It’s been over 24 hours now. My wife is probably glad I’ll quit talking about if he will or if he won’t return. I wanted to write this yesterday but this is my first chance to get enough time to put it all into words. Before I really get into it, I need to unpack a few things. Hopefully you’ll stick around for the whole post. Especially if you’re not from Cleveland or Ohio. Even if you swore you’d never forgive what Lebron did or if you care less about basketball. Maybe after reading his essay (which will be 100 times better than anything I could post) and some of my thoughts, you’ll at least have some understanding why grown men (including me) cried yesterday.
I was not born in Cleveland, Ohio. I was born in Anchorage, Alaska. My earliest memories are from Cleveland. When you ask me my hometown, I say “Cleveland.” It’s where I’m from and it forever has my heart. I’ve been a Cavs fan since the day I started playing and watching basketball. I remember laying in my room (long before ESPN and Fox Sports carried every game), listening to Joe Tate call the games on AM Radio. I literally kept a box score throughout each broadcast. My heroes were Daugherty, Nance, Price, Hot Rod and Harper. I had the gear and the posters. If you know me, you know my love affair with the team.
I don’t need to go through the list of heartache the City of Cleveland has endured when it comes to sports. The list is long and heartbreaking. I can tell you where I was when a majority of them happened. The City itself has had it’s share of tough times. It has rebounded and fallen again. It seems like just when the sun starts to shine on Cleveland, something happens and the clouds arrive again. I think that is why people in Cleveland live and die (more die than live) with their beloved sports teams. It’s their escape. No matter how bad a team is, each season begins with it a hope that this is the year. That “just once before I die” finally comes true.
It’s well documented but Lebron was one of our own. His essay said it too. He knew our long history of failure. In a way that was both unhealthy and unfair, we thought he was going to be the guy. We thought the storybook ending of one of our own delivering the thing that has eluded the city for so long was perfect. I have always maintained that I wasn’t mad about his “decision.” I was mad about HOW he went about it. This wasn’t supposed to happen. It did and over the years time has healed most of the wounds.
For four years I have always felt that Lebron was never comfortable in the role of villain. He never wore that well. We watched him for 7 years and his essay said exactly what I saw. He regretted the decision but it was something he had to do. Don’t we all chase something at some point in our lives? Sometimes it turns up as expected, but often it does not. I had no inside knowledge, but I believed that Lebron would someday return.
As the days passed the tension in Cleveland began to build. I maintained throughout the process that I thought Lebron would return. I also believed that if he chose Miami or anywhere else this time, it was not on him. This was not the 2010 decision. He remained quiet. Social media, national media and fan hysteria began to build like a title wave. For days, twitter was a constant refresh and sports talk radio was filled with talk of Lebron. Where was he? What was he doing? Who were the sources? How would we know? Web sites crashed. Planes were tracked. It was all a bit crazy.
On Friday, I was in my home office working. I had my personal laptop open streaming local Cleveland Radio in the background. I also had tweetdeck open just in case some news broke. In a “where were you” moment, a “breaking news” alert came across the radio. I glanced over and began to see the tweets…”I’m coming home.” One after another after another, tweets linking Lebron’s essay on SI.com. The local radio hosts were going insane. It was a moment I will never forget.
And then they read the letter…..
I leaned back in my office chair, smiling ear to ear as they began to read Lebron’s words. Chills covered my arms and legs. As the radio host closed out the final words of his letter, he couldn’t finish. He was choked to tears. He paused, gathered himself and finished it out. I understood everything he was feeling because I was misty eyed too. As the afternoon wore on, other radio hosts joined the broadcasts. One in particular has been covering the Cleveland sports scene for as long as I can remember. He had not yet read the letter from Lebron. He stepped away from the microphone and read it as others talked. When he returned, he choked back the tears as he spoke. It was an incredible moment and actually broke some rules of radio I think.
Lebron was coming home.
I said this on social media and I say it again….with every fiber of my being, this is not about the Cleveland Cavaliers. For me it’s not. I’m sure there is a massive amount of people that celebrated yesterday because they believe this man will bring home a title. For me, the last thing I thought about yesterday was titles and wins. I thought about a City I call “home.” I thought about the financial implications. I thought about the closed bars, restaurants and businesses that sit around the arena. In true Cleveland fashion, they have fought and tried to come up with ways to give some kind of life to these establishments. It’s been a struggle but they never quit.
With three words in an essay, life and hope were delivered to a City I love. It’s almost like the movie “Field of Dreams” (I cried in that one too). People will come to downtown. Life will be breathed into a city that desperately needs it. People began to gather downtown as soon as the announcement went live yesterday. The Cavs sold out their season ticket packages in record fashion. Those are dollars that will be invested into the City. They will arrive early and stay late. They’ll support local businesses before, during and after the games. Hopefully, they will continue to see a winning product on the court for years to come.
I can’t speak for all of the men that shed tears yesterday, but I think I can. They, like me, love the City of Cleveland. They’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly and I’m not referring to basketball. They want to see their city alive like we’ve seen it before. They want Cleveland to be something other than a punchline or report of some bad press. They know the beauty that lies on the shores of Lake Erie. We’ve heard the “mistake” but we know the “potential.”
I don’t know who’ll read this. I don’t know what city you’re from. Maybe it’s a city that has always been on top. Maybe you’ve never understood “Cleveland Fans” or their reactions to misery. Maybe you rolled your eyes at the endless string of Lebron posts on social media sites yesterday. While ESPN shoulders some blame for their 24 hour LebronStation, I’m sure it was a lot. Especially if you don’t have a skin in the game.
For one day, for a few crazy hours, Cleveland lost their mind yesterday. Emotions ran wild and this time it was mostly positive. Frustration was released. Like I said, many probably dreamed of championships and placed huge weight back on the very broad shoulders of Lebron James. Fair or unfair, it’ll happen again. There will be a time to discuss and dream of what might take place on the court. I’ll also cover the incredible story of forgiveness and grace that was displayed by two men that had every reason to dig in their heels some other post. Today I celebrate for the City of Cleveland. Today I am glad that Lebron is coming home.