The Kiss Off

This is the thing about being from Cleveland: We’re fanatically loyal.

If you happen to move away, you carry your hometown with you everywhere. You shoulder your sports teams’ tragedies and triumphs (no matter how fleeting, how many decades play out in between any modest victory). You develop clever retorts to snickers, and yes, slurs, about where you come from. But no matter what is said, no matter if it’s someone from Jersey mocking where you grew up, you defend Cleveland to the ground. We’re a freakishly devoted tribe that way.

And, yes, we live and die by our sports teams. We suffer the slings and arrows. Perhaps you’ve heard, we endure a curse.

So when LeBron James serves as ring master to his own three-ring ego circus, complete with an hour-long, journalistically questionable, fawn-fest on ESPN to tell the world “The Decision” he’s made to bolt to Miami, it hurts. It hurts bad. It wasn’t so much a decision as it was The Kiss Off to Cavs fans everywhere. And that pain wasn’t just felt in northeast Ohio: We’re in New York and Chicago too—hell, we’re even in Miami. We’re not James’s fans—we’re Cavs fans. We are Clevelanders.

This morning is a rough one. Like so many others, I’m hurt and angry. I feel betrayed. I’m supremely sad for Cleveland, for our revitalization that people have been working so hard on for so long and especially for the Cavs, who have been knocking at the door, so close to having it opened for them. It’s devastating to think of the time the Cavs are going to need in order to recover and rebuild. There were loads of unfortunate decisions made by the team brass that helped put the Cavs in this spot—lackluster acquisitions, kowtowing to a child king when guidance from a seasoned veteran was what was needed. Right now, all we can do is shake our heads in disbelief that this is happening to another one of our teams. Again.

But what really stings today, what really makes the heart ache is the utter disregard for a loyal fanbase, for a city that embraced a player so completely. LeBron’s Mickey Mouse marketing firm stomped on hearts to repackage and sell himself to a bigger, flashier city. If leaving was The Decision, have some dignity about it. Do it with minimum fanfare, with a tip of the hat to the fans and the city who have loved you for so long. Show some respect, and, above all, demonstrate how appreciative of you are to have played for Cleveland fans, to have represented us.

LeBron did none of this. His comments to the moon-eyed ESPN talking heads centered around what he’d given Cavs fans, how he’d shown them something they’d never seen. His words were more than hurtful, they illustrated with screaming clarity a lack of humility and a dearth of grace. Every truly great king knows that you have to be benevolent to your subjects. Instead, LeBron orchestrated an event lacking any semblance of class or regard. And that is unforgiveable. That, simply put, is Art Modellian.

LeBron’s show last night was a giant EF YOU to all us loyal fans. Perhaps this isn’t surprising. He’s from Akron, after all.

He’s not really one of us.