Cleveland Cavaliers Fans, LeBron James Haters Need a Dose of Reality

Ben SteigerwaltCorrespondent IJuly 11, 2010

MIAMI - JULY 09:  LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat is introduced during a welcome party at American Airlines Arena on July 9, 2010 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Marc Serota/Getty Images

In the past year, the following things have taken place in the world of sports:

  • Ben Roethlisberger allegedly committed date rape and was aided in covering it up by bodyguards and police officer friends.
  • Lawrence Taylor has been indicted on charges of third-degree rape and patronizing a prostitute.
  • Tiger Woods has been disgraced and (to some degree) lost his golf game due to a variety of non-golf issues.
  • LeBron James has left the city of Cleveland and signed with the Miami Heat.

Of these things, which has generated the most outrage?

If you answered James, you would be correct.  I could see the case for Woods, but let me answer with stats.  James’ special, “The Decision” posted a 7.3 overnight Nielsen rating.  The Tiger Woods press conference: 5.4. 

Keep in mind that LeBron’s special was on one channel, while Tiger’s was on all four networks as well as the Golf Channel and three ESPNs.

My point here is that sports fans are in a dire need of perspective.  If athletes committing crimes against other people isn’t the biggest driver of vitriol, we have a problem as a society.

Could the LeBron James drama have been handled differently?

Of course.  Our issue here isn’t that James held a special to announce his decision.  Or that he did so in such a way that maximum damage was inflicted on Cleveland.  Or even that he was selling out his legacy to play with another star.

All of these are valid criticisms.  The one we’re not hearing is that LeBron James didn’t actually do anything wrong.

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I know, I know.  Outrageous claim.

Did anyone see video of a Roethlisberger or Taylor jersey being burned?  You’re fine with how Roethlisberger, Taylor and Woods treat women?

But don’t jilt Cleveland.  The city has suffered enough.

I’ve been to Cleveland.  I remember seeing what looked like a 100-foot Nike ad of him projected on a building across the street from Quicken Loans Arena.  This was 2006.

So when Dan Gilbert started spewing garbage from his mouth comparing James to Benedict Arnold (who, incidentally, cost human lives with his betrayal), I thought about a few things regarding James’ contributions to Cleveland.

Namely, how much Gilbert probably profited off of ticket sales while James played in Cleveland.  Or how Cleveland got to enjoy an incredibly high quality of basketball for seven years while teams like the Clippers made the playoffs once in that span. 

Going further, did LeBron James hire Danny Ferry and Mike Brown?

If Gilbert had any legitimate curiosity as to LeBron’s motives for leaving, he need look no further than those hires.  And obviously, his own terrible attitude. 

I’m normally fine with hyperbolic overreactions by fans.  Less so with owners, but if Gilbert had what he felt was a personal relationship with James, I get it.

In this case, what we’re hearing and seeing about James is significantly in excess of overreaction.

My other problem is this: how on Earth are we, as sports fans, this uncomfortable with empowered athletes?

I can think of only two reasons that we are this upset over an athlete leaving town. 

The first is that we resent the ridiculous amount of money that athletes are paid to do something we consider a hobby for a living.  Unfortunately for the athletes, unless they’re winning, sports are less fun and more employment than we’d like to admit.

The second is that we have an inherent desire to support team management in decisions of whether to cut, release, trade or re-sign a player because they are in a position of maturity and the athletes are greedy.  This is inherently strange to me because we don’t hold team owners and management (who, by the way, get fairly rich off of their teams as well), to the same standard of accountability that we do their employees, the players.

That’s like me holding the customer service representative for my credit card company accountable for the interest rate on my card.  As if they could be personally responsible for that.

Let’s say the players are at fault here.  That they’re greedy and they won’t stick with their incredibly loyal teams.  Is this the fault of individuals or the players union and agents who represent them that things stand this way?

So what I’m saying is that it’s okay to be disappointed in James’ decision.  But keep in mind that his decision was related to sports.  If you’re viewing this as a social microcosm, I understand where you’re coming from.

But if you’re condemning James for an allegedly violent act against an entire city or a betrayal on the scale of what could take place during a war, kick it down a notch. 

Even if James had an axe to grind with northeast Ohio (and there is nothing to indicate he did, other than the futility of playing with the surrounding cast and having to carry an entire team nightly), is a one-hour special the worst thing he could possibly do to the city?

See, I don’t recall James actually coming out and saying anything negative about his team or his fans.  He, in spite of things, has handled himself quite well.  In fact, you could say holding the special to announce his decision was his only real example of questionable judgment in this whole scenario.

If you look at James’ statements and compare them with Gilbert’s, you have to agree that one person was a consummate professional and the other sounded like an embittered, entitled diva. 

You could say his supporters sound the same way.