Home is a place you grow up wanting to leave, and grow old wanting to get back to. – John Ed Pearce
This is unfamiliar territory. For basketball. For myself. But most importantly, for LeBron James. Never in the history of sports – or at least what I can remember – has an athlete gone from as loved to as unequivocally despised in the manner Cleveland’s former golden child is now.
Tonight marks the acknowledgment of the elephant in the room, the one date many circled months ago. Security being beefed to triple-than-normal, the banishment of derogatory LeBron-related paraphernalia in the arena and the overall sense malcontent looming in the air defines this game.
What were once limitless cheers will now be boos and the applause will now result in some of the most disrespectful remarks LBJ – or anyone for that matter – may ever hear. However, this is something the city of Cleveland needs to get off their collective chests and a rite of passage for James himself. It’s no secret that since roughly his junior year in high school Gloria’s only child has been a candidate for the foremost dissected, applauded and critiqued figure in pop culture. So I’ve seen the bandwagon surrounding him reach excessive levels and now find myself being one of the rare “LeBron fans” left in existence.
From the moment “taking my talents to South Beach” was uttered on July 8, subscribing to the belief Clevelanders were selfish and that seven years was more than enough of attempting to secure a city their first major championship since 1964 was my take. Kevin Garnett’s near “loyalty-to-a-fault” in Minnesota is the most prevalent example, an ideal KG himself spoke of following Boston’s defeat of Cleveland in Game 6 of the East semi-finals last spring and what proved to be the last breath of the LeBron-era. James had all the right to leave as a free agent. And I still believe such.
Yet, I underestimated the emotional attachment – or obsession, depending how you see it – that city once had with LeBron. Will the franchise or area ever seen an athlete the caliber of the former #23? Probably not. Sports may never see a player of his ilk again. Championships and MVPs presumably await him in Miami, a young man only entering the prime of his career with obvious rooms for improvement in an ever-expanding game (three point shot, midrange jumper and a back to the basket game).
At some point, the hate towards him’ll die and the public who turned on him will welcome him again with open arms once he (potentially) cashes in on promises he vowed to the city Uncle Luke made infamous in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Winning cures every perceived sin, every Decision.
But what I did learn is that breakups are never easy, especially in athletics. With all hell set to break loose in a matter of hours, I decided to take a look at this entire spectacle. Residents of “The Land” – including Mick Boogie and Stalley – voiced their opinions and the alleged chant sheet for tonight’s game even surfaced. Yeah, it’s that real.
Where love was lost, hatred was gained. I just hope LeBron is ready to embrace the snake pit he is gearing to enter. Here’s to hoping we all are.