For Cleveland sports fans, the return this week of LeBron James to Quicken Loans Arena – the scene of his cowardly act of quitting last May in Game 5 against the Celtics – is neither the time nor the place to exhibit anything resembling the better angels of their nature. Not on your life.
While operating, of course, within the boundaries of non-violence and relative human decency, the boos directed at the traitorous James need to be downright deafening, the signs clever and brutally cutting and the chants rhythmically raucous. A game-long chorus of “Quitter, Quitter” would work just fine, and the next day’s hoarseness could be worn like a badge of honor.
There is no need to pay attention to the calls for servile decorum prompted by fears that the city will receive yet another tedious scolding from the national media for lacking suitable class. The embattled Cleveland fandom is often prodded to be nice or else suffer being frowned on by, say, the ESPN Evil Empire, which – it must be remembered – viewed the cars being turned over and torched in the wake of the Lakers’ championship and saw just another wild and crazy party in LaLa Land, but characterized a couple of measly t-shirts being burned in Cleveland as something akin to Kristallnacht.
For anyone still mystified about how James ended up in South Beach, here – in a nutshell – is the general consensus among NBA watchers as to how the dirty deed most likely went down. James, Toronto’s Chris Bosh and Miami’s Dwyane Wade had been talking about playing together since at least the 2008 Olympics, where they were teammates on the American squad. Since all three would be free agents in the summer of 2010, that was the target date for their dream to come true.
During the 2009-2010 season, while James’ future was still apparently undecided, two things had become clear: Bosh was not coming back to Toronto and, most importantly, Wade was staying in Miami. This meant that if the three co-conspirators were to play together it had to be in Miami. In early February 2010, Heat President Pat Riley had a private meeting with James – which is against NBA rules, but the Cavs didn’t pursue any action against the Miami organization, perhaps out of fear that this would upset LeBron. To make a long, grisly story short, within the next four months the loathsome Riley had cleared $36 million in salary space in Miami, allowing him to re-sign Wade and give near-max contracts to Bosh and James. Ultimately, it really was that simple.
Now, all of this is perfectly fine and dandy, except for the charade carried out by the duplicitous James as he steadfastly maintained that his mind was not made up and that Cleveland was in the strongest position to re-sign him. But the truth is that he knew full well he was leaving long before he announced his decision on that sad and surreal Thursday night in early July.
That’s why he quit in Game 5 and ripped off his Cavs jersey seconds after elimination in Game 6; that’s why he refused to take any phone calls from potential coach Tom Izzo or team owner Dan Gilbert [pictured] or general manager Chris Grant; that’s why, at an Akron event on the day before his announcement, James gutlessly snubbed the Cavs newly hired coach Byron Scott by hiding behind his vacuous entourage of sycophants; and that’s why, in the end, he found it necessary to lie through his teeth on “Decision” night by saying he only finally decided to leave Cleveland that morning when he woke up. It’s a wonder a lightning bolt didn’t take its talents to him right then and there.
Whereas LeBron’s mendacity and yellow-bellied desertion in the heat of a playoff battle warrants unrelenting scorn from Cleveland fans, the action by Dan Gilbert on that horrible night deserves a special place of honor in the city’s sports lore. No matter how the national media trashed him for his explosive letter blasting James, the reality is that his emotional message was the only positive thing Cavs’ supporters had to cling to at that moment. It was like a life raft being thrown to tens of thousands of drowning fans.
What it showed was that someone truly felt their pain and had their backs – and no one who was going under water that Thursday around midnight will ever forget how Gilbert had the courage and non-politically correct, non-corporately filtered sensibility to say exactly what was on his and most Clevelanders’ minds. And how, on the worst night in the franchise’s history, he shared – in a visceral, starkly human manner – his white-hot anger, impulsiveness, wounded-ness, righteous indignation and soul-deep aching with them.
When LeBron stabbed Cleveland in the back, Gilbert – to his eternal credit – chose to grab a knife and stab the shameless ingrate right back. And please don’t try to tell me that the Cavaliers organization had created a monster by giving James everything he wanted and if only it had exhibited tough love, LeBron would have seen the light and become transformed into a humble, thankful guy willing to stay in Cleveland and count his blessings. That train left the station for the Chosen One sometime back in high school.
And don’t anyone believe for a moment that the city’s psychic energy is so toxic that it had suffocated the poor, self-obsessed superstar to such a degree that he just had to split whether he wanted to or not. No, LeBron James deserted Cleveland for one reason and one reason only: He’s a king-sized quitter – and he must be reminded of that fact over and over and over.
Larry Durstin is an independent journalist who has covered politics and sports for a variety of publications and websites over the past 20 years. He was the founding editor of the Cleveland Tab and an associate editor at the Cleveland Free Times. Durstin has won 12 Ohio Excellence in Journalism awards, including six first places in six different writing categories. LarryDurstinATyahoo.com