On the precipice of LeBron James’ first NBA championship — the Heat could win it all tonight if Kevin Durant and the Thunder can’t stop them — I wonder, as a former diehard fan turned hater from Akron, Ohio, if I should just let my grudge go.
My complicated history with LeBron began 13 years ago. When I was a sophomore in high school, my dad told me about this basketball player — a freshmen at St. Vincent-St. Mary, a school not far from us. “He’s going to be good,” he said, over breakfast. “Pay attention.” And so I did.
I followed him on both the basketball court and the football field. I defended him against naysayers when they lost the state championship his junior year. I worried whether the Ohio High School Athletic Association would rule him ineligible to play his senior year for accepting two throwback jerseys worth $845 from a sporting-goods store. I was relieved when they didn’t. I steeled myself for the lottery, promising to follow him anywhere. I rejoiced when Gordon Gund learned that the Cavs drew the No. 1 pick. I cried when David Stern called James’ name during the draft.
And that was just the first four years of our one-sided relationship. Over the next seven, it was much of the same — marveling at his talent, fighting with people who thought Carmelo Anthony deserved the ROY award, telling myself “there’s always next year” when we’d lose in the playoffs, wondering what he would do after the 2009-2010 season, resolving to follow him if he left. We were lucky to win him in the draft, I convinced myself then.
But that was before he stabbed me in the back, tore my heart out and danced on it — which brings us to July 8, 2010. There’s nothing new to add about The Decision. Even James himself realizes it was wrong. But like a remorseful boyfriend who apologizes for sleeping with another woman, it was too little, too late for amends.
When his talents left for South Beach in the 2010-2011 season, I barely watched a game. I found solace in the “Cavs for Mavs” fans and celebrated when Dirk Nowitzki and his cough beat Miami’s big three. This year, I’m definitely guilty of throwing out a few #OKCLE tweets during the finals and a lot of LeBron hate. But when I look back to “our” beginning, all I ever wanted was to see him with several rings on his fingers. It shouldn’t matter where he is when he earns them.
Forget LeBron’s betrayal, his lack of loyalty or even sense, he’s still a great basketball player. So I might not be able to watch game 5 tonight, but I hope I can stomach it if he prevails. I will remember him wearing his Irish jersey or the Cavs’ wine and gold and appreciate the 11 mostly amazing years he gave us.
In my LeBron era, I lost focus on my other teams. But the Indians sucked and Kentucky basketball couldn’t cut it. Now, though, that’s not the case. The Indians are in first place (barely) and the Wildcats won the national championship in April. Even the Cavs have a shot at glory again — if they are lucky enough to pick up Kentucky’s Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the draft, joining our newest rookie of the year, Kyrie Irving. I need to focus on the good, and move on with my life.
Besides, with the lockout-shortened season, this championship will have an asterisk, right?