In one minute, the day many Clevelanders have anticipated for years will arrive. July 1, 2010 is the day on which free agency begins in the NBA, and the day on which LeBron James becomes a free agent.
LeBron grew up and played high school basketball down the road at St. Vincent St. Mary High School in Akron, and I followed his career avidly. I always thought that he would enter the NBA Draft straight out of high school. However, I didn’t know if he was a sure thing to be successful in the NBA. Sure, players such as Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant had great NBA careers right out of high school, but players such as Korleone Young and Kwame Brown had left high school success only to encounter failure in the NBA. I also doubted that the Cavaliers, who had tied for the worst record in the NBA in the 2002-2003 season, would win the NBA Draft lottery and the ability to draft LeBron James—the proverbial ball had never bounced in Cleveland’s direction before, so why would it do so now?
Despite my doubts, I didn’t complain when I looked up at a TV monitor during my good friend Rob’s bachelor party in Norfolk, VA and saw a message on ESPN stating that the Cavaliers had won the NBA Draft lottery and the right to draft LeBron James. I’ll never forget that moment and I deeply cherish it. I’ll also never forget watching LeBron’s first game with my friends Michael and Nathan—25 points, 9 assists, and 6 rebounds is a great night for anyone in the NBA, let alone someone playing their first game while the world is watching!
LeBron has led the Cavaliers to some great moments over the past 6 seasons. We’ve had several dramatic playoff runs and heroic 4th quarter plays. Who can ever forget LeBron hitting several last-second baskets against the Wizards in the 2006 Eastern Conference playoffs and leading the Cavs to their first playoff series win in almost 10 years? I know I’ll never forget watching Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals in the house I was renting with several friends on Bellfield in Cleveland Heights. We were moving out, and the house was essentially barren; however, the TV was still there, and we huddled around and watched LeBron score 25 straight points in Cleveland’s double-overtime victory against the hated Pistons. Additionally, watching LeBron’s epic game-winning three-pointer against the Magic in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals and celebrating with a whole host of Clevelanders during my friend Wayne’s bachelor party at the Corner Alley is another moment that will stay with me for quite some time.
More than anything else, LeBron promised to “light up Cleveland like Vegas” when he joined the team in 2003, and he has done just that. People have told me that they’ve seen Cleveland Cavaliers gear in Africa; Nike has created a LeBron museum in China, and millions across the globe see the magnificent skyline of my great city as Cavaliers games are broadcast around the world.
I don’t know where LeBron will sign. Maybe he doesn’t either. Writing yet another article about the perceived power and influence of World Wide Wes or the discussion that was held at a “free agent summit” that may or may not have even occurred would be redundant and based on conjecture. I’m not going to speculate much more than this, because doing so would merely be piling onto the thousands of interviews, articles, and discussions that have cluttered the airwaves and Internet since the buzzer sounded on Cleveland’s loss in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
But I do know this. Even if LeBron signs with another team, the sun is going to rise in Cleveland. The Cavs will still wear the wine and gold and we will still field a competitive team. I am a Cavs fan first and foremost—I cheered for them during the days of Brad Daugherty and Mark Price, I cheered for them during the days of Darius Miles, Shawn Kemp, and Ricky Davis, and I cheered for them during the days of LeBron James, Z, and Anderson Varejao. I will still cheer for them, with or without LeBron, and if you’re a true Cavs fan, you should do so as well. Cleveland will still have the Browns and the Indians, and although they may not be doing as well as we’d like at the moment, there are glory days in the past and there will be glory days once again in the future. We’ll still have some of America’s most decorated chefs, which will come in handy because we’ll need to eat our sorrows away at a place with delicious and hearty food. Most importantly, we’ll still have the fighting spirit, the grit, and the determination that has fueled Cleveland ever since its beginnings in 1796.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m going to be crushed if LeBron leaves. I’ll put his departure next to The Drive, The Fumble, the 1997 World Series, and the plethora of other Cleveland sport disappointments and keep cheering harder than ever, knowing that one day our proverbial prince will come and Cleveland will finally celebrate a championship. When that day comes, all of the pain of the past will make out triumph that much sweeter. Honestly, in my heart of hearts, I don’t think he’ll leave. But even if he leaves, life will go on, and I will still love Cleveland. Cleveland had a lot going for it before LeBron, and Cleveland will still have a lot going for it after the date on which LeBron leaves, whether that’s through free agency, trade, or retirement. And if you’re here, whether you’re putting down roots for a lifetime, just passing through for a few years, or something in between, you should too.