July, 8 2010. The day forever painstakingly etching into Cleveland sports infamy simply known as The Decision.
Do you remember where you were? What you were doing? And what LeBron James jersey you burned?
For me, I was a freshly newly-wed husband looking after our four-month-old infant daughter, Arianna, while we were living in out small Pittsburgh-area house apartment in Brookline. The moment James utter the now infamous punch line, “This summer, I’ve decided to take my talents to…..”
You know the rest. If you’re a sports fan, especially a life-long, long-suffering tough-luck glutton for punishment such as yours truly, you know where he took his talents too.
In what was THE most painful and humiliating gut punch that one sports icon to deliver to an entire city and region that proverbially worshipped him as if he was the second coming of Jesus Christ himself, anything and everything that had even his face and name was cast out as if it were from the cursed Tower of Babel.
The iconic LeBron mural down by Tower City came down and was replaced with a Sherwin-Williams banner could even wash away the dark stain of LBJ’s defection, LBJ jerseys were burned like kindling, even the mere sight of him on TV with his new BFF’s in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would elicit collective outbursts of anger, tears and hurt feelings.
As with all things post Decision-LBJ, cheering against him, and seeing the sight of him lose and falter, since the crippled Cavs couldn’t do much about, was the closest amount of satisfaction that the entire Northeast Ohio region could gain for his proverbial betrayal. Cleveland and Miami have no history as neither had any form of hardwood rivalry. Thanks to James, Miami’s semi-annual trips north for LeBron’s Heat teams to a very loud and raucous Quicken Loans crowds were treated by the region and jilted Cavs fans as if they were the Finals and Super Bowl rolled into one.
When the Cavs couldn’t beat the Heat, Cavs fans decided to naturally hop on the bandwagon of the Mavericks, Thunder and Spurs during LeBron’s annual trips to the Finals.
While LeBron would lose to Dallas in ’11 and the San Antonio Spurs in 2014, the sight of seeing him raise the Larry O’Brien and Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player award trophies after wins over a younger Kevin Durant-led Oklahoma City Thunder squad in ’12 and the Spurs in ’13—thank you Ray Allen!—was enough to make any Cleveland sports fan’s blood boil with rage.
The so-called “Summer of LeBron” of 2012, was more like a bitter cold winter of resentment, rage and open anger comparable to those any experienced in December and January on the North Coast. Thanks to seeing the sight of LeBron lose in the Finals, the term schadenfreude became entered the Cleveland sports fans lexicon. Despite all this, there was a massive King-sized hole left in Cleveland after his departure.
Despite becoming a regular in the NBA Draft Lottery and drafting first-rounders such as Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett, Cleveland toiled in the NBA’s abyss in both wins and relevancy during the King’s abdication of his former Cleveland throne.
Following his loss to the nemesis Spurs led by a still-ascending Kawhi Leonard that fateful summer, the aftermath of how James carried himself, led many to believe that his brief four-year exodus to Miami had come to an end, and low and behold it did.
In what can be descried as a surreal event comparable to Woodstock and the third coming of Jesus Christ himself, Cleveland news stations carried the news of James coming back home non-stop, around the clock and 24-7. I can tell you where I was at that time in 2014 so vividly.
I was working for a property preservation company called Safeguard Properties, as a Order Entry Coordinator in their Brooklyn Heights location, when current INSCMagazine NFL writer, Matthew Wilder came over and told me that “He’s back..LBJ is back!’ Almost immediately, production seemingly stopped and everyone crammed into the lunch room to watch the news of James’ return.
Still seemingly unreal, was that this was all happening a mile and a half away down the road at the Cavs headquarters in Independence. In what was a Disney fairy tale-style magical transformation, all of the old burned and charred Cavs jerseys from that fateful day four years ago, seemingly reappeared, fans who were so bitter, angered and hurt, almost immediately forgave James as if nothing happened, and the moribund Cavs went from brief afterthought and the team that The King Left, to instantaneous NBA title contenders.
Just. Like. That.
With a now-seasoned Irving and recently acquired Kevin Love from Minnesota now in tow, LeBron helped usher in a new “Big Three” less than 45 minutes from his hometown and not 1,400 miles away down in Miami.
While the Cavs would loss on opening night and in the end to the rival Golden State Warriors in six hard-fought games, The King fulfilled his promise of bring glory back to Northeast Ohio, in completing a historical 3-1 comeback in what is now called the Cavs-Warriors NBA Finals three-part rivalry in 2016.
It is now 2017, and the Cavaliers are fresh off a five-game beating at the hands of the NBA’s premier “super team” led by one-time foil in Durant and his rival in Curry. The Warriors have seemingly gotten better and are arming themselves to build the NBA’s next dynasty, while Cleveland has no general manager, seemingly no plan, and has failed to upgrade the roster, other than adding NBA journeymen in point guard Jose Caulderon and forward Jeff Green.
Thanks to the seemingly rudderless ship currently in Cleveland, along with James likely to exercise his player option and test free agency in 2018, Cleveland could be looking at another decision, with the King leaving his kingdom once again to become a Los Angeles King and possibly join the Lonzo Ball-led Lakers.
Cleveland sports fans got too comfortable with the notion of LeBron never leaving Cleveland, only to see him defect to Miami, make no mistake, the warning signs are there, Cleveland needs to make moves if they hope to even earn he right to compete with the uber-stacked juggernaut assembled out in the Bay.
All of the notable talent in the East has migrated West, and with the exception of Gordon Hayward coming east to join the Boston Celtics, it is Lebron and his fellow Kingsmen to lose. The question is will they end up losing their King if they come up short once again in 2018?