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

on.

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

finals.

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

not fun.”

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

sports history.

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

longer.

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.”