“The Letter” leads to “The Understanding”


LeBron James is back. Was it worth chasing the Dan Gilbert plane or having to speak to your “plugged in source” or eating all those cupcakes to get the inside scoop? I’m sure we’ll be able to answer that when the trophy makes it downtown Cleveland.  It’s going to happen. LeBron will finally bring that championship that has alluded all Cleveland sports for 5o years home. In his defense, something I’m not accustomed to yet, he never did say WHEN he would bring a championship to Cleveland. We still don’t know when it will happen. At this point it’s not even up to LeBron, it’s up to Kyrie Irving and whoever else will make up the roster after everything is said done (who is getting traded for Kevin Love, will Ray Allen and Mike Miller be Cavs?). This should be the sweetest moment since the Shawn Kemp trade (WOW Cavs history is a sad one) but it tastes like a shot of Jager. (For us drinkers, I think the best news here is that we get to bring back the LeBomb James shot)

Cleveland is getting a ton of press right now. Between this and the Republican Party Convention, Cleveland is the talk of the town. While all this is great, at what cost and what does it mean for the perception of Cleveland? Having the Republican Party Convention two years after selling the Gay Games on how progressive your city is becoming with a plan including renewable energy and many more Democratic party tendencies then bending over backward for a basketball player who basically told you, you weren’t good enough and didn’t even have the decency to tell you to your face, or thank you CC Sabathia style. The city of Cleveland is like your sluzie friend at the club. He/she just wants attention and doesn’t matter how he/she gets it. You understand it to an extent. It’s (writing he/she everytime is annoying, let’s just call your friend it) been picked over and treated badly time and time again. It just wants to feel something, feel wanted and wants the world to know great it is. It wants to feel love after it’s escaped it for so long. It’s been through so much pain and misery and wants something to believe in again. And for that, this week has been great. Cleveland is back in the spotlight but at what costs? Is swallowing your pride enough to shine a grown up thing or a sign of weakness? Maybe both.

Swallowing your pride does indicate weakness, but it also is growing up because you’re able to admit that your weak and you need help. You have a family to feed but can’t imagine going back to your old company where you make a substantial amount of more money than your current job because your boss is a little less than spectacular. Here there is no pride, just greatness in your ability to take one for your family which is honorable. I want to be a Cavs fan. I have always been. As a friend recently told me, you owe it yourself for to enjoy these times. You’ve been through the Darius Miles era. I want to accept LeBron James back. But it feels so dirty. At least I thought it would.   Who knew the #LeBronLetter trending on Twitter wouldn’t turn out to be actually about Dan Gilbert‘s Letter but LeBron’s Letter? In defense of Dan Gilbert I still love that letter (still man, Comic Sans…was this meant to be sent to The Ohio College of Clown Arts). I think he spoke for the city of Cleveland in that way and bash on it as you may, it made sense. It wasn’t about ownership it would be how any manager would feel in that situation. Gilbert bought the Cavs in 2005, before the Cavs made the playoffs with LeBron, before he was MVP and before Cleveland was moving in the right direction with LeBron. The following season Gilbert re-did the Cavs. He spent more money on things for the players, better coaching and a ton of different moves that led to the Cavs not just being in the playoffs but a 9th to 4th seed jump. Say what you want about how the roster was put together (though LeBron’s win now or I’m gone attitude never helped), Gilbert was always willing to do anything for LeBron, more so than Miami Heat owner Mickey Arison was willing to do as is evident by the Mike Miller release. Arison, making millions off LeBron and this team, decided he didn’t want to pay over the luxury tax to keep a solid player on a bare roster that LeBron loved.

He basically told Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and LeBron to pay $50 million over the next few seasons (according to this article but even if not that much you know they left millions on the table) to play for the Heat to make them a championship dynasty while he made millions off them and didn’t want to pay any of his money to go into the luxury. But it was alright that the players left millions on the table. When you view it in that perspective you can clearly see how absurd it was that the Gilbert letter was about ownership of LeBron or even the most absurd, racism. It was about disrespect. Gilbert did everything to accommodate LeBron, let him take his friends everywhere (imagine your boss letting you have a special conference room just for you and your friends to hang out during the day) and treated him well. It was more of a friendly working businesses relationship. Gilbert knew LeBron was his top sales person and did everything he could too make sure LeBron was happy. Then after all that, he couldn’t even sit down with Gilbert and say look man I want to play with my friends. He had a friend call in, minutes before the televised miscarriage that is now called “The Decision,” and basically do the whole have your mom call you in sick to your job. It was a disgraceful way to end a business relationship for someone who treated you greatly.  And that doesn’t even get to the city.

The city of Cleveland, as Jared discusses here, is a blue-collar town. People like my grandpa go to work everyday and bust every bone they can. They don’t know any other life. They know how to work. It’s not that they can’t achieve what others consider “greatness” it’s just that they’re happy with their lives. Their life is great in their eyes and they wouldn’t have it any other way. My grandpa is one of the greatest people you’ll ever meet. Never complains, never whines, just gets after it, one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and if you met him, he would be the nicest person you’ve ever met. He taught me work ethic and is the reason I can never sit still.  When he was finally able to retire from his factory job, he stayed at home for 2 weeks before deciding retirement was boring. Now at a very old age he works at Target as the person you see in the pouring rain getting the carts from outside with a giant smile on his face. He’s the friendly worker at the store your family knows by name. That’s the city of Cleveland.

In the city of Cleveland, sports are your escape. That’s what you talk about and, as depressing as it is to write, it’s sometimes what makes your week live-able. After a Browns win, it’s a lot easier to wake up Monday morning to go into work and celebrate with your co-workers over a demanding 8-6 shift. It’s what you look forward to and it’s a community builder. Sports mean so much more in this city then they ever will in a city like Los Angeles. We live and die with our teams. The players are more than players, they’re heroes and not just to children, but to everyone.  It’s the reason you see grown men with their chest painted in sub zero weather at December Browns’ games. Unless you grew up around Cleveland, it’s hard to understand. It’s also hard to deal with. Cleveland sports are known more for failures than any time of achievements. The Drive. The Shot. The Move. Jose Mesa. These are tattoos of failure.

By the time we get to the Decision, Cleveland has been passed over by so many times. We’ve seen so many of our players leave us for greener pastures. We’ve seen  Jim Thome, Albert Belle, and the entire Cleveland Browns team leave us (among others) while countless players completely bypassed coming to Cleveland no matter how much money we’d throw at them. But this time it was different. We had a one of our own. No way he would leave us. Not with knowing what this city has gone through. The city was his and we did everything we could to prove that to him. We put him up on a giant banner. We flooded the streets to make sure he wouldn’t leave us and he knew how much he meant to us. The city came out and supported him every step of the way. We were all witnesses!

Then a funny thing happened…In true Cleveland history, he dumped us. But this was a burn like none other. There was no indication he was leaving. He wasn’t leaving us for more money, that we could understand and had grown used to.  He didn’t let us know that he was looking for something we couldn’t give him. He dumped us…out of the blue…on National Television. His talents were too good for the city of Cleveland. No no, we could’t harbor those talents. The city that raised him and let him walk on our backs was not good enough. We didn’t get a thank you, we didn’t get a warning, we didn’t get an explanation. We were left stunned, hurt and depressed. How could someone who knew what we’ve gone through for the past 50 years, leave us like that? Especially when we were sooo close to everything we’ve both ever wanted.

It tore this city apart as we knew it would be years to recover (and the Browns weren’t going to be the answer). We hated this guy who could just leave us, especially under the sneaking suspicion of collusion for the past year or so which led to some worries that he gave up during games (which I still believe he did). We burned his jerseys, some of us (aka I did) turned his jersey into urinal cakes, and we all hoped he would fail. He did. He may have won two championships but it was never as easy or great as he thought it was going to be. I honestly think LeBron thought they would win 7 championships but the world, or Wade’s bones, never holds up the way you want it to. 13 seconds away from coming away with only 1 championship in all this. You know he had thought it would be better. That’s not why he left Cleveland.   Which brings us to a new chapter in Cleveland history. The Return. Finally a “The ____” that goes in our favor.

The Return reads like the climax in a character arc. But not just for LeBron but maybe for this whole city. It was depressing to see my fellow Clevelanders on their hands and knees (on his lawn no less) to beg for him back. The Cleveland media was a frothy 16 year old begging for its lover back after he slapped it across the face and slept with its best friend. It was disgusting. How could you possibly be so desperate that you’re willing to accept him back without an apology, without any signs of growth, without any reason to believe things have changed. Then came The Letter (two positive The-s for us).

The Letter is a game changer. Whether you think LeBron actually wrote it or his PR team did, it’s a step towards being respectable. It showed responsibility, it showed humility, it showed ownership for past mistakes and sorrow for those mistakes. But more importantly it showed a sense of understanding. In this letter he finally seem to acknowledge what his departure did to the city and an understanding of what it was to be a Cleveland sports fan (a far cry from wearing a Yankees hat to an Indians game). He connected with us in a way we’ve never seen him before. Before he was the hero saving our city. It seemed in the past, we more tried to make him one of ours when in reality, he wasn’t quite there. He didn’t understand the Cleveland fan life or didn’t care. I caught some slack from a friend of mine for hating LeBron but being a huge Manziel fan. He said how could I could hate LeBron’s off the field antics at such a young age but be a defender of Manziel’s. I grasp a bit of what he’s saying, though I still argue Manziel is more humble and isn’t hurting anyone with his drinking (at least yet) while LeBron came in saying he was “The Chosen One” and left a city in shambles, but the idea of ignorance at a younger age I guess  is still a fair argument.

Where LeBron showed an ignorance before in The Decision he’s done quite the opposite in The Return. I’m not having a press conference or a party. After this, it’s time to get to work.”  “I’m not promising a championship. I know how hard that is to deliver.” “But this is not about the roster or the organization. I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously.” He seems to get it.

Under any other circumstance I’m starting to weigh my options of being a fan of another team, as seen here, but there’s something about The Return I didn’t expect. A seed of respect. It’s not full grown and by no means does this make me a LeBron fan but it’s there and possibly being planted. The Letter changes everything I hated about LeBron. The Letter is far more important than The Return. The Letter showed it wasn’t about establishing your brand, it was about the fans and the people who believe and trusted in you. It was his sit down with Pat Riley to tell him the news. It was a chance for the fans in Miami to understand why he was doing this.  I’ll never forget the way he screwed us over but maybe I can forgive. Maybe I can remember what it was like to be young and want to just go play with your friends or leave for college away from your friends and family. Maybe it’s about taking a step back and seeing how these mistakes can happen from an outside point of view, like LeBron seems to finally have.

At this point I still view LeBron as LeJerk who dated my sister and treated her horribly. They broke up, then got back together when they were changed people. I hated him everyday while they dated and wished they wouldn’t be together. But now they just got married. I have to erase the hate and realize he’s family. And whether he’s grown and changed or still LeJerk, he’s now family and I have to treat him as such. I want to see my sister succeed and it seems they just might be good enough together to achieve everything they’ve ever wanted, and by extension everything I’ve ever wanted for her.

Like I said, maybe this is the climax of our combined character arc. Maybe I’ve learned to move past the mistakes in the past and accept this new changed person in front of me. I’m tired of being angry. Anger takes a lot out of you. Maybe I’m ready to move on to forgive. Something I didn’t think could be possible without The Letter. Maybe he now finally gets it. Maybe we’ve all grown up since we last were together. Maybe after The Championship we can finally let go of a past full of negative THE’s and move on. Maybe then we can finally be comfortable with enough self-respect to no longer have to swallow our pride and can just be the awesome city that we are.