LeBron James Deserts Cleveland: Burn on, Big River, Burn On

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LeBron James Deserts Cleveland: Burn on, Big River, Burn On
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"Even after 40 years, maybe the most surprising thing about the June 22, 1969, Cuyahoga River fire is that it is remembered at all.

"The fire—a brief Sunday afternoon flare-up of oil-soaked debris likely ignited by either molten steel or a spark from a passing rail car—was doused by local firefighting tugboat crews. The story barely made the newspapers the next day.

"But the effect of that two-hour flare-up has lasted four decades."

The Cleveland Plain Dealer, 6/22/09

"And so I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle.
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don't know what, but when it was over,
I said to myself, "Is that all there is to a circus?"

—Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, "Is That All There Is?"

If last night's "LeBron-A-Thon" on the four-letter network illustrated anything, it's that the chasm between the professionals who give their bodies to our games and the spectators who give their hearts to it has never been wider.

Last night was supposed to be a great night for LeBron James regardless of where he told the world he was ending up. It was supposed to be the professional basketball player's equivalent of a bar mitzvah or quinceanera, a watermark when a professional athlete is a true master of his fate for one of maybe just a few times in his career, if he's lucky.

After coming up short for seven years with a less-than-stellar supporting cast, and getting the Cavaliers to a rare NBA Finals appearance in 2007, LeBron was finally free to start a new life, live in a new city, play with friends, play for an NBA legend in Pat Riley, and win multiple NBA championships

So why did he look so...glum?

Was he trying to appear subdued?

Maybe, just maybe, a part of him knew the damage that was to come from this infomercial dedicated to himself.

He looked a like a kid called before the principal to be reprimanded.

Maybe LeBron knew this event wasn't going to enhance his "brand" at all because the first rule of branding is this: people don't like to be screwed with and they don't like to be lied to like they're Montel Williams .

At least he (and perhaps ESPN) should have known that the one element a "brand" needs for all the others to exist is trust. When it's lost, there's no coming back from it.

Even if LeBron felt this special was necessary to make his announcement, and if he truly felt he would follow Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh wherever they went, he should have been upfront with the Cavaliers and their fans about it. Make it known that you'll be leaving for a mystery destination, but that you will in fact be leaving. Have your special, LeBron, but maybe to avoid squandering all good will you built up over the better part of decade, you should have at least stabbed the city in the front like a true friend.

You might have at least avoided receiving a letter from your former owner that read like a jilted lover's drunken 3 a.m. e-mail, replete with Comic Sans font.

Undoubtedly, though, most will be forgotten and forgiven by the NBA's mass lieges once the ball gets rolling this November, and even more so when the Heat are contending for an NBA championship next June or in a future year. No athlete or team ever went broke underestimating the length of the average American sports fan's memory.

The one place where we know the King won't be forgiven, though, is the place he once called home.

Sure, his entourage and the local sycophants will shower him with adoration this weekend at his South Beach coming out party, but that sentiment, like the beauty of many of the bodies that stroll Lincoln Road, only goes skin deep. Any city his plane landed in would have done the same for him, believing almost as much as LeBron does himself that he's a basketball messiah.

The Once But No Future King might now have all he ever wanted, all he ever needed, except a true kingdom left to call his own. Like many Florida residents, he is an exile who used to call another place home.

Like Shakespeare's King Lear, he lost his own kingdom to those who flattered him, instead of giving it to those who loved him and would have continued loving him.

The heat appeared so intense last night.

The flame on LeBron's new jersey.

The flames taken to his old jerseys across Ohio.

The concentration of people staring at the spectacle being broadcast from Greenwich, Connecticut and taking to the Internet to express their rage, disappointment, excitement, or apathy, and using all manner of language and computer fonts to express themselves.

When it was all done, we found out that LeBron James joining Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami was a tale "foretold" by Stephen A. Smith, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing—the biggest nothing being felt right along that Cuyahoga River.

Is that all there is to a fire?

 

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