by Pat Gunther
On July 8th, 2010 LeBron James did something Clevelanders will never forget. James left his hometown Cavaliers for the warm beaches and sun of Miami.
James hosted a one-hour special on ESPN called “The Decision” in which he publicly chose his next team. After James told the world he would join the Miami Heat for the upcoming season, ESPN quickly cut to a live feed of Cleveland. Blank stares and tears filled bars all across the city, while more dedicated fans hosted “LeBron Fires” in which they burned everything associated with their former hero.
Some may claim that stars have left their teams before, and Cleveland has nothing to complain about. That may be true, but this particular break up feels different. Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, LeBron James was highly touted as the next Michael Jordan. ESPN even televised his high school games, which was unheard of. In May of 2003, when Cleveland won the NBA’s Draft Lottery, Ohioans everywhere rejoiced. The savior of Cleveland basketball, one of their own ,was going to be a Cavalier.
Cleveland sports fans can tell you about losing. John Elway’s legendary drive in 1987, Michael Jordan’s famous shot over Craig Ehlo in 1989, and the Indians collapse in the 1997 World Series are all painful memories to any sports enthusiast. Cleveland sports fans have not had something to cheer about since the Browns won the NFL Championship in 1964.
But LeBron James was supposed to change all of that. He even stated that he would not leave until he won a championship with the Cavaliers. “The Decision” is more than about losing an athlete to free agency; it’s about being deceived.
Fans have been harboring hatred since July 8th, a day that will forever be etched in the memory of Cleveland sports. The seven years of chalk-throwing and jaw-dropping plays have been completely forgotten. Cleveland fans knew that on December 2nd, 2010, they would have a chance to make LeBron James feel the hate and disappointment that has been brewing since July 8th.
Nearly five months later LeBron James and the Miami Heat returned to Cleveland, the first time since James left. As the starting fives for both teams were announced, “boos” and vulgar chants rained down on James. Cleveland’s reaction provided to be the highlight of the entertainment of the evening, as the Heat romped the Cavaliers 118-90.
Rumors of animosity in the locker room and disrespect for coach Erik Spoelstra have swirled all season, but the Heat finally clicked on Thursday. LeBron James poured in 39 points in his highest scoring thus far, while Dwayne Wade added 22 points of his own. Though the Miami Heat has struggled this year, they finally looked like the team that everyone has been talking about since they signed the Big Three.
The city that once loved Lebron James sparked a fire in him that has rarely been seen this season, while fans continue to harbor hatred and ill will. How the Heat finish the season has yet to be seen, but as Lebron proved Thursday night, he’s still one of the best players in the game.