What Went Wrong: the LeBron James Era in Cleveland

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What Went Wrong:  the LeBron James Era in Cleveland
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Eight long years ago a bright-eyed youngster named LeBron Raymone James graduated from St. Vincent St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio and began his NBA career. 39 miles away, fans of the Cleveland Cavaliers rejoiced that the most highly touted NBA prospect since Shaquille O’Neal would soon join their team as the No. 1 overall draft pick of 2003.  Austin Carr, the first draft pick in Cavaliers history, openly sobbed when the team won the rights to draft James. 

The most inept professional sports franchise in Cleveland (which is saying quite a lot) was poised to become relevant for the first time since the Mark Price/Brad Daugherty teams that always lost in the playoffs to Michael Jordan’s Bulls.  Finally, a basketball superstar would be representing Cleveland.  In a sport with only five starters, a talented player like James could completely change the fortunes of a franchise.  The Cavaliers, above all others, were that franchise.

Things definitely changed.  Within four years, the Cavaliers had gone from perennial NBA doormat to legitimate playoff contender.  James' stellar performance in the 2007 playoffs against Detroit took the Cavaliers to their first NBA Finals appearance.  Although they were swept by a far superior San Antonio Spurs team, the future had never been brighter for professional basketball in Cleveland.  There was palpable hope that James’ broad shoulders would help carry the city to its first sports championship since Jim Brown led the Cleveland Browns to a world title in 1964.

If you’re reading this, you know how it all turned out.  The Cavaliers are a doormat again and LeBron James is still chasing his first championship.  Where did it all go wrong?  James is immensely talented and quite possibly the most impressive physical specimen in the history of professional sports.  How did Cleveland manage to squander those seven years and what could they have done differently? 

I’m glad you asked.

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