Yes, LeBron James’ ESPN special Thursday night was overblown, self-indulgent and maybe even cruel, but I couldn’t help watching it. And I’m fairly certain that when the ratings come out, it will be clear that millions of others watched too.
What we learned during the hour-long prime time "Decision" is that Cleveland will never be the same again.
But neither will LeBron.
The city’s native son is finally leaving home. He is taking his basketball to Miami where he will join Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to become the newest and perhaps best Big Three of all time. That’s the basketball and business part of this. The rest is personal.
The hurt and anger over James' "betrayal" may never subside in Cleveland. Even Cavaliers' owner Dan Gilbert weighed in with some of the most classless, gutless, and angry statements I’ve ever heard about a player. But like the onion that makes you cry, there are a lot of layers to this melodrama.
Cleveland is easily the most disrespected, misunderstood and luckless city in team sports. But, for seven glorious years, Cavaliers fans had hope and the eyes of the world on their town because basketball’s most talented and athletically gifted player was on their team and was actually one of them. James made Cleveland matter. But his leaving means the party is over. It is now midnight in northeast Ohio.
On the other side of this lie the enormous expectations placed on a prodigy.
Not many athletes have ever been under the pressure and microscope that LeBron has. Because of his precocious talent he has been expected to be the best, to win championships and save a city all while becoming the game's most legendary player. It is indeed a heavy burden.
Did James really betray Cleveland or was he just looking out for himself? It's a matter of how you look at it. Does he have the right to do what he feels is best for himself? Absolutely. Should he have stayed? Well the fairy tale certainly would have read a lot better if he had. But LeBron’s story requires a championship. And it became increasingly clear that it might not happen in Cleveland.
And that was the problem—a huge problem and an on-going burden for a guy we all expect to be one of the greatest players of all time.