Should Cleveland Apologize to LeBron?

Do you like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart?  I do.  Been a fan of it for a long time.  Personally though, I do prefer The Colbert Report just a little bit more because Stephen Colbert makes me laugh all the time, but I digress.  Both of these shows are fantastic and hilarious, and have been for years.

One of the recurring themes for jokes on both of these shows, perhaps the biggest resource for their jokes, is the absurdity of the 24-hour news network.  The stigma is well known:  if the news can be covered in one hour each night, how in the hell can there be enough to support a 24-hour network?  The amount of silly stories and perspectives that constitute the bulk of the “news” on these networks makes us laugh, but the nature of these networks points to what I have talked about in my previous posts – the hyperbole and magnitude with which we treat our present, without any context or historical narrative.

As far as 24-hour news networks go, I have to admit the one that may have the worst premise of them all is ESPN.  I admit, I watch it a lot, and they have become successful off of viewers like me, and with the success they have had all they could do is expand.  But if 24-hour news networks cannot have enough information to function, leaving them to rely on insane time-fillers and opinions from various “experts,” then how can a specialty 24-hour news network run effectively?  One that relies completely on sports?  It leaves every sport we watch open for the greatest hyperbole, the most drastic of immediate reactions, and the most time in between events for “experts” to analyze the information.

ESPN, and all the other factors bearing down on LeBron James in game 5 of the NBA Finals, had me doing something I never thought I would ever do again, something I found as almost a betrayal to my city: before the game, I found myself hoping LeBron would win.

During, and after the game, I went back to my usual points about LeBron:  it’s fine, he won, but this is what he was supposed to be doing – he has to win many, many more to validate his departure from Cleveland.  LeBron made championships a volume game, and he’s not even close to winning it yet.  The scrutiny that these networks, these ESPNs, CNNs, Fox News’s put on certain people make it easier or more difficult to root against them.

Not saying LeBron didn’t do anything to have people root against him.  He brought that mainly on himself. ESPN and others just exasperated it.

When LeBron left Cleveland to go to Miami, I wrote a post on my Cleveland.com blog claiming that LeBron would never again be able to be the superhuman version of himself that I saw when he played against Detroit in 2007.  He proved me wrong in game 6 against the Celtics this year, and in the Finals.  I admit I was wrong.  I knew, as well, how drastically the conversation about LeBron would change following game 5.  I knew he would be touted as one of the greatest of all time, that his one championship in Miami makes it okay to say he is Michael Jordan.  It’s ridiculous, but I knew it was coming.

What I didn’t know was coming were the new lines, the new ridiculous hyperbole, that would be muttered under everyone’s breath, one thing that immediately became “fact,” and carried on everyone’s breath just as quickly:

- He never would have won in Cleveland.  He had to go to Miami. -

This is my biggest problem with everything that has transpired since LeBron won.  Apparently, since he won, it has become acceptable to say that Cleveland, the Cavaliers specifically, as they were constructed when LeBron was here, was responsible for his inability to win.  It has become alright to say that if he stayed in Cleveland, for the rest of his career, he could not have won.

Apparently because the team, as it was constructed, would be the same for the next 15 years.

I’d like to go back to something Charles Barkley said right after the Decision.  I’m not quoting him verbatim, but I remember basically what he said.  He said that any amount of championships LeBron would win in Miami, joining up with two other superstars to do so, would not equal even one championship he could have brought to Cleveland.  At least he would have had to win more than three in Miami to justify his decision.

Is it really fair, and true, to say LeBron would have never won in Cleveland?  I mean, would Michael Jordan never have won a championship in Portland if he had been drafted there instead of Sam Bowie?  At least he got drafted by a team with a tradition of excellence.

Did Pedro Martinez have a better chance to win a championship in Boston than in Montreal?  I imagine Boston fans didn’t think it mattered when they got him.

I mean, my question would be this:  if Cleveland was bound to never win an NBA Title, shouldn’t we apologize to LeBron for drafting him in the first place, instead of him apologizing to us for leaving?  I mean, if it was so clear we would never have won – ever – then we shouldn’t have put him through that.  It would have been better if he went to Detroit.  Or Denver.  Somewhere with history of success, and no inevitable wall stopping him from winning.  Sure, we would have been destroyed by all the critics after the fact when he became what he is now, and we drafted Carmelo, or – gulp – Darko instead, but at least Cleveland wouldn’t have ruined LeBron’s first seven seasons in the league, knowing in our hearts he would have never won here.  It’s the best thing we could’ve done for our hometown kid.

But since we didn’t, and we drafted him out of our own selfish interests, knowing he could never win here, let me be the first to say to LeBron, from the city of Cleveland:  we’re sorry.  We knew we would never win, and we should have given you a better start to your career.

(Quick note:  “apology” not meant to be derogatory directly at LeBron.  He’s not the one who said he would’ve never won in Cleveland.  Not directly anyway.)

It’s pretty shocking to me for anyone to say LeBron James never would have won in Cleveland.  He is an otherworldly talent on the basketball floor, one that elevates everyone around him.  He led the Cavs to two 60 plus-win seasons.  Given some more time, and more talent, he could have won in Cleveland.  We’re not running Antawn Jamison and Big Z out on the floor anymore.

A sheer number of championships does not make – or break – a player’s legacy as “The Greatest.”

If that were true, Bill Russell is better than Michael Jordan.  Roger Federer is better than Rafael Nadal.  Terry Bradshaw is better than Johnny Unitas, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, John Elway.

LeBron James has won one title - in Miami – and already I’ve heard people after two days claim he is the greatest basketball player who ever lived.  All it took was one title for the conversation to change to that, to where it was always going to end up.

Imagine if he had won it in Cleveland.

Oh, no, wait.  I’m sorry.  It’s impossible to win a championship here.

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