You live in a city that has been the butt of jokes for quite a while. No pro team in your town has won a championship in 46 years, and no titles appear to be coming any time soon. Your football team was stolen (your words) from you, and while it has been replaced, winning seasons have been few. And now, the one player that you thought you could call your own, who claimed to want to bring the city a championship that it has long craved, just walked away to join his friends down in Miami.
There is a lot of pain in Cleveland these days, and the list of villains just grew with LeBron James adding his name to sports figures who let the city down. There are now two figures who draw ire in Cleveland sporting lore: James and Art Modell. So does James’ new found villainy move Art Modell down the list? Will the ongoing ire of the Cleveland faithful that have pilloried Modell for years for moving the Browns to Baltimore now switch targets? Somehow, I doubt it.
For one thing, as long as football is king of the sporting world, every season that the Browns muddle about at the bottom of the AFC North, compared to any success the Ravens may have in the same division, will have fans seeing red and cursing the fates at having lost their team. Even though they have a team, a team that was allowed to keep its name, colors and history, no one forgets what happened when the original team left town. James and his “betrayal”-if you agree with Dan Gilbert’s words-is just the latest wound to the city’s sports psyche. The vitriol seen and heard round the globe as James and his marketing team dreamed up a one-hour television “event” set up to announce where he would play basketball for the next five seasons was well deserved, in my opinion. The decision to make the announcement in this format is one that James should regret, for it has damaged his reputation and may further damage his brand. It’s not that James had no right to leave Cleveland; players in all sports have the right to leave their old teams for new ones whenever their contracts expire. It’s that he set up the event and made it look as if there wasn’t any way he would use a television special to jolt the hearts of fans who wanted and believed that he would stay-until he did it.
So does James get Art Modell off the hook? Probably not. But in the list of Cleveland sports villains, if Modell is #1, then James is certainly #1A.