Dear Sports Fans,
They don’t really love you. I know it seems like they care – when “shouting out” to the city they play for or signing autographs (sometimes even for free!) – but they don’t care. They play for millions. Both in dollars and in the adoring cheers of the fans. That’s pretty much it. Oh… right, there’s that thing about “the love of the game”, which is often true, but again has little to do with the fans.
Word that LeBron James will be returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers next season is the biggest hubbub in the sports world. Almost immediately the news and interwebs were flashing images of Clevelanders going nothing short of apeshit at the return of their beloved hometown hero.
Cleveland is kinda looking like a battered wife right now. I’m sure we all remember the fury that came with Mr. James defection to Miami. Jerseys and effigies were burned, BronBron was disowned and roundly booed and hated whenever he dared return to play against his city. The Cleveland Cavaliers owner had this to say back then:
“This shocking act of disloyalty from our home grown “chosen one” sends the exact opposite lesson of what we would want our children to learn. And “who” we would want them to grow-up to become.”
Mr. James had, in some opinion, brought on this lashing with his ill-received “The Decision” on ESPN. It was an awful spectacle, one that soured many people, not just Cleveland fans, on LeBron James as he moved to Miami.
And now all of that is gone. Forgotten as if LeBron just got a little drunk and maybe he pushed Cleveland a little harder than he should have. He still loves her, don’t you know? Cleveland fans rejoiced the return of their savior and the healing of their hearts.
I’m reminded of this scene in “A Bronx Tale”:
I know what you’re thinking. “That scene is narrator by an actual murderer! That’s a terrible example!” Okay, fine. But the sentiment. People get a little crazy about athletes, who don’t even know they’re alive. And that usually works most places, but it never really felt like that in Cleveland, did it. It felt like everyone knew LeBron. His history was their history, or at least hey wanted it to be. And for Mr. James’, he knew Cleveland, and it’s hardships, and it’s expectations.
To his credit, Mr. James’ announcement of his return to Cleveland was 100% class, and even showed how much more mature and thoughtful Mr. James is now as he enters the final stages of his career and considers his legacy.
“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have. I’m ready to accept the challenge. I’m coming home.”
It’s such a beautiful quote, that it choked me up.
I still love sports, if it’s possible, even more than I did as a child. I’m no longer a fan of players anymore and I’d like to think that’s because I’ve grown up, even if a little. The hero worship that I felt for great players has now been replaced by an almost unemotional evaluation nodule: Can this player (good or bad) help my team? And how? That’s really all that’s left.
Looking at the LeBron James situation, we are watching something incredibly rare in modern sports fandom. A major city has literally hinged their championship hopes and dreams to this man since her was fifteen-years old. When he left, Cleveland felt betrayed and dismayed to the point to suicide. Now, as the prodigal son returns, Cleveland stills waits for King James to deliver a championship, but you know I don’t even think it really matters if he does. He’s home and that’s all that really matters to the people who want to see him.
But why is he returning? What does it mean? For Cleveland, I guess it gives those that once disparaged their native son, once again have a chance to embrace him. For the Cavaliers, it means ticket sales and a real chance to be a contender, something that unfortunately has been at the whim of Mr. James his entire career. “Should I give Cleveland a chance, or do I wanna do me?” And doing him is what LeBron James does best, other than basketball. And there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s worked hard and reached the top of his profession. What’s wrong is thinking that he somehow owes you something. Hero worship is a necessary thing. For children, it can help them find purpose, inspiration. For adult fans, it’s a far more complex thing that often is as much about being allowed to publically hate and vilify someone, as much as deify them. This time, despite whatever the outcome, I hope LeBron James and Cleveland can stay in love with each other.