His legacy will live on in Cleveland, except it won't live on the way LeBron James had wanted it to. No, his legacy will live in infamy, as the bright star who broke a city's heart.
It's not easy to unbreak a heart, not when a person has left that heart in shards. And in Cleveland, those men and women with broken hearts won't see theirs fixed. Their anger is too visceral to discard, and if anyone doubts that, just look around the city or listen to the talk on the streets or check out made-for-the-moment websites: It's LeBron James everywhere, 24/7.
In the streets around Progressive Field and The Q, vendors hawked T-shirts last night that said "QUITNESS" or something about James' momma too crass to mention. One Internet site has been peddling a particularly telling T-shirt for $13.99. It reads: "I WITNESSED NOTHING."
That's only half true. Nobody can say that James didn't treat Cavaliers fans to seven seasons of incredible performances. He was an MVP twice; he took the Cavs to the NBA Finals; he won a scoring title and an Olympic gold medal; and he made basketball matter in this football-crazed city.
Yet his arrival foretold more. So did James himself. He often talked about winning championships, how important bringing one to Northeast Ohio was to him. James knew the region's sports history; he would talk about the region's half-century of bittersweet successes and abject failures. He intended to change all of that, he said. He asked fans here to be his witness.
And they were. They witnessed and marveled at James, anointing him as a savior: the hometown boy who would bring championships, ticker-tape parades and sports glory to Cleveland. That would be his legacy, doing what Michael Jordan did for Chicago, what Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant did for Los Angeles, what Bill Russell, Larry Bird, John Havlicek and Red Auerbach did for Boston.
Sit back and witness it. Witness the second coming of Jordan. That's all those Clevelanders who loved James longed for - that and a nod, a handshake or some recognition that their love meant something to him.
But it is hard for a man to love others when his goals in life are as shallow as a puddle, so no one should have been surprised that James left town for what looked like a quicker route to a championship. To become the billionaire he's wanted to be, James figured he'd need as many championship rings as Kobe, Michael, Russell, Bird and Magic have.
One thing he forgot along the way is that he didn't have to leave to achieve those championships. James could have won here, in this smallish NBA city, as Tim Duncan won countless times in San Antonio. But James lacked the patience to wait. In his era of immediate gratification, he sensed he had to win now.
Could James become a billionaire without winning titles? Perhaps.
But what is ennobling about having extraordinary wealth as a goal? Besides, how much money does James need in his life? He was from Akron, Ohio, born into poverty -- the only child of a teenage mom who shuttled her son off to whoever would care for him.
Yet he overcame all of that, thanks to a gift God blessed him with. He doesn't need a billion dollars for him and his entourage to live like kings, because at some point it's unseemly to have so much with so many in the world getting by with so little.
Money might not be the root of all evil, but it certainly leads to curious decisions in a person's life. It can buy a lot of things, money can; it can't buy happiness or class or self-respect. The race isn't about how much money a man can earn but what can he do with that money.
Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, billionaires who are titans of American industry, have resolved to give all of their money away. Neither Gates nor Buffett lives the extravagant life of entertainers and star athletes, but they seem richly satisfied with their stations in life. Each man could have more, if having more mattered to him.
Extraordinary wealth is made on the backs of others, and too often rich men have had to compromise their values, play ruthless games to crush opposition or bend ethics to achieve their successes. Call it capitalism if you'd like. That's what it is - the American way, of course.
Playing the empty-headed capitalist, James compromised the few principles he had. Never a man of substance, he turned his back on the love and the adulation that men, women, boys and girls in Cleveland showered him with.
Now, they have turned their backs on him. Their hometown hero has become the hometown pariah. His past successes will never erase the anger his leaving led to in the present. The anger rages like a blast furnace.
His fans have witnessed a betrayal, and for that betrayal, they show James not a trace of forgiveness in their words and in their deeds. They will never forgive a man who broke their hearts.