If LeBron wants to leave, we have to let him go.
First of all, as matter-of-fact as this sounds, we can't exactly act like this is some shocking surprise when we knew the stipulations surrounding his contract. When he re-signed in 2006, the terms were he would stay a Cavalier if he won a ring or if he was in the best position to win a ring down the road. The Cavs proved they didn’t do those two things. It’s not like the Cavs didn’t try, and it certainly doesn’t mean the city and fans didn’t support him through the process. Thirty teams vie for the NBA title every year (well, usually 24 vie for the playoffs and 6 vie for John Wall), and only 1 can win it. The Cavs tried to stack the odds in their favor, and they couldn’t get it done. He’s not betraying us. He’s doing what a star athlete should do: getting better and putting himself in a position to win championships.
This year, we spent too much time worrying about Orlando and LA, we didn't think to look out for Boston. And truthfully (someone on twitter said this, but I forget who), the only team you should worry about building yourself around is your own. If you make yourself competent then you won't have to worry. That includes on-and-off court positions. It would be dumb for me to assert that everything will feel OK next year. It won't. It will feel fundamentally different, even a little empty.David O’Leary alluded to this earlier. But in all this talk about how angry and disappointed the city and the fans will be if/when he leaves, we’ve lost sight of the fact that LeBron has been the best Cavalier ever. He played well (and that’s an understatement), and we should be grateful for that. LeBron gave Cleveland the 7 best consecutive years ever of Cavaliers basketball. He came onto the team in 2003 and immediately became the team’s leading scorer, even with chuckers like Ricky Davis around. (more after the jump)
In 2007, he pretty much single-handedly destroyed the Pistons, a team that had been tormenting us in our division for years, and brought us to the NBA Finals for the first time in Cavs history. In 2009 and 2010, we won back to back division titles, only our second and third in franchise history, thanks mostly to those same Pistons and the Bulls. We had the best regular season record in the NBA two years in a row. He also won a lot of individual awards as a Cavalier, including Rookie of the year, 2 MVPs, a scoring title, All-Star bids (and MVPs), first and second team all-NBA and all-Defense, and 4 Olympic medals. I repeat he won those as a Cavalier. That will never change. Look at these team and individual awards. We had never had anything like this before. This is not all chump change.
LeBron, Danny Ferry, Dan Gilbert, and Mike Brown have all put in an immense amount of work into this franchise in these past years. Of all the things they’ve done, the most important has been that they've instituted a culture of winning. And I am confident, that even if LeBron leaves, we will continue to have a culture of winning. Yes, we will be further from a championship, but that doesn't mean we can't win any games. This isn't the same group of Jiri Welsch-Desagna Diop-Ricky Davis rag-tag bunch of players we had in 2003. The rest of the Cavs roster has shown talent, a fighting spirit, and cohesion. Whatever else happens to this team in the long run, we can be sure that Dan Gilbert’s culture of winning won't go away. The timeline may change, but the message won't.
On a related note: we as Clevelanders (whether resident or expatriate), need to take ownership of the image we portray to the rest of the country as sports fans, and to some degree we need to change it for the better. We always feel like our backs are against the wall, and we have a pervasive hollow and self-deprecating attitude. We know that Clevelanders have pride, and that we love our city and our sports. We can no longer allow ourselves to be the punchlines and shameful relatives of other sports cities. But that has to start with us. We have to stop being bitter and living in the past. It’s not the curse of the Wahoo, or the Fumble, or the Drive, or the Shot, or the Jose Mesa. We can no longer let despair and self-pity consume us. We have to stop acting like we are doomed from ever having anything good happen to us. We rail on LA, Boston, and NY for feeling entitled to win rings because "They have before." But we feel just as entitled because we haven't. Now how is this perception any different, except that we get to complain and invoke pity from other fanbases and sportswriters who read and write “Top 10 Unluckiest Sports Towns” lists? We had a really great shot, better than most, and we didn't succeed. We have the money and the smarts to work to get there again.
So if LeBron leaves, I say we can use this as the impetus to change who we are. No more feeling sorry for ourselves. What this also entails is not booing LeBron. We have been good to him, yes, but he has also been good to us. He didn't abandon us. The Cavs organization and the fanbase knew the stakes. Yeah it sucks, but we need to learn from it and grow. We didn't hold back at all. Everyone thought we had the best chance. We set up everything the way we thought, but we overlooked a few angles and it came back to bite us. We must take these lessons and learn from them.
We can’t blame LeBron and dwell on the past. We can only look at our mistakes, try to learn from them, and move forward. No looking back to 1964. Only looking forward to 2011.
Ed note: Check for more on this and other great stuff from Amin at his new blog: The Offense/Defense Balance