On Thursday night, the former Browns owner Modell, who moved the team out of Cleveland in 1995, no longer stood alone as villain No. 1 among residents.
The sea change became official when the once-beloved and superstar free agent LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers announced on national TV that he would be joining running mates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.
Three tenors, if you will.
But the sound was not of silence in Cleveland. The note was decidedly sour in northern Ohio, and the move had been long feared and dreaded by Cavaliers fans for the last two years.
Sour quickly turned fire-breathing, and leading the charge was Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, who torched James in an angry open letter to the team’s fans:
“You simply don’t deserve this kind of cowardly betrayal. You have given so much and deserve so much more. In the meantime, I want to make one statement to you tonight:
“I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE.”
Gilbert went on to call the move a “shocking act of disloyalty.” The words “heartless,” “callous” and “narcissistic” also found space in the release, and Gilbert vowed James would be taking “the curse” with him to Miami.
The heat-seeking words came hours after the televised announcement, in which near the end of the program an uncomfortable James was shown footage of his jersey being burned in Cleveland.
This much-hyped, one-hour prime-time special on ESPN was called “The Decision” and culminated a particularly frenzied mood of speculative guesswork that kicked into high gear in recent days.
Last week representatives of six teams went to Cleveland for meetings with James and his management team. In addition to the winner, the Heat, and the only team James has ever played for in the NBA, the Cavaliers, the other franchises invited were the Chicago Bulls, the New Jersey Nets, the New York Knicks and the Clippers.
James’ announcement came almost half an hour into the show, and the hint that he would be leaving was when reporter Jim Gray asked why he made the decision.
“I think the major reason in my decision was the best opportunity for me to win now and to win into the future also,” said James, adding that he had no doubts about the move.
Newly minted Cavaliers Coach Byron Scott took his summer league team through a two-hour practice and then watched the announcement on TV in his office.
“Life goes on,” Scott said in a telephone interview. “You’ve got to go with what you’ve got. We knew it could happen. When I took the job, I knew it was a possibility he couldn’t be here. I wish he was. I know our journey is still to win a championship. I wish him all the best.
“Now I’m just looking at how we can get better.”
James said he made the final decision Thursday morning, saying: “I had a great conversation with my mom; once I had that conversation with her I was set.”
The superstar sounded as though he was genuinely conflicted, and Gray asked about the thought process and when was the very last time James changed his mind.
“Last time I changed my mind was probably in my dreams,” James said, smiling.
Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.