Cleveland moves on as LeBron crowned champ
CLEVELAND (AP) — On the same sidewalk where fans torched a LeBron James jersey in protest two summers ago, office workers on their lunch hours passed gamblers headed to the new downtown casino.
Just another summer day.
While James was in Miami celebrating his first NBA title, fans in the city he scorned to chase a championship had a much more subdued, internal reaction. There were no angry protests, no public outrage, no threats of harm. Those days have long past.
The king got his ring.
And Cleveland, where sports despair’s roots have grown for generations, seemed to sigh in acceptance.
“In a way I’m kind of happy for him,” bartender Natalie Hardik said between serving pints of beer at Flannery’s, an Irish bar and restaurant across the street from Quicken Loans Arena, where James once starred. “But I definitely still feel a lot of bitterness toward him — everyone does.”
This city, yearning to celebrate its first pro sport championship since 1964, hasn’t forgiven James for leaving as a free agent in 2010. Many can’t let it go. There’s lingering pain and resentment, but there’s also a sense that it’s time to move on.
Some Clevelanders already had.
“I hope they have moved on, and I kind of felt many fans had come to accept this would happen during the season,” said TV sports anchor Jim Donovan, a longtime Cleveland resident. “Fans felt him winning it all was inevitable, and I think some of them may have given up because it’s exhausting to root against the guy. It’s better to root for your team.”
Cleveland reveled in seeing James fail in last year’s finals.
This time, there was no stopping him.
And the sight of James, who grew up in nearby Akron and spent seven seasons with the Cavaliers, hugging and and hoisting a championship trophy was tough to stomach.
“I had mixed feelings,” said Mike Kubinski, who watched Thursday’s Game 5 at home in Cleveland’s Tremont district. “It’s a lot like when your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend gets married. It’s not fun.”
As he spoke, Kubinski stood just a few away from an outdoor clothing kiosk at Westlake’s Crocker Park, where “Lyin’ King” T-shirts were sold after James’ departure in 2010. Now, there’s hardly a trace of James anywhere to be found in Cleveland, where his No. 23 jersey was once omnipresent and his likeness loomed above the city on a giant downtown billboard.
“LeWho?” said Jimmy Pearl of Cleveland. “He left. Outta sight, outta mind, my man.”
Coincidentally, at about the exact time James and the Miami Heat were dispatching the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night, a storm rumbled in across Lake Erie, its thunder and lightning providing the perfect backdrop for another dark moment in Cleveland sports history.
During the game, softball players at the Ironwood Cafe in Westlake glared at flat screen TVs showing the Heat leading by 25 points in the third quarter. It was over, there would be no Game 6 and James’ coronation as a champion couldn’t be delayed any longer.
At the Dive Bar downtown on West 6th Street, Hardik muted ABC’s telecast and played music so fans didn’t have to endure the sounds of James winning a title — the sight was bad enough.
This didn’t hurt nearly as bad as Cleveland’s other well-known sports calamities like “The Drive,” ”The Fumble,” Indians closer Jose Mesa blowing the save in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series or former Browns owner Art Modell packing up his beloved football franchise and moving to Baltimore.
But it was still a punch in Cleveland’s collective gut.
And as James danced on the sideline in the closing minutes and later smiled as confetti engulfed him and his teammates, Kubinski felt as if he was watching a well-rehearsed play.
“He’s always acting,” Kubinski said of James. “He always knows where the cameras are and when they’re on him.”
Not long after James’ victory, Twitter and other social media sites overflowed with negative comments directed at the three-time MVP. But Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who accused James of quitting on the Cavs and promised his team would win a title before the “so-called King” didn’t pile on.
“Great NBA season,” Gilbert posted on (at)cavsdan. “Enjoyed playoffs. Congratulations to Miami & OKC for an exciting Finals. Back to work on next week’s promising Cavs draft.”
Instead of dwelling on James, many Cleveland fans are focusing on what appears to be a bright future for the Cavs. The team has the No. 4 overall pick in next week’s draft, four selections in the top 34 and hope to add some quality players to put around guard Kyrie Irving, the reigning rookie of the year.
At last, it’s time to look forward, not back.
“I think people have moved on and are at peace with it,” said Chuck Kyle, coach of high school football powerhouse Saint Ignatius. “It’s been two years since LeBron left. It hurt for a while, but now it’s time to forget it.”
While there are those who will never forgive him, James has a sprinkling of supporters in Cleveland.
“My dad loves him,” Darrin Cappy said of his 82-year-old father, Bruno. “He’d love LeBron no matter where he played. He loves to talk about LeBron, and I know that’s all I’m going to hear about all weekend.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.