With apologies to poet Robert Frost, but with an acknowledgment of basketball star LeBron James’ new reality: Home is not the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. James, who forsook the Cleveland Cavaliers to, in his words, “take my talents to South Beach” and partner with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh for the Miami Heat, found out last night that he is indeed the most despised man in his native northeast Ohio. He has tried to downplay it by saying he’s actually from nearby Akron and not Cleveland. But that’s parsing along the lines of Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
In a place where there once was nothing but love for him, James, who went straight from high school to the National Basketball Association and spent seven years with the Cavs, found nothing but bile on his return.
Despite the fact that the beleaguered franchise enjoyed unprecedented on- and off-court success during his tenure, James was not treated as the prodigal come home but, rather, like a modern-day Benedict Arnold. Huge posters outside the Quicken Loans Arena that used to trumpet his abilities with “We Are All Witnesses” now sarcastically declared, “Quitness.” Inside, many who saw him as their king and savior tried to outdo each other with signs that proclaimed, “LeBron is a bigger sellout than tonight’s game,” “The Lying King,” “Witless,” “LeBum,” “Queen James” and scores more of varying degrees of wit and hate.
Well, he did bring it on himself — somewhat. The self-aggrandizing and ill-conceived way that he notified the world of his leaving, through the ESPN broadcast The Decision, was the start. Cleveland has held a grudge since and, like a small dog with an oversized bone, will probably hold on to it forever.
His miscalculation was not just in the way he did it but also to whom. Cleveland is a mecca of athletic underachievement. Its history is rife with onetime loyalists who forwent the city and its patented inferiority complex. (Full disclosure: I lived in Cleveland for almost three years.) The incomparable football player Jim Brown dropped the Cleveland Browns for a Hollywood career; Art Modell, former owner of the Browns, took the team in the dark of night to Baltimore, where they morphed into a Super Bowl-winning franchise, the Ravens; and there are other recent game changers, such as pitchers C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee, who moved on to greener pastures once they realized the Cleveland Indians baseball team was destined to be hard luck forever.
Amid increased courtside security, the game itself was a testament to James’ decision. Although he was booed mercilessly every time he touched the ball, James had 38 points, five rebounds, eight assists and zero turnovers as the Heat thumped the Cavs, 118-90. James, who had 24 points in the third quarter alone, didn’t even play the fourth, since the game was for all intents and purposes over. Once title contenders with James, the Cavs are now reduced to being plucky without him. Obviously James has moved on. Cleveland, the king is dead. It’s time for you to move on as well.
Nick Charles is a regular contributor to The Root.