Starting Sunday the noise that LeBron James was possibly/likely to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers got louder. Prior to the NBA Finals and even July 1st most national and local pundits believed that James would likely return to the Miami Heat. Then something changed: Rich Paul met with the Cavs, Dan Gilbert’s plane went to Florida, Zydrunas Ilgauskas may have been in a meeting with James while meeting with the Heat and the drama started to shift.
Since that time, especially starting with the passionate tracking of Gilbert’s plane, Cleveland sports fans have shown their unique love for their team. Even tonight a group of people drove to James’ Akron home, even though everyone knew he was in Las Vegas, just to be there in case a decision was made. The national media is intrigued by how Cleveland has responded, while much of the local media is annoyed by this type of representation of the town. So lets take a look at why Cleveland cares so much about LeBron James’ next decision:
Remember back in grade and middle school when teams were picked. Remember that kid, maybe it is you, that was chosen last? Remember when the jerks would be funny and pick a girl who wasn’t even playing just to make fun of the kid without talent? Cleveland has often felt like that kid. They try really hard but always seem to be picked last. Andrew Bynum is the biggest free agent to sign with the Cavs in the past 20 years? More? Free agents don’t choose Cleveland in their prime. They sometimes choose the money after their best years have been used up.
James choosing Cleveland over Miami, and every other city in the NBA, would be the first time a great player in their prime chose Cleveland in this writer’s lifetime. For Cleveland, James choosing them, would be them getting asked to the prom first, getting picked first for dodge ball and being voted class President. It would be a feeling of satisfaction that their passion and love for their teams was finally appreciated and validated.
One Of Us
James, for all his talk of being from Akron, is seen as one of us; an Ohioan, a Clevelandar. He is a Midwest guy. A guy who sees the value of the culture of this area. A guy who has long said he wants to raise his kids in Akron. It would be one of us returning after trying out the big city. Since Akron is very close/part of Amish country, LeBron would be seen as taking his Rumspringa but now realizing the error of his ways.
Cleveland loves to embrace the local kids. The Brady Quinns, Charlie Fryes, Donte Whitners and Nick Swishers are all loved extra because of their ties to Ohio and Cleveland. Many hoped Rob Chudzinski would be successful as a coach here based on his Ohio roots. There is an added oomph to our love when the person is one of us.
The Cleveland sports fan has lived on hope for a long time. With site names like Factory of Sadness, Waiting for Next Year and Stepien Rules we have reveled in the struggles of our local sports teams all while hoping for something different. Johnny Manziel, Josh Gordon, Joe Haden and others have given some hope for the beloved Browns, though in true Cleveland fashion Gordon and Manziel has personal concerns that could derail them. Justin Masterson, also from Ohio, Swisher, Michael Bourn and Tito Francona have given levels of hope to the Indians faithful.
Yet nothing like the hope LeBron James would give those who follow the Cavs. In a sport with only 5 players on each team playing at a time, one player can make a huge difference in the NBA. When that player just happens to be the best player in the league, to go along with the reigning All Star Game MVP in Kyrie Irving and the #1 pick in the most anticipated draft in 10 years in Andrew Wiggins, and hope is through the roof. Could the Cavs with those 3, and whatever other pieces they can put around them, finally break the championship drought in Cleveland. If any team could quickly it seems that one can, and we care about that. We hope, sometimes just to survive.
So when you see cars parked outside of James’ house. When you hear of planes being tracked. When you try to understand the passion, and possibly bile, that will come after his next decision. Please understand that Cleveland has plenty of reasons to get emotional. Should they have learned from the past? Sure, but that isn’t the Cleveland thing to do. A blue collar town that wears its heart on its sleeves will passionately go after that which is wants.
With a little Midwest graciousness the Cleveland fan base will take on the best and worst of being a fan, short for fanatic. We will chant, make up cheers, tailgate, get rowdy, boo and even stand on someone’s lawn. Cleveland cares so much because they can. It is ingrained in who we are. Unlike many other towns we wear our team colors when they win and lose. We are dedicated. We are passionate. We are knowledgeable. We are fanatics and We are Cleveland!