"Dedicated To The Winners & The Losers..." - Raekwon

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Dear Lebron, Will You Please Save My Eternal Soul?: What Lebron James Means To Myself, A Franchise & The City Of Cleveland

Note: I'm pretty sure I'm liberally breaking the Second Commandment with this post.

The first thing I will tell the very unfortunate psychiatrist, that has the displeasure of analyzing me when I undergo the massive psychotherapy that will accompany my inevitable mental breakdown in my thirties (and it’s coming. My friend have started to take bets about the age I’ll be when it occurs. The over/under is 32. Personally, I would take the under…), is the key to understanding my entire being starts with the fact that I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio rooting for the multiple car crash catastrophe that is the Cleveland sports scene. Had I grown up in New Jersey where I was born rooting for the Yankees or basking in the warm sun of Miami where I spent my infancy than I would most assuredly be a much more well-adjusted person than I currently am. Unfortunately, I grew up rooting for Craig Ehlo and Jose Mesa so that alternate universe William James Steiner was not meant to be and instead I became the Good Doctor Zeus. If I had the good fortune of rooting for say the Chicago Bulls or the Dallas Cowboys or the Los Angeles Lakers, there is a good chance I might be a successful lawyer or an architect and not a entry-level office peon who writes a snarky, self-published hip hop blog (a blog that isn’t even Vibe Magazine approved, either.. I know, right?) in his spare time. Needless to say, I was not so fortunate and thusly, I suffered the many psychic scars that accompanies growing up rooting for the Cavs, Indians and Browns miserably failing year after year after year.

If there is one defining personality trait that all people from Cleveland share is our joyless, fun crushing (plus) pessimism spurred on by a collective inferiority complex that penetrates deep within our tortured, weary souls. From a young age, we are indoctrinated with “Mistake On The Lake” jokes and tales of our polluted rivers burning from raw sewage and hapless local stupidity which begins to seep deep within your soul and whisper to you in the dark night that your city is simply not good enough. We are told that our city is dreary, miserable and the sun never shines (which is not true. It just usually doesn’t shine) which after awhile begins to cut deep. Worst of all is the impending sense of doom that seems to surround our beloved sports teams. The tales of our city’s sports failures are told in hushed, whispered tones as if you do not wish to anger the gods by speaking of these stories. We huddle around each other as if we are frightened girl scouts swapping scary stories around a campfire about events that we only need one name to describe: The Shot, The Drive, The Fumble and Jose Mesa all are enough to cause a Clevelander to uncontrollably shudder and recoil in abject fear. Our scars are all too real and unlike the self-indulgent flagellation of a Cubs or Red Sox fan, we don’t have the memories of Larry Bird and Michael Jordan to fall on. We have Craig Ehlo crumbling helplessly as a triumphant MJ pumps his fist in celebration. If hope springs eternal for Cubs fans, despair reigns supreme in the city of Cleveland. Until now…

It’s been 45 years since Cleveland won a championship of any kind and we have grown tired of waiting our turn. Cleveland is a dying city. The economy has been ravaged by the destructive forces of capitalism that stole it’s steel industry and ravaged it’s infrastructure; The school systems are in shambles and the New Depression is threatening to destroy what 40 years of neglect have left behind. If professional sports are too flourish, the teams need to draw fans and in order for that the team needs to be good. Otherwise because of the economics, professional sports in Cleveland are on a ticking clock. We need to win soon or it might not happen at all. By all objectivity, it is one of the worst times in the city’s history but there is one thing our city has that the rest of the country does not and that is LeBron Raymone James, the Chosen One.

To put it in the most grandiose terms possible, LeBron James is the Messiah. Perhaps not in a sense that he’s been placed on Earth to save the human race from it’s collective sins but rather to deliver a people to the promised land of a championship and perhaps bring peace to their troubled souls. Born to a single mother in Akron, one of Cleveland’s sister cities, Lebron James is perhaps the most supremely physically gifted athlete to ever play sports and his story is nothing short of miraculous. Raised almost collectively by the community as he jumped from tentative living situation to tentative living situation over his young life, always living on the cusp of unimaginable povetry, he learned of his immense physical talents at a young age and was soon christened as the next great basketball star. This is a story of epic proportions.

Before his memorable Sports Illustrated cover at the age of 17 introduced to the rest of the country, Lebron James had already become something of a local legend around town. Growing up around town and being roughly the same age, you would hear stories of his accomplishments that couldn’t possible be true. Tall tales of young Lebron floated about claiming that could dunk the ball at six years old and that he was good enough to play in the NBA by the eighth grade. The stories always recanted second hand from somebody who claimed a friend of a friend had witnessed it. Before he was “the Global Icon”, he was Lebron James, the Paul Bunyan of Northeast Ohio. He belonged to us. So it was ultimately fitting that on June 26, 2003, a chance bounce from a ping-pong ball sent Lebron James to the local team, the historically moribund, Cleveland Cavaliers. I can remember watching it with my family on a cool June night and losing my damn mind when David Stern flipped the envelope to reveal that Cleveland had won the lottery. Lebron James was staying home.

As we all know (I figure if you read this far, you know, Lebron James’ career arc), Lebron has become the world’s best basketball player (unless you are a delusional Kobe fan which means I just feel sorry for you…) and has lived up to the insane promise that he held when he first entered the league. Lebron’s game has miraculously managed to redefine what we consider the limits of a basketball player by simultaneously combining uncontrollable power, blinding speed, wunderkind basketball intellect and virtuoso skill making him not so much the second coming of Jordan, Bird or Magic but a completely new paradigm of how we judge basketball players. He’s done this while simultaneously resurrecting his hometown team from total sports irrelevancy into being one of the premier franchises in basketball simply by existing on the team. This coupled with the fact that he’s preternaturally charismatic and a gifted showman makes him a marketing force not seen since Michael Jordan. He’s the type of man that you might instinctively hate with a seething jealous passion had he not been the coolest man in the room as well. However, it seems to be of popular opinion that there is only thing stopping Lebron James from world domination --- location. Lebron James plays in Cleveland and the world has deemed that not good enough.

The mainstream media has decided that it is destiny for Lebron James to play in New York City for the Knicks for reasons that can’t be explained logically but nevertheless has become such the prevailing wisdom that there seems to be very few sports fans that actually believe that he is going to stay in Cleveland when his contract expires in the summer of 2010. Lebron James, the hometown hero, is simply too big to play in a dying industrial wasteland like Cleveland. The conventional wisdom is that he needs the bright lights. He needs Madison Square Garden. He needs the Knicks. I won’t get into exactly why that’s such a profoundly moronic idea and how the idea doesn’t make sense in neither financial terms, exposure matters nor pure basketball reasons. The smart decision would be to stay in Cleveland for all the reasons above (the Cavs are already an elite basketball franchise, they can pay him more and the internet voids the inherent advantage New York may or may not have in terms of sheer exposure) but the real reason he shouldn’t leave is for mythic reasons.

If Lebron James stayed in Cleveland and saved professional basketball by winning multiple championships and ending a historically inept drought of failure and misery, it would make him a figure unsurpassed in terms of being beloved by any particular fan base in the history of sports. A figure rising from the dregs of a society to lead his people to the promised land after spending 60 years of wandering the desert. That’s biblical! Babe Ruth, himself, would be forced to give the man his God-like props. It’s the story of legends. A story that would echo through time. There is nothing in New York City and playing for the Knicks that can possibly measure to that. Sure, I understand the allure of living in New York, I moved there myself, but if I was given the chance to do what Lebron James has the chance of doing, I would give up the cheap thrills of beautiful women and 4 a.m. bars in a second. If Lebron were to leave and move to New York, his story instantly becomes hallow. He’d go from having the chance for immortality to becoming the Alex Rodriguez of basketball --- a shallow, soulless figure obsessed with maintaining a perfectly manicured corporate image to the point of bending ethics and morality. He’d go from a Jesus-figure to the Anti-Christ the moment he dipped his pen in the blood to sign such an unholy contract. How is this remotely appealing to anybody outside of New York? We already have one Kobe Bryant. We don’t need two.

In Cleveland, we are forever perpetually waiting for next year but this year feels different. Watching this year’s Cavaliers team has been one of the most absolute joys of my life. Not only is the basketball beautiful to watch but the team is one of the supremely likable collection of players I’ve ever had the pleasure of rooting for. There isn’t a single player on the team that I don’t like and secretly wished wasn’t on my team. Everybody from Lebron James to Delonte West to Anderson Varejao to bench warmer scrub extraordinare, Tarence Kinsey. Not only is the team the most talented team that has played in Cleveland since 1995 Indians, they are team that seems to enjoy playing with each other. Every time, any one of the players do something extraordinary or unexpected like Mo Williams winning a jump ball or Wally Sczerbiak beating his man off the dribble, the players on the bench explode in celebration. It's like watching a high school team play. Its exhilarating. Best of all, because we have Lebron James, it doesn’t feel like the axe is hovering over our heads waiting to put an end to our dreams. The Chosen One transcends Cleveland sports failure simply because he seems better than the curse Rocky Colavito placed on our city 60 years ago. He’s an Immortal. He makes his own destiny. If Lebron James can’t win in Cleveland, there isn’t a mystical being in this universe that can.

Ultimately, what really ails Cleveland is not going to be fixed by a 24 year old wunderkind playing basketball. Cleveland is in dire need of major economic restructure and return of industry to save it from its ultimate fate. That is beyond the bale of one being even a person as supremely talented as Lebron James. But he might be able to save the people of Cleveland’s souls by giving us something to root for. Something to believe in ourselves. That one of us can rise and conquer the world on nothing but talent and sheer determination. So Lebron James, will you please our eternal souls? We need it more than most....

8 more to go….


Jordan said...

Yeah this idea that Lebron needs a bigger market always seemed silly to me. His personality is big enough that he can transcend local stardom. And basketball is probably the least locally limited of the major sports. You used to see kids in Jordan jerseys everywhere, now you see them in Lebron and Kobe jerseys. He can be marketed nationally and internationally, he barely needs local marketing. What's weird is that people outside of NY buy this bullshit. Like New Yorkers are all self-important and delusional (and I mean this w/love) but it's surprising other cities have bought into this myth. At least the Yankees are this genuine legendary franchise, for better or worse, A-Rod became a way bigger star when he signed to the team. If Lebron signs with the Knicks, (or hopefully, the Nets) he really won't gain shit, only the Knicks will gain anything.

Sidenote: the national/ international appeal of NBA stars has almost nothing to do with the internet. Again, MJ is the example.

Anonymous said...

Go figure ESPN.com decides to take the bleakest Cleveland bashing paragraph in this entire blog and post it on their site. Couldn't call myself a Clevelander and expect anything less.

Jeremie said...

I live in Illinois but the Cavs have become my favorite team in sport. They play with so much joy, intensity, and teamwork, I cannot get enough of this team. I just wanted you to know that a lot of people outside your city are pulling for you.

On a side note, you are a skilled writer, much better than most i see on big name websites. Congratulations on developing a dexterity with words that makes reading your stuff entertaining and thought-provoking.

Truth About It said...

Warning: Wizards fan here.

Here's the problem.

Like you, LeBron grew up in Ohio.

But unlike you, he rooted for the DALLAS Cowboys, NEW YORK Yankees, and CHICAGO Bulls.

What the fuck is up with that?

Karma is not very happy about LeBron's bandwagon interests.

Just sayin'

Very nice post though.

DC almost sucks as bad as you guys.

All we got is a '91 Super Bowl Champ, a couple MLS soccer titles (who cares?), and effing WNBA 'Attendance Champion' banners hanging in our arena (well, and at least one NBA champ banner).


Ben said...

I've said for years him leaving for NYC makes no sense (especially w/regards to marketing). NYC (and LA) does wonders for guys like Jalen Rose, Mark Jackson and Rick Fox, etc. These guys wouldn't get the TV gigs without a big market.

But a guy like LeBron? What doors are closed to him that NYC will open? The guy has hosted SNL, the Espys, been on the cover of countless magazines... what else can he do?

Also, this is a kid who goes to his high school games, who flies businessmen into Akron and shows up on OSU/Michigan telecasts every year.

OK, I'm rambling, but nice post.

Anonymous said...

Don't blame capitalism because your city sucks. Depend on a dying industry too long, and thats what you get.

Lebron doesn't need a bigger market. But he also doesn't need Cleveland. He can go anywhere he wants -- follow the money, follow good weather, follow the path to his favorite childhood team. Why? Because he's successful. That's capitalism for you. I guess if Lebron chooses to leave, that's capitalism destroying your city again.

Anonymous said...

this was awesome!!!! i agree completely in Lebron staying in Ohio

Anonymous said...

Agree with everything, except don't you kinda wish Sasha wasn't on the team? It is so depressing to see him on the court. You just cringe everytime he has the ball.

DK said...

I'm Warren, OH raised, but living in Lexington, KY now. I think because of this, I have developed a broader and probably nostalgic view of NE Ohio. Your words cannot ring any more true.

Based on the economic collapses in former industrial places, I think places like Cleveland, Buffalo and Pittsburgh are headed for even more dismal times, which could mean the end of professional sports in these great cities.

Unfortunately, what LeBron is doing now will have to last Cleveland fans a lifetime. I'm just glad he arrived when he did. He is truly a sports savior.

Absolutely great post...I can tell it came from the heart, yet was very rational.

Anonymous said...

One of the most beautiful, moving and heartfelt sports stories i've read in a while. Thank You.

Anonymous said...

delusional kobe fan here, you can keep lebron james, because the lakers have won/will win championships. he may not leave in 2010, but if he doesnt get his title he will eventually demand a trade (thats what sports has turned into) and you'll then have nothing.

so either way he needs to win one QUICK, because unlike KG he wont spend his youth with a titleless team.

DJ Marcus Aurelius said...

Warren, Ohio is in the building twice now. But for real. LeBron has the world at his fingertips now. Cleveland will pay him whatever he wants. But leaving Cleveland will only harm his reputation and his goal of becoming a global icon. If you would have asked me last year, I would have said it was 50-50. But if you ask me this year, whether he wins the title or not (will), i would say he's staying. And he will announce it this summer. He wins a title, signs a long term deal in Cleveland, and starts a dynasty.

Boom clap