Monday, May 17, 2010

Freedom Means Saying No, Too

t's just astounding watching the vitriol pour out of some people when it comes to someone else making a decision -- and this decision doesn't even really strike home.

It is more than amazing the percentage of college students planning to leave Ohio upon graduation -- 60%, according to some reports -- doesn't make our sluggish vox populi move an inch, but a 25-year old who skipped college and went right to work after graduating from high school? One daring to consider leaving Ohio for potentially greener pastures, leading to so much hate and hurt feelings?

It's pathetic.

The harshest critics of today's LeBron James -- as opposed to last month's LeBron James, who led the Cavaliers to their NBA-best record and what seemed to be a lock for the title so desperately desired by Cleveland sports fans -- owe it to themselves to take a really deep look in the mirror.

What really matters here?

Ohio's had James for seven years as a pro, ten years overall. The basketball world spun around Akron's Chosen One, even when the Cavaliers weren't contending for the title. It was a replay of what Browns fans saw when another young man from Boardman took up the weight of northeast Ohio on his shoulders, to lead the team to Super Bowl glory only to see The Drive and The Fumble dash those prayers on the rocks of Red Right 88.

Bernie Kosar would later get his Super Bowl ring with the Dallas Cowboys, "America's Team." All the love and admiration, in the long run, meant nothing when it came to a now-despised owner and now-admired coach decided it was time to cut their losses over "diminished skills." I remember when Bernie got that ring; fans here were happy for him, knowing it just wasn't going to happen otherwise.

I don't remember 1954, but I wonder if there was a similar outcry when Bob Feller and company stumbled badly against Willie Mays and the Giants and coughed up what should have been a certain World Series victory from the then-most-ever winning team in baseball. Was Feller a traitor, a bum, a guy who took a fall? Nobody in their right mind would ever say that to Rapid Robert's face, much less behind his back. Here's a guy who came out of the cornfields, made Cleveland his home, went to war for us at the peak of his performance for God's sake.

Feller still wears that uniform with pride and accomplishment, and fans still line up and shell out their money to grab a photo or signed baseball. They properly pay tribute to greatness, and effort, and heart.

LeBron James had a 77% chance of playing somewhere else when the 2003 lottery fell Cleveland's way. For once, northeast Ohio had fortune smiling upon our undeveloped, grim shores: the Chosen One would play for us. Home would remain home. But that deal didn't have "forever" written in the fine print.

As King James weighs his options, I can't imagine another case where we would encourage a favorite son or daughter to not seek the best arrangement possible to be the best they could be. If your children were actors, wouldn't you want them on the world's biggest stage? If they were lawyers, wouldn't you want their advocacy in the most important cases? If they could play an instrument or sing like a bird, wouldn't you want them to fly high rather than perform their song in a cage for a select local few?

One of the ugly sides of being a Cleveland sports fan is this recent vicious, personal reaction when we don't get our way. That's ironic, considering we really haven't gotten our way since 1964 -- even counting coming close with Kosar, or nibbling at the dream in 1995 and 1997 in the house Akron's Dick Jacobs built.

Now Bernie's bankrupt and the field we once called "the Jake" isn't even named after the local boy who rescued the hometown team.

It is the way things are; former ballplayers don't get another chance for fame and riches once the carousel takes them farther away from the brass ring. Owners only stand tall when they continue to pay the freight for naming rights.

Current players know all too well that winning isn't guaranteed just because they have talent and work hard, or even enjoy a streak of good luck now and then. Too many variables still make being a winner a crapshoot, especially when the only definition of winner is found in the rings on their fingers.

If the Cavaliers are a place where LeBron James continues to prosper and win a championship -- or two, or three -- then it's where he should be, and my guess is a place where he will want to be. If, however, it's the kind of place where fans so quickly put the entire weight of their dreams and aspirations on a 25-year old's shoulders and then bitterly denounce him when the effort falls short, maybe it's time to take another view: one from a rear-view mirror.

Cleveland fans, keep barking, crying and reaching out to tear down one of the best examples of success we've seen brewed here at home in generations. It'll lead to another drive, and this one will be just what you really deserve.

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