It just hit me. I'm going to lose LeBron.
He's gone. He's leaving Cleveland. Leaving Ohio. Leaving me.
It's a matter of time, and judging from the last few games of the Eastern Conference semifinals, that time can be counted not in months or weeks, but in hours. Cleveland is hours away from playing Game 6 at Boston, and after watching LeBron James play down to the level of his old (Shaq), overrated (Antawn Jamison) and simply not very good (Mo Williams) supporting cast, I'm pretty sure Cleveland's season ends Thursday night.
Which means LeBron's time in Cleveland, in Ohio, ends Thursday night.
This is not what I want. If you're reading it that way, kindly repeat second grade. Losing LeBron is not what I want. I've grown attached to that sucker, to the point of fandom. I was there May 31, 2007, when he had 48 points against Detroit and singlehandedly beat the Pistons by scoring Cleveland's final 25 points in a double-overtime playoff victory. I saved the official box score. That was it for me. I was in love.
Which is why LeBron's imminent, and obvious, departure has blindsided me. Fans don't see the truth; they see what they want to see. How else do you explain the blind devotion in Tennessee to that idiot Lane Kiffin when he was coaching the Vols for 14
Same here. In my blind devotion to LeBron, I didn't see the hints that he would leave me, including the most obvious hint of all: His willingness to go through free agency after the 2009-10 season. Seemed pretty clear to you, right? If James wanted to stay in Cleveland, he'd re-sign before summer. It's not like he could make more money somewhere else, or hard-line the Cavaliers into a few extra millions. The NBA with its rigid salary structure isn't Major League Baseball, where the Texas Rangers or Los Angeles Dodgers can be fooled into bidding against themselves until they give head-scratching deals to Alex Rodriguez and Kevin Brown.
But I was blind. Same thing with his 2009 and 2010 MVP trophies. LeBron accepted both of them in Akron, his hometown. The first one, sure, that made sense. LeBron asked to be presented the trophy at St. Vincent-St. Mary as a way of honoring his high school. But the second one? LeBron accepted the 2010 MVP last week at the University of Akron, as a way of honoring ... who, exactly? I had no idea at the time, but in hindsight I think it was more an act of dishonor to Cleveland. James was making it clear that he's an Akron guy, not a Cleveland guy. It was his first symbolic step out the door. I see it now. Especially in light of the following comment he made to the crowd at Akron:
"No matter what might be ahead for me," he said, "this will always be my home."
Game 5 recap: Celtics 120, Cavaliers 88
Cavaliers-Celtics: Series: Boston up 3-2
This being Akron. Not Cleveland.
That's the most definitive statement LeBron has made yet about his plans, and you're right -- that's not definitive at all. LeBron has never said what he plans to do this offseason, where he plans to sign, if he plans to leave the Cavaliers at all. But his personal biographer, Buzz Bissinger, said this week that he expects LeBron to go to the Knicks, LeBron, Bissinger said, "would own New York in a way that no athlete has ever owned it."
And that's why my blind spot has been so big. It's not just my Ohio loyalty that has made me refuse to see the obvious. It's my New York antipathy. I don't like that place. Never have, never will. Typically I don't like frontrunners, and New York is a frontrunner. It's huge, it's rich and it has television wrapped around its finger. And the New York media, as insufferable a group as there is in this insufferable business, makes me ill. They've always assumed LeBron will come to New York because it's New York, stupid. And everyone wants to be in New York. Right? You idiots. Enjoy your 650 square feet, morons. ...
Where was I? Oh, right. LeBron and New York. Rooting for New York to get LeBron is like rooting for the Yankees to get a World Series. Why, unless you live in New York, would you do that? That bus is rolling whether you're on it or not. Go root for something original. Find your own team.
Me, I found LeBron. He's my team. So I'm taking this hard. But as hard as his departure will be on me, it will be 10 million times harder on Cleveland. And Cleveland has been through sports hell.
But Cleveland hasn't been through anything like this. The Drive? The Shot? Those were cruel, true, but they were one-year bits of cruelty. John Elway knocked Cleveland out of the 1987 Super Bowl by driving the Broncos 98 yards in the final minutes to force overtime and eventually win the AFC title game. Michael Jordan knocked the Cavaliers out of the 1989 NBA playoffs by hovering above Craig Ehlo to beat the buzzer in Game 5 of a five-game series. Those moments sucked, but there was nothing permanent about either one. The Browns still fielded a team the year after The Drive, a team competitive enough to reach the AFC title game again (and suffer The Fumble). Same with the Cavaliers one year after The Shot, reaching the playoffs again in 1990. Two years later, the Cavs were in the Eastern Conference finals. They recovered from that.
But this? The Cavs won't recover from this. The entire city of Cleveland won't recover from this, because this is a killer. This is Fred Sanford stumbling around, holding his chest and screaming for Elizabeth, only this time, he ain't joking. This is the big one. Cleveland was a baseball town first, then an NFL town, but LeBron eclipsed both. He is the biggest star this city has ever seen, not just because he's a great player with a great personality, but because he's a local. Akron is less than 40 miles away. When LeBron leaves, he'll leave behind a basketball team that will be lucky to win 25 games next season, and that will do so inside a half-empty arena. When LeBron leaves, he'll rip out this city's heart.
Mine is breaking already, and here's the first thing I'm going to do. I'm going to stop referring to LeBron as LeBron. No more of that. He's not dead to me, but from this point on -- unless he stays in Cleveland -- he is James to me. He's lost the first-name privilege, and it goes both ways. Call me Mr. Doyel, you traitor. You selfish jerk.
I'm losing him. I'm losing LeBron -- I mean, James -- and unless the Cavaliers force Game 7, I won't even get to say goodbye.