanders insisted on watching it, when it was pretty clear what would happen. I was defensive when the national press criticized Cleveland’s reaction; sports is serious business here.
Somewhere between now and then though, Lebron has won me back. My dad always told me what was so impressive about Lebron James was his maturity. To come to fame so young and not to lose his head and blow it, that was perhaps more impressive than his awe-inspiring basketball abilities.
I know a lot of people would say the whole Decision announcement was pretty regrettable. And I guess I don’t disagree. That’s pretty clear now.
But through all the backlash, some of it very personal and unfair, he has continued to show tremendous personal strength. He clearly outclassed Dan Gilbert in the whole crazy-letter controversy. Then he came back to Cleveland, over the hissing and the booing, and acted like a true professional, scoring half-a-million points, or whatever it was.
Through all the hatred and vitriol, he has really kept his cool. Only once or twice did he protest, pointing out that there may have been a racial aspect to the extreme contempt some people displayed for a sports figure who had the audacity to change teams.
It’s hard to say why we all get so wrapped up in these athletic competitions. But I think we admire sports heroes like Lebron – and Lebron is a sports hero of the rarest order – because they demonstrate for us the amazing power of the human spirit. You could see that just oozing out of Lebron when he played and that’s why he was so fun to watch. He was indomitable.
I am pretty sure I will continue be a fan of him as a person and an athlete wherever he plays. Why not? I’m pretty sure it will be more fun for me than sulking.
We’ve always had kind of a one-sided relationship: I’m a stranger to him but he has made me happy. Who in Cleveland can’t say that about him? While he has disappointed me as well, he never owed me anything in the first place.