Four years ago this week, workers tore down the iconic, 10-story-tall Lebron James Nike mural that had graced the side of the Landmark Office Tower in downtown Cleveland for most of the Cavaliers star’s tenure with the team. The transparent mural covered the window of my husband’s office in the building and he watched as a part of Cleveland history fell to the ground in heaps that day, along with the hopes of hundreds of thousands of Northeast Ohioans. A handful of diehard fans stood on the sidewalk below that day, snapping pictures of what they thought was the last glimpse of their hero on Cleveland soil. It was a terrible day after a terrible week. In the hours following James’ announcement that he was “taking his talents” to the Miami Heat, angry fans hurled rocks at the mural, which featured a triumphant James with his head thrown back and “We Are All Witnesses” emblazoned on it.
It’s an indisputable fact that James handled his departure poorly, sticking a thumb in the eyes of fans — who had supported him since he was a standout at Akron’s St. Vincent-St. Mary High School — by turning “The Decision” into a national media event. It was tantamount to a high-profile Cleveland-shaming in the eyes of many fans, who burned #23 (and #6) jerseys in response, knowing that their hopes of a Cavaliers championship had just defected to Florida. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert wrote a scathing, emotional letter to Cavs fans that week (which was still on the team’s website until last week) calling James a “former hero” who had “betrayed” the team. Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans and a major partner in several Ohio casinos, told fans at the time that they didn’t deserve James’ “cowardly betrayal.”
It was a painful episode in a long history of Cleveland sports disappointments. No Cleveland team has won a championship in half a century, not since the 1964 Browns won a (pre-Super Bowl) NFL title. The last time the Indians won a World Series was 1948 and the city has never won an NBA title. So perhaps it’s not difficult to understand, just a little, why LeBron found himself the repository of fifty years’ worth of pent-up frustration.
For the last two weeks Northeast Ohio has been on “LeBron Watch,” waiting for “The Next Decision.” On Thursday reporters and fans were camped outside his Bath Township mansion (just outside Akron, where LeBron has maintained a residence) after the media reported that an announcement was imminent. Fans and pundits speculated about factors the NBA star might be considering as he pondered his decision: money, family, roots, championship, legacy.