Cleveland moves on as LeBron crowned champ
On the same sidewalk where fans torched a LeBron James jersey in
protest two summers ago, office workers on their lunch hours passed
gamblers headed to the new downtown casino.
Just another summer day.
While James was in Miami celebrating his first NBA title, fans
in the city he scorned to chase a championship had a much more
subdued, internal reaction. There were no angry protests, no public
outrage, no threats of harm. Those days have long past.
The king got his ring.
And Cleveland, where sports despair’s roots have grown for
generations, seemed to sigh in acceptance.
”In a way I’m kind of happy for him,” bartender Natalie Hardik
said between serving pints of beer at Flannery’s, an Irish bar and
restaurant across the street from Quicken Loans Arena, where James
once starred. ”But I definitely still feel a lot of bitterness
toward him – everyone does.”
This city, yearning to celebrate its first pro sport
championship since 1964, hasn’t forgiven James for leaving as a
free agent in 2010. Many can’t let it go. There’s lingering pain
and resentment, but there’s also a sense that it’s time to move
Some Clevelanders already had.
”I hope they have moved on, and I kind of felt many fans had
come to accept this would happen during the season,” said TV
sports anchor Jim Donovan, a longtime Cleveland resident. ”Fans
felt him winning it all was inevitable, and I think some of them
may have given up because it’s exhausting to root against the guy.
It’s better to root for your team.”
Cleveland reveled in seeing James fail in last year’s
This time, there was no stopping him.
And the sight of James, who grew up in nearby Akron and spent
seven seasons with the Cavaliers, hugging and and hoisting a
championship trophy was tough to stomach.
”I had mixed feelings,” said Mike Kubinski, who watched
Thursday’s Game 5 at home in Cleveland’s Tremont district. ”It’s a
lot like when your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend gets married. It’s
As he spoke, Kubinski stood just a few away from an outdoor
clothing kiosk at Westlake’s Crocker Park, where ”Lyin’ King”
T-shirts were sold after James’ departure in 2010. Now, there’s
hardly a trace of James anywhere to be found in Cleveland, where
his No. 23 jersey was once omnipresent and his likeness loomed
above the city on a giant downtown billboard.
”LeWho?” said Jimmy Pearl of Cleveland. ”He left. Outta
sight, outta mind, my man.”
Coincidentally, at about the exact time James and the Miami Heat
were dispatching the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night, a
storm rumbled in across Lake Erie, its thunder and lightning
providing the perfect backdrop for another dark moment in Cleveland
During the game, softball players at the Ironwood Cafe in
Westlake glared at flat screen TVs showing the Heat leading by 25
points in the third quarter. It was over, there would be no Game 6
and James’ coronation as a champion couldn’t be delayed any
At the Dive Bar downtown on West 6th Street, Hardik muted ABC’s
telecast and played music so fans didn’t have to endure the sounds
of James winning a title – the sight was bad enough.
This didn’t hurt nearly as bad as Cleveland’s other well-known
sports calamities like ”The Drive,” ”The Fumble,” Indians
closer Jose Mesa blowing the save in Game 7 of the 1997 World
Series or former Browns owner Art Modell packing up his beloved
football franchise and moving to Baltimore.
But it was still a punch in Cleveland’s collective gut.
And as James danced on the sideline in the closing minutes and
later smiled as confetti engulfed him and his teammates, Kubinski
felt as if he was watching a well-rehearsed play.
”He’s always acting,” Kubinski said of James. ”He always
knows where the cameras are and when they’re on him.”
Not long after James’ victory, Twitter and other social media
sites overflowed with negative comments directed at the three-time
MVP. But Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who accused James of quitting on
the Cavs and promised his team would win a title before the
”so-called King” didn’t pile on.
”Great NBA season,” Gilbert posted on (at)cavsdan. ”Enjoyed
playoffs. Congratulations to Miami & OKC for an exciting
Finals. Back to work on next week’s promising Cavs draft.”
Instead of dwelling on James, many Cleveland fans are focusing
on what appears to be a bright future for the Cavs. The team has
the No. 4 overall pick in next week’s draft, four selections in the
top 34 and hope to add some quality players to put around guard
Kyrie Irving, the reigning rookie of the year.
At last, it’s time to look forward, not back.
”I think people have moved on and are at peace with it,” said
Chuck Kyle, coach of high school football powerhouse Saint
Ignatius. ”It’s been two years since LeBron left. It hurt for a
while, but now it’s time to forget it.”
While there are those who will never forgive him, James has a
sprinkling of supporters in Cleveland.
”My dad loves him,” Darrin Cappy said of his 82-year-old
father, Bruno. ”He’d love LeBron no matter where he played. He
loves to talk about LeBron, and I know that’s all I’m going to hear
about all weekend.”