Magazine article The Progressive

Cleveland Didn't Own LeBron.Mco

Magazine article The Progressive

Cleveland Didn't Own LeBron.Mco

Article excerpt

This was supposed to be the summer of LeBron." The insanely talented twenty-five-year-old NBA star made his whirl wind free agency tour the sports story of the summer in the United States ("World Cup? What World Cup?"). When LeBron announced he would tell the world his decision on ESPN in prime time, many thought that he surely must be returning to his hometown team, the Cleveland Cavaliers.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"There is no way he would go on television just to stab Cleveland in the back," was the mantra on sports radio.

But the reigning MVP did announce that he was pulling up stakes and heading to Miami to play for the Heat. He would be the follower on a team already led by a superstar, Dwyane Wade.

It's difficult to imagine how James could have handled the situation any worse, short of wearing an "I [love] Goldman Sachs" T-shirt.

Much has been written about the power of the LeBron James brand, but the man has been greatly diminished by this episode, and it was an entirely self-inflicted wound.

The next day, however, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, did the impossible: He made LeBron James a sympathetic figure. If nothing else, Gilbert underscored why LeBron James couldn't trust his career to Cleveland.

Gilbert took to the Internet and penned a deranged open letter to Cleveland fans. Gilbert accused James of "cowardly betrayal," and some fans then took to the streets and burned James's jersey. James's family required a police escort to leave town.

The next day, Gilbert raised the vitriol, saying, "It's not about him leaving. It's the disrespect. It's time for people to hold these athletes accountable for their actions."

The NBA fined Gilbert $100,000 for his comments, and Cleveland fans actually offered to pay the fine.

It was easy to forget that however horribly he handled it, LeBron James was exercising the rights of free agency that athletes and sports unions had fought hard for over the course of decades. …

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