Eleven months ago, on this very space, I wrote: “And here we are, innocent as a child, and yet shaking and guessing and hoping and trying to reason with ourselves that tomorrow the sun will rise, and same goes for the day after that…” I wasn’t talking about a job or a woman or an election. I was talking about the apparent coin flip that was Lebron James’s decision regarding where he would spend the next seven years of his career. I want to look back at that and laugh, and discuss how silly and trite I appear; how utterly insignificant that moment has become in the ever-changing landscape of the bullshit news cycle and flaccid technocracy we live in. A lot has happened in the last eleven months that, at least in the minds of many, dwarfs that moment that I magnified to a world event. But still, for many people in my hometown, that moment still resonates with the amplitude that it did then. The NBA Finals may have even re-magnified that decision to July 2010 levels. And to tell you the truth, it’s a little embarrassing.
I have, since the moment Lebron took his talents wherever the hell he took them, compared this decision, and the ensuing series of events to a very dramatic breakup, many times. Maybe I have too much Rob Gordon—the fictional record-store owner in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity—that I have no trouble finding elements of romance and breakups in any circumstantial news. Maybe I have heard three or four too many Bright Eyes records to separate free agency from love. Maybe, paradoxically, my breakups more resemble free agency than the other way around…
“What came first, the music or the misery…”
But literary musings aside, the comparisons are there for the taking. One party, content with the status quo, understanding that the relationship has not blossomed into what both parties had hoped for at consummation, but hopeful that a little more work on both sides would lead to a place in which both parties would be satisfied. The other party, obviously the party with less baggage; doesn’t necessarily see it that way. Maybe that party has stayed in a little better physical shape than the other; maybe that party doesn’t necessarily agree with the other party’s group of friends and personnel decisions; or maybe, as is the case with both Lebron, and many of my early relationships, that party just sees the grass a little greener with someone else. The relationship to one is steady and satisfying, while to the other, there just seems to be something a bit stale, a bit rudderless, perhaps a bit contentious, and a fresh start with someone else, seems like the answer. This allegory would appear particularly apt if relationships required multi-year contracts every couple of seasons.
So Lebron left. Women have left me. I’ve left women. Sometimes they had something better already lined up, whether that be freedom or a better looking, more successful, funnier guy, who may have already had a championship ring. I’ve left women for similar reasons, although I have universally regretted my “decision” moments later. But at the end of the day, noble or not, “right” way or “wrong,” traitor or not, that’s what Lebron did. He said “Guys, thanks, we’ve had a great run, but at this point I think it’s best for me to move on.” And looking at it from this perspective, it’s hard to be down on the guy. We all know a lot of people in relationships that have gone on for too long, and we are often relieved when one party has the decency to end it. The problem with this breakup was that the other party, the breakup-ee if you will, was the population of the Cleveland Sports Fan Base…a group of people very proud, but also very tightly knit thanks to years and years and more years of collective heartbreak. These are the people that watched John Elway, and Michael Jordan, and Jose Mesa. These are the same people that lived through Art Modell, Albert Belle, and Josh Beckett. And we did it together. We are one giant Elliott Smith, without the butcher’s knife sticking out of our chest, although it certainly feels this way.
Three years ago, I wrote a paper for a class called “Space, Place, and Architecture.” In it, I argued that the civic identity of the industrial Midwest is a product of our bleak weather, our crumbling industrial economies, and of course, our love for our sports teams. The paper was the first time I was ever published, and I was very proud of it. I ended the paper with a quote from Lebron James, noting that he has become the lone symbol of hope for our collective consciousness. That our identity, one forged in steel mills under gray skies, with championship failures, had become hopeful. I compared it to the first day of spring. We, as a city, as an identity were in love with Lebron James. So, when Lebron, seemingly one of us, seemingly, not merely cause for our hope, but an effect being that he was born and raised under the spires of Akron rubber mills, told us that he had met someone else, that he was moving on, that he was FUCKING TAKING HIS TALENTS TO SOUTH BEACH, it stung like the time that my high school girlfriend told me she didn’t want to be with me anymore. It hurt like the time my college girlfriend told me she was dating someone else. And I’m sure it hurt like the times I did that to all of those girls.
“Love’s an excuse to get hurt. And to hurt. Do you like to hurt? I do, I do, so hurt me….”
But guess what? After all of those girls broke my heart; after they told me they’d cheated on me, or got sick of me, or told me they weren’t attracted to me anymore…I got the fuck over it. Sure, my therapist will tell you that with some of them it took me a while. Maybe a little too long. Sometimes, SHAMEFULLY too long. There were late-night phone calls, and 4000 word e-mails. There were sappy love songs, and sleepless nights. Maybe a few of my less-proud hookups in attempts to either rebound myself or shamelessly, and always unsuccessfully, conjure even the slightest bit of jealousy. But in time, I moved on. I met new people, I talked to new girls, I turned back into myself, not forgetting the lessons that love and rejection had taught me. And like all of those times, the Lebron thing followed the same path. That night was tough. So was the night he hung 35 on us in Cleveland. But over time, I began re-appreciating things I had neglected in our sometimes tumultuous relationship. And I started to realize that all good things have to come to an end.
The bitterness of him doing it on national TV wore off. The sadness of watching my favorite NBA team become a joke sucked for a while, but became relatively palatable when I remembered this was exactly what it was like to be a Cavs fan eight years ago, and I still had no problem watching every game back then, and going wild the night Wesley Person tipped in an errant Lamond Murray prayer at the buzzer of an overtime game against the then-mighty Sacramento Kings. And my hatred for Lebron dimmed and dimmed when I remembered so many reasonable aspects of his decision.
1. - I, like many of my friends, left Cleveland the first chance I had. For weather, for women, for men, for jobs…whatever. We left because we weren’t as happy in Cleveland as we could be elsewhere.
2. - Whatever went on behind the scenes with Delonte, and Mo, and Shaq—and trust me, we will never really be sure—obviously had some effect on what went on.
3. - Two of his best friends wanted to spend a few years in their mid-to-late twenties playing basketball together in a city that Will Smith once sang a four-and-a-half minute rap song about.
4. - He’s a fucking grown-up, and he was done putting in time to a relationship that he thought wasn’t going forward for him
So he left. Do I resent him? Of course. Do I wish he stayed? I won’t even answer that. (Which certainly poses the question, “then why did I ask it?”) But do I think he is a bad person because he wanted to play ball in a city that I haven’t even been able to call home since Barack Obama was in his second year as a senator? No. He’s a twenty-five year old who gets to spend nine months a year under palm trees with his boys. So why is it, that so many people in Cleveland, so many people that I have a lot of respect for are so vehemently angry with him, eleven long months later?
I look on my facebook page, and every time the Mavericks win, it looks like the Cavs just won the Finals. There are people changing their avatars to Maverick logos, and people who rooted for the FUCKING Boston fucking Celtics for two regrettable weeks. Seriously? You guys are that fucking juvenile that you haven’t gotten over it? Look, I don’t think you need to root for the guy, or even that passive resentment is wrong, but the passion with which so many people are rooting against him, and spewing venom at him and his teammates, is…honestly…sad.
In 2007 I broke up with a girl that I had dated for a short, but passionate amount of time. We lived together for a bit, but never really got along. And after a few tumultuous months, I ended it. Days later I regretted it, and tried to win her back, but she, wisely, resisted. Months went by of me chasing her, losing sleep, grilling her about where she was the night before, and resenting her for a lack of affection despite ME ending the relationship months earlier. It was some of my least proud moments, and quite frankly, a period that shaped a lot of who I am today, not merely in the realm of relationships, but in life. I no longer allow my own emotions get the better of me to the point that I become a nuisance to both myself and anyone else. Eventually, but not quickly, I moved on. I started dating again, I started leaving the bedroom with a smile again, and she ended up moving back to Cleveland and moving on as well. I, to this day, hold no ill-will towards her, and genuinely hope for the best for her. But I remain utterly ashamed of my behavior for those several months when I acted as immature and childish as I did when my first girlfriend broke up with my when I was seventeen years old. I also have no doubt that those close to me were relieved to see such an unceremonious period of my life come to an end.
Yet these same people, the same ones that surely chided my behavior and my inability to cope with reality, are the same people that are staying up on weeknights, ACTIVELY resenting a guy who left them almost a year ago. It’s gotten ugly. It’s gotten stupid. It’s gotten to the point that by default, I have started passively rooting FOR the Miami Heat. I am rooting FOR Dwayne Wade, a player I think is as overrated and artificial as any in the history of the game. I am not standing and cheering baskets, or even paying close attention to the series. But at the end of games, I want Lebron to hit shots. I got upset (but admittedly familiar) when he missed two fourth quarter free-throws yesterday. I don’t necessarily want him to win, but I find myself, in response to the downright infantile hatred of an NBA free agent, overcompensating. Almost like when I convinced myself that the Kings of Leon’s later albums were crap because I hated these bandwagon business majors discovering a band I was into when they were still in Intro to Macroeconomics.
My point is that we, as Clevelanders, as an incredibly passionate and devout group of people, need to collectively move the fuck on. Don’t forget about him; don’t miss the lessons of what he this situation taught us about singular love for an athlete, just start rooting for the Cavs to win and not the Heat to lose. It’s over. It happened. He’s not coming back, and he’s never, ever, ever, no matter how many signs or chants or websites we construct, going to regret his decision. He, like my first girlfriend and her husband and twins, is history. We are all making fools of ourselves, and I for one am embarrassed.
"It's time to move on, it's time to get going, what lies ahead I have no way of knowing..."
Hopefully, next month, we’ll meet a new guy, Kylie, or Derek, or Kemba, and we can go on a few dates, and work through some shit, and get back to the place we were with Lebron. But until then, the sun is out, girls are wearing tank tops and playing Frisbee. The Indians, even after the worst stretch of baseball I remember since the first montage of Major League, are STILL amazingly in first place, and if you haven’t noticed, one of the best NBA Finals I can ever remember is starting to get even better. Cleveland, please grow up and move on…it will be better for both parties.