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Dash to Miami

W. Ross ClitesYour City Sports-Cleveland

Kent, OHIO--The term "free agent" is just that, LeBron James was free to sign with any team he desired. My issue is not that he left, but where he went. Honestly, if LeBron James chose the New York Knicks the feelings in Cleveland would be just as sour, but not as blood-thirsty. The man goes off every time he steps foot in Madison Square Garden; and, after all, it
is Madison Square Garden. For a player that wants to bolster his international brand and career stats, he should have jumped at the opportunity to play home games in NYC. Mike D'Antoni is an offensive mastermind, Amar'e Stoudemire is there immediately, and all signs of Carmelo Anthony being there next season are in place.

But no. He is pulling a Marian Hossa. He is picking a group of players to piggyback on their success; not the city, not the organization itself, definitely not the coach. Jordan would never play second fiddle to anyone. Yet here we are. Some say LeBron is ultimately being drawn by the climate and party scene over the cold winters of Northeast Ohio, New York, and Chicago. After all, he is "taking his talents to South Beach" and not Miami. But I discount all that. If Dwyane Wade were drated by the Milwaukee Bucks, it seems LeBron would be bound for Wisconsin -- tertiary violin in hand. How A-Rod of him.

The Cleveland fans are partly to blame; they have empowered him into a larger-than-life 'Bron-zilla and now he doesn't care what buildings he must smash in the path to getting a championship. He is a mercenary. He will wear a Heat jersey, no problem. I'm surprised LeBron didn't try to gain dual-citizenship in Argentina following the 2004 Olympics. It is what a championship-hungry "winner" would do, right? If you cannot beat the best, align yourself with the best.

Let this be a lesson to sports fans and city commissioners everywhere: keep your merchandise -- with player names on the back -- to a minimum. And think twice before you devote ten thousand square feet of urban canvas to an athlete. It only ends in hard feelings and money down the drain. Just ask the people that own Braylon Edwards' Browns jersey or the fine folks in Oregon that paid for Joey "Heisman" Harrington's billboard in downtown Manhattan back in 2001.

The whole situation almost makes Clevelanders wish the 2003 ping pong balls didn't fall the way they did. LeBron playing elsewhere would not be this difficult if he never had a taste of the home cooking. In this case, it was not better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all. Denver had the identical 17-65 record as the Cavs did in 2002. If the National Basketball Entertainment (I mean Association) was not a shock-value-driven novelty circus, the draft order would be set in stone based on the previous regular-season finish. Makes too much sense, right?

With a tie-breaker won by Denver, they would have taken LeBron James and the Cavs would have gladly selected 'Melo with the second pick (sorry, no Darko Milicic). The win totals for the past seven seasons in Cleveland might have been exactly the same, Carmelo's personal trophy case might be just as full as LeBron's. But even if that Cavaliers' superstar did not win the big one and decided to leave in free agency, the heart strings would not be pulled quite like this.
If Anthony left, it would be like reining Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee leaving the Tribe two years ago. Painful? Yes. Expected? Somewhat, yeah. For whatever reason it seems that Cleveland is not allowed to have nice things. But Carmelo Anthony and Cliff Lee, for that matter, were not born in Akron. That is why the dash to Miami has become so nasty. Akron and Cleveland are only 40 miles apart, but I suppose they were always world's apart in LeBron's heart. Everything charitable he did was hosted in and benefited Akron, not Cleveland. The Cavaliers were not his hometown team... Akron does not have an NBA team. Taking that selfish stance has now sealed LeBron's fate, like Art Modell, that he will never be welcomed back in Ohio ever again.

To his defense, seven seasons and no rings is getting blown way out of proportion. Since LeBron entered the league, there are 25 franchises that did not win the NBA Championship. That guy out in Los Angeles (what's his name?) is very similar to Michael Jordan in one major way; both kept more people ring-less than a high school Jostens rep. Karl Malone and John Stockton were definitely in the league seven seasons without a ring. And what did they do? They stuck around the same locker room long enough to finish with twenty seasons and not a single ring. The Hall of Fame sure respected their inability to win the big one. Even more importantly, their jerseys hang proudly in the Utah rafters. LeBron James woke up to find his burned on the streets of Cleveland. A lack of rings was the criticism when it should be a lack of loyalty. Cal Ripken never joined the Yankees.

There was a time when I thought that LeBron would have two numbers retired by the Cleveland Cavaliers (6 and 23). Now, as long as Dan Gilbert is the owner, nothing LBJ will grace the interior or exterior of Quicken Loans Arena. I absolutely loved the Gilbert tirade, saying everything we wished we could. It was completely unprofessional, whiny, counter-intuitive to all his pleading the "King" would stay, published in a juvenile Comic Sans font, and will likely set the franchise back in the long run (free agents will have a hard time wanting to play for a guy that will bash you this publicly when you're days in Cleveland are threw). Having said all that, it was the perfect medicine to take some of the sting off. It represents the resolve and "good riddance" attitude of Clevelanders.

Gilbert's championship guarantee might be a stretch, but I think we would all settle for a little bad karma following LeBron out of town. A riff with his new fan base should not take long. On September 2, the Dolphins and Cowboys play a preseason game. Wait until the Miami faithful see him rocking a Cowboys hat.

Then again, it is Miami. They could care less... about everything. If it doesn't pertain to the beach and/or a P. Diddy gala, the interest level does not register. The people there seem to enjoy hosting the Super Bowl more than they crave their team participating in it. It would be nice to collect a dollar for every time a South Beach native has uttered the words, "We have a hockey team?" I can't imagine there is a large population of Miami that is aware that "their" team has won two World Series titles in a mere 17 years of existence. Ho hum. We can't buy one, and they barely acknowledge their championship banners -- tucked in the left field corner next to the collapsed football bleachers.

The band wagon does not stop with football and baseball; to my knowledge there is no such thing as a die-hard Miami Heat fan. There are so many other activities in South Beach that heading over to American Airlines Arena on a nightly basis sounds pretty boring. It is such a long season to pour out that much emotion over a stupid regular-season game. Wake the locals when they are in the playoffs, and poof, the loyalty returns. That is not what Midwesterners do. And although he seems to want to distance himself from his roots all of a sudden, LeBron is a Midwestern guy. If he loves the game as much as he claims to, why would he want to associate with such casual fans?

The domino effect of his Miami decision has an even greater negative impact on the health of the league. The talk in college football these days is all about superconferences. Why not just contract the NBA to super teams while we're at it? This one move has screwed up any resemblance to balance of power in professional basketball. What is the over/under on attendance at next year's Cavaliers vs. Pistons game? A once-proud rivalry will be reduced to a near pick-up game in front of hundreds.

We might as well have 16 total teams, everyone making the playoffs. The talent pool is so shallow, and the Boston Celtics "Big Three" model has become the norm. If I lived in Minnesota, I would wish that the NBA never came back. It was the kiss of death. Now people there actually invest their money in the T'Wolves cause. For what? Their passions will never be satisfied. How can they be with multiple super teams in the league? The second an expansion team was granted in Anytown, USA, the fans should have cried out, "Great, I'm inevitably going to fall in love with this team. I'm going to spend my time willing them to make me happy. And inevitably nothing will be gained from their existence. Thanks."

If you let the Memphis Grizzles and Minnesota Timberwolves combine rosters, you still might not produce a comparable super team. Especially when the league teeters on the corruption line as is. David Stern is the puppet master that will stop at nothing to make sure it is a Lakers/Celtics Finals once again.

So why even have a team in these small, middle American towns? They are just another 120-95 victory for the Miami Heat on some random Tuesday night. They are win number 6 in a line of Miami's commonplace 10-game win streak. They are confidence builders for the Heat as they have a key match-up against the Lakers in primetime on ABC this coming Sunday.
You have to give the other teams a fighting chance. Either let them go well above the salary cap, or combine some rosters. My biggest argument for the latter would be a slew of cooler names in the league. A Memphesota Timbergrizzly sounds terrifying as hell, and a Rocky Mountain Jazz Nugget sounds intriguingly delicious. A Golden State Warrior King does sound a little redundant; makes you wonder why there are two separate mediocre teams -- with similar aggressive names -- in the same geographical area in the first place.

None of these changes will ever occur so each fan now has three options: A) Let LeBron and the entire NBA go. It hasn't been basketball for a long long time, anyway. B) Hop on the Oklahoma City band wagon. C) Stick it out with the current Cavs' roster. J.J. Hickson is a man-child and 45 wins are still possible. How great of an 8 vs. 1 playoff match-up would Cleveland and Miami be next season?

For me, I chose a combination of all three. I'm tired of wasting my efforts on LeBron James discussion. A championship may be inevitable, but it will be bittersweet. I am quite sure that Marian Hossa had some uneasy feelings filling his brain as he lifted the Stanley Cup this year. If he questioned all his decisions even once, that is a victory for me. It means it was not 100% joy, and that is no way to win a championship.

LeBron did "what made LeBron happy." Yes, he went with third person. I guess happiness is faking an elbow injury, tanking in the previous season's playoffs, and not telling your boss that you are leaving until a very public -- highly narcissistic -- television spectacle. The highlights of the on-camera appearance were as follows: after two years of prep time for this one moment, LeBron chose to wear a picnic tablecloth as a dress shirt to compliment his very bad beard. Was it a half 'n half neck beard/chin strap? And with an entourage as large as he rolls with, someone should let him know that there is not a long "i" in "organization." It makes me think it is intentional; a subtle way of believing he is an entire franchise. Or maybe he doesn't know how to say the word because he has never believed in, or respected, any organization. Except the fine people of the Greenwich, Connecticut Boy and Girls Club, of course. When has that town ever been a part of his life? What a trainwreck of a spectacle. How T.O. of him.

Bye bye, LeBron James. You still travel 83% of the time you touch the ball. I'll just be screaming it out at the TV more often now that you are gone.

P.S., six should be an illegal basketball number. If refereeing was still pure, and fouls were signaled to the scorer's table with their hands, no ref (to my knowledge) has six digits on one hand. Five and one is fifty-one, not six. Stupid NBA.

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