So it's no secret that I'm from Cleveland. I grew up in this town and I live here now. And I love it. It's a great city, hugely underrated a far as I'm concerned, with a stunning amount of diversity, a world class arts scene (one of the top seven orchestras in the world, an amazing art museum that is always free, the largest theatre complex in the nation outside of Broadway, just to name a few), some of the top-rated restaurants in the country (Cleveland has recently been named a top culinary destination by a variety of magazines), a library system that is unrivaled by any I've seen (New York's libraries pale--I mean pale--in comparison), and a true Midwest friendliness.
But it's a sad town. People are leaving in droves, people like myself who love it (and nearly everyone who was raised her loves it), but can't stay in a place that constantly feels as if it's on the verge of dying. The school system is in a shambles. Unemployment is everywhere. Our economy is balanced precariously on the medical field and, until last night, on the Cleveland Cavaliers.
We're a city of perpetual disappointment, eagerly snatching defeat from the jaws of victory every chance we can get, and in no other place is this as true as in sports.
In football, baseball, and basketball, Cleveland has fairly consistently made it to the championships (with the exception of the Browns, who once were great...in the eighties). We play better than anyone else. But we always, we always, lose in the end. It's a metaphor for the city itself. So much potential, so much to offer, but not enough to make the difference between a city that is thriving and one that is dying. It's sad. It's really, really sad.
And now Lebron. Lebron Effing James. I am speechless about it.
Because it's not just a game in Cleveland. In a lot of ways, it's all we have keeping us afloat at the moment. He's brought hundreds of millions into a city that desperately needs it. He's provided a role model for kids in a going-nowhere educational system (though whether a ballplayer should be a role model for schoolkids belongs in another post). Most importantly, he brought hope to a city that had none. He was one of our own, born and raised, and he promised us--he actually promised us--a championship that he failed to deliver in seven years. And then he turned his back on us.
It's not just that he's leaving, though he shouldn't have left. I honestly think the best choice would have been to stay for five more years. To give five more years to the city that nurtured him and loved him, to try and give them the championship he promised, with the understanding that when that five years was up, he would be free to move on with no hard feelings. That would have been the gracious, some-things-are-more-important-than-Lebron decision. That would have been a show of true greatness.
But I know it doesn't work like that. Though it baffles me, I understand that the only loyalty that exists among sports players is to themselves. I hate this system, where people follow the money and the winning, rendering the teams they play for meaningless beyond being the economic engines that drive them. I don't get it; I hate it; but that's how it is. I know that.
So leaving is one thing. Fine, leave. He has to do what "makes Lebron James happy." (Is he always going to refer to himself in the third person now? What's next, the royal we?) So it's not that. It's how he did it. It's as if he set things up to provide the greatest possible humiliation to an already cowed region. He waits until the last possible moment, then he sets up a nationally televised Lebron Show to announce that he's leaving, only letting his team know a half hour before. He draws it out for dramatic effect, for maximum media attention. It's like breaking up with someone from Oprah's couch. Not only am I leaving you, but I'm going to disgrace you in the process. It's as if he has only contempt for us.
But of course Lebron wasn't thinking about that. Lebron was only thinking about Lebron.
So like I said, it's not that he's leaving. It's that he could have left with grace, and instead he leaves with shame. If this were a movie, the entire audience would be rooting for the Cavs to take the title next year and for Lebron to have his comeuppance. But sadly, this is not a movie, and the underdog seldom wins. Real Life doesn't reward loyalty or grace, Real Life rewards talent alone. And he took it all with him.