Cruelest slap for Cleveland fans

There was The Drive, The Fumble and The Shot.

All pale in comparison to The Decision.

Cleveland has been termed by some as one of the most miserable cities in the country, but as long as it was able to claim LeBron James as its own, everything was fine.

The King may not have led the Cavaliers to the NBA title, but he gave them a swagger.

The city’s fans could hold their heads high knowing they could boast arguably the top player of this generation.

But now James is gone, heading to South Beach to join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat – and the Cavs are left with virtually nothing.

It’s worse than The Drive, when John Elway led the Denver Broncos down the length of the field in the fourth quarter – and an eventual victory over the Browns – in the 1986 AFC championship game.

It trumped The Fumble the following year, when Ernest Byner coughed up the ball with a little more than a minute left as he was en route to the end zone to tie the AFC title game.

It’s even a notch beyond The Shot, when Michael Jordan sank a buzzer-beater over Cavs defender Craig Ehlo in the fifth and deciding game during the 1989 playoffs.

Then came the collapse in Game 7 of the 2007 American League Championship Series by the Indians in which Cleveland was up 3-1 over the Red Sox.

Those were short-term debacles in which there was always next year.

The only rival to the spectacle that went down on Thursday night was Art Modell’s taking the Browns to Baltimore 15 years ago.

The downtown streets in Cleveland bore a resemblance to any other night, according to those who make frequent trips to the area. East 4th Street had more traffic, but it was difficult to tell what had transpired just an hour or so earlier when fans packed bars to witness The King’s Decision.

For the most part, on the surface, it appeared as status quo.

However, deep down there was a myriad of emotions – shock, anger and even understanding.

``I think it was the smartest move he ever made,” said N. Stanford Harrison, 30. ``Now, he doesn’t have to waste any more time playing with Mo Williams.”

But that was the minority opinion. Most of the Cleveland fans were upset – not only that LeBron was gone, but also how he said goodbye.

It was the one-hour national television spectacle that made Cleveland fans feel as though they were punched in the gut without reason.

``It was so cold,” Cavs fan Melissa Zujkowski said.

She’s right.

Their favored son was leaving them. It was as if they lost their puppy or even a close friend.

But instead of feeling sorry, many of them became enraged.

``He’ll be the pariah of Cleveland forever,” said Cavs fan Sebastian Cangemi, 32. ``The only one who will be more despised around here is Art Modell.”

Ashlie Case, a 30-year-old lawyer, said she wasn’t surprised at all by The King’s decision.

Not with the city’s track record.

``We expect bad things to happen,” she said.

Scott Bea, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic, said he’s not surprised at the reaction.

``This city is resilient,” said Bea, a Cleveland native and diehard sports fan. ``We’ve been through a lot, and I think that’s why they’ll be able to handle it.

``It’ll be difficult for people to deal with it in the short term, but they’ll realize that the sun will come up each day,” he said.

But the question becomes how long it’ll take for Clevelanders to forgive – because it’s unlikely they will ever forget what James has done to them.

``Who knows,” said Peter Pattakos, another diehard Cavs fan who grew up in the area. ``He may end up back here in a few years.

``But in the meantime, people will rally around this,” he added. ``Because this city isn’t going to die because of LeBron leaving.”

It just may not be relevant for a while.

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