Justice Is Served

July 8, 2010 1:13 AM

The madness about LeBron stops tonight


Call it a going-out-of-business sale, because that's what it will be around 9:30 tonight when LeBron James closes all the rumor mills that have sprouted like dandelions across the sports landscape.

All the false prophets, the unidentified sources and the unnamed NBA insiders who peddled bogus stories to newspapers, talk shows and gossip magazines from Cleveland to California and across the coastal waters have turned this into the "Summer of LeBron." If anything has grown more tiresome than listening to them, I don't know what it would be. OK, maybe mindless talk about the BP oil spill would belong ahead of it, but if it is, at least it's a topic that matters.

How Americans can obsess over where a self-absorbed athlete -- Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade, too -- will earn his next $100 million begs for an explanation. Someone has to say what the fuss is about, because no matter where LeBron James lands, he won't create 10,000 jobs or put a foundering local economy on still waters.

And there lies the problem with this LeBron James obsession in a Rust Belt city like Cleveland: Its priorities are misdirected. 

The region has plenty of larger issues it needs to have its focus on, but for some inexplicable reasons, it has decided to bank its well being on an athlete - on one man, the prodigal hometown hero -- whose ability to do marvelous things with a basketball has enthralled it. Politicians, business leaders, teachers and technicians, doctors and lawyers, bricklayers and goldbricks, all have cast their lot with LeBron and on what his decision tonight will be.

But their obsession with LeBron underscores society's misplaced values - or, at least, Cleveland's misplaced values. Cleveland has never been a city confident in itself. It has always been a city trying to find itself, a city trying to clean up an image that has been kicked around like a soccer ball. It is a city that has never been good enough or proud enough or resilient enough to be a destination.

So it wants to pin whatever it is on LeBron James. It has pleaded for him to stay home. It has promised him its undying love, if only he can show the city a little love of his own.

At some point, a Midwest boy outgrows the Midwest. And maybe LeBron with his global brand has done so. He now knows he can't persuade other megastars to join him here. This city doesn't have Harlem or South Beach or the Miracle Mile; it's the Euclid Corridor, University Circle, West Sixth and Parma, which aren't much to be.

Please excuse LeBron James if he's unwilling to settle for Cleveland and its Cavaliers anymore. At 25, he has already given Northeast Ohio plenty of exposure, the kind of exposure this economically and culturally bankrupt region can't buy even if it had the money to spend on building an image. It had tied too much of what it wants to be to a star athlete and his fickleness.

Tonight, he might spurn its feckless pandering. King James might well abdicate his throne here, leaving in shambles all the dreamy, water-colored hopes of NBA championships that his arrival had divined.

That thought worries an entire region. For if James leaves for a bigger market, the city he abandoned will become irrelevant. As a sports town, it will become little more than Richmond or Raleigh or Rochester, decent-sized cities without the élan that goes with a global reputation. These places are what they are, so why should they strive for anything more?

Neither should Cleveland, no matter what LeBron announces on TV tonight. Rather than bemoan his leaving, if that's what his decision is, the city and its people should make peace with this region's image; they can't count on LeBron to do what nothing else has done.

They waged the good fight to keep him. They tried websites and wacky promotions and pickets and petitions, billboards and beards to sell LeBron on staying put. Perhaps nothing would have been enough to keep him.

The world will find out shortly. Surrounded by cameras and journalists and his entourage, King James will speak tonight. And once he does, all the excesses that went into the courting of an icon can be discarded like all those rumors that had him headed for places near and far.

And if it's anywhere other than Cleveland ... well, wanna buy my nephew's LeBron Bobblehead? 









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