Lately when I look out of my office window, I can see the fans lined up on E 9th St. where LeBron James is inside being courted during free agency. And when I’m walking downtown, I’m continually reminded of this spectacle by the various ‘Home’ and ‘More than a Player’ banners hanging from bridges, buildings, and road signs.
Although I understand fan loyalty to a certain extent, it should really only go so far. Basketball is a team sport. At the end of the day, despite how talented someone is or how instrumental a player is to a team (and LeBron is both), he’s still playing within a team. I also understand that having been raised in Akron and spending his entire career here, you have the rare hometown hero who makes good on a national level. By contributing to the Cavs’ presence in multiple playoffs, he has helped put the team and the city of Cleveland in the national spotlight – at least when it comes to basketball. And as other sports heroes before him who raised themselves up to a better lifestyle, LeBron often gives back to his local community.
However, that doesn’t necessarily justify the lengths we’ve gone to to desperately hang on to him. The signs and crowds downtown are just the latest in a series of attempts to get him to stay. There have been LeBron flash mobs and videos; other local sports teams trying to get in on the action (such as the Lake Erie Crushers putting in a bid for LeBron to play for them); and Akron’s Fan Appreciation Day which LeBron fortunately showed up for at the last minute.
While some say we owe all of this adoration to ‘King James,’ his decision to stay or go really comes down to him being a player – nothing less, nothing more. Does LeBron think he can win a championship with the Cavs; will his career be noted as one of the greatest in NBA history if he stays in Cleveland? Or does he need to go to another team to pursue that goal. That’s really what his free agency is about and there’s an excellent article about it on ESPN.com that looks at the ‘should I stay or should I go now’ argument.
Additionally, while LeBron has brought a lot of attention to the city over the last couple of years, it’s mostly attention for his talent and the Cavs. To borrow the slogan that’s recently been used for LeBron, Cleveland is so much ‘more than a player.’ Admittedly, like any other urban center we have a lot to improve on. There are issues with both our infrastructure and our attitudes that need work. However, if LeBron were to leave, there are many other things that still make Cleveland great and worth checking out.
There’s an excellent music scene – just read 52 Weeks of Cleveland for an ongoing and entertaining look at it. We offer a wide assortment of skilled chefs and restaurants – from Iron Chef Michael Symon’s (another hometown hero) Bar Symon, B Spot Burgers and Lola and Lolita restaurants, to all of the local restaurants in the Cleveland Food Rocks campaign. Cleveland’s also home to museums and performing arts noted for important contributions in their fields — from the Natural History Museum whose physical anthropology department recently played a key part in a major discovery; to the Cleveland Museum of Art which just underwent a significant renovation and is the only major American museum that still offers free general admission to the public; to the Cleveland Orchestra which is praised and sought after around the world. Finally, with institutions such as the Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve, we offer one of the most renowned medical communities in the country and a number of valued educational opportunities.
Unfortunately, though, it seems very easy to focus on one thing and allow ourselves to be held back by this nearsightedness. So while I know a lot of Cleveland fans will rest easier if LeBron does decide to stay, it’s not going to be the end of Cleveland if he doesn’t.
There is so much more that makes this city. There’s more than one player. We just need to rise up and look past it to see that.