CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) - It took a year longer than he had hoped, but LeBron James’ hand is no longer devoid of the ultimate prize.
For James, the end justified the means.
Watching James hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy for Clevelanders was almost as sickening as the evil grin that stretched across Art Modell’s wrinkled mug in the Baltimore Ravens locker room following Super Bowl XXXV as he held the Vince Lombardi trophy.
Modell had to wait five years after he stole the Browns.
It took James just two years after defecting to win his long awaited championship.
“It means everything,” James said moments after game five. “I made a difficult decision to leave Cleveland but I understood what my future was about … I knew we had a bright future (in Miami). This is a dream come true for me. This is definitely when it pays off.”
He now has a ring and an NBA Finals MVP to go with his two MVP awards, eight All-Star appearances, rookie of the year award and Olympic gold medal.
It’s easy for national writers and talking heads to petulantly yell at Clevelanders to just ‘get over it.’ These are the same pompous buffoons who lob punchlines on a regular basis Cleveland’s way any chance they get.
What James never got and many outsiders don’t get or understand is what makes Cleveland so great is the love, passion and pride the people here not only have for their teams and athletes but the region as a whole.
Unlike many other markets – Miami included – many people and fans there are transients.
For Clevelanders, this is home.
When the love and undying adulation is thrown back in their face in such a disrespectful manner like James did when he left, naturally a tremendous amount of bitterness, angst and pent up frustration will come forth.
It has and will continue.
What James did in the post season this year was nothing short of spectacular and legendary.
Just another reason for Cleveland to feel bitter and short changed by the “Chosen One.”
Cleveland will never forgive – nor should they – the tank job that James pulled in the 2010 conference semifinals against Boston.
Who could forget the phantom elbow injury? Or Game 5? Or him ripping off his jersey as he walked off the floor in Boston which, as it turns out, was a precursor to the insulting way that he would depart.
The apologists and ESPN have, but not Cleveland.
The heart, effort and determination that he showed this year was the same that we saw in 2007 when James put the Cavaliers on his back and carried them to the NBA Finals.
For some inexplicable reason that vanished in 2009 and 2010.
Maybe it was because his heart really wasn’t set on winning a championship here. It was set on getting out.
Cavaliers fans have a right to feel cheated by James. He could’ve stayed and still accomplished what he sought to do from the moment he was drafted and finally did Thursday night.
It would’ve meant so much more for James’ legacy to do what no one has been able to do since the great Jim Brown led the Browns to a championship in 1964.
There’s no 10-story banner of James hanging in Miami. They passed a special city ordinance to hang one here.
Contrary to the pundits and ESPN, with James, the Cavaliers were hardly a doormat. He didn’t have to leave to win a ring. They were perennial championship contenders and finished with the best regular season record in the NBA during his two MVP seasons.
James could’ve left Cleveland a champion and no one would’ve blamed him.
Statues would’ve been built.
Buildings and streets would’ve been named in his honor here.
He would’ve never had to worry about tipping another waiter or waitress ever again.
But James quit.
He crippled the Cavaliers, the organization who coddled him and acquiesced to his every wish and whim, by giving them no notice of his desire to leave.
He also crushed a fan base with whom he pledged loyalty to because he grew up here and understood the heartache of Red Right 88, The Shot 1 and 2, The Drive, The Fumble, Game 7 and numerous other tragic ends to seasons by embarrassing them on national TV.
Remember how he said that wanted to end the decades of title-less torment?
Like his celebratory speech Thursday night.
“This is the happiest day of my life,” James said.
Really? What about meeting your fiance or the birth of your kids?
The title means more to him because “It’s about damn time, it’s about damn time,” James said that he finally won a ring.
He didn’t even bother with the obligatory ‘thank you’s’ during several post game interviews. It was all about him and finally being an NBA champion.
“Not 2, not 3, not 4, not 5, not 6, not 7 titles,” James said during the introduction of the new big three in July, 2010. “When I say that I really believe that. I’m not just up here blowing smoke for these fans because that’s not what I’m about.
“I’m about business and we believe that we can win multiple championships.”
At least James can cross the first one off of the list.
Since he was a rookie, the experts and pundits have tried to figure out who James was the next of.
Magic Johnson? Michael Jordan? Oscar Robertson? Bill Russell?
Like Jordan’s Bulls, James and the Heat are in prime position for their own repeat or even three-peat. The Thunder are among the few teams in the league that could still stand in their way.
No one can deny James’ unbelievable talent.
He can talk about how he’s become “a man” through his experiences and how much “work” he put in to become a champion but one thing is clear – his character isn’t befitting the honor of wearing ‘Cleveland’ across his chest.
The only way for Cleveland to really get over James’ treason is for the Cavaliers to add an NBA championship banner of their own to the rafters at The Q.
Based on the history of the franchise and professional sports locally, the odds aren’t exactly in their favor to do so.
Until that day comes, it will be difficult to forgive James or forget how he left because no matter how many rings he wins, he didn’t do it here.
The hope for Cleveland now is that someone else will.