A fan runs out on the court towards Miami Heat's LeBron James during the fourth quarter of a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday, March 20, in Cleveland. Miami won 98-95. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
CHICAGO – Like carpet stains that never go away, some old wounds don't heal. So is the bitterness many Ohio fans feel toward native son LeBron James, who left Cleveland to pursue, and eventually fulfill, his championship dreams with the loathed Miami Heat.
Returning for the fourth time since eloping with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to South Beach, the vitriol remained palpable yesterday. Angry, taunting signs littered every corner of the Quicken Loans Arena and the building hissed with jeers nearly each time James touched the ball.
For the first time since 2010, the reigning MVP returned with an NBA ring and Miami entered Cleveland in chase of history with a mind-blowing 23-game winning streak. For Cavalier fans, watching LeBron reach the apex in a hostile uniform makes the pain of losing him go deeper.
But break-ups happen, that's life. And when it happens to you, the hope is to pick up the pieces and have the audacity to move on. Sadly for the Cavaliers, LeBron's departure was so incredibly immense, it's like Paris losing the Eiffel Tower. That's why the recovery, assuming it ever comes to pass, will be very long and painful.
James pats the fan on the head as security escorts him off the court. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
In 2010, the Cavaliers were No.2 in the NBA in overall attendance, pulling in an average of 20,562 fans at the Q Arena, according to ESPN. They dropped to 19th place in 2012 and this season, their average attendance dipped to 15,900.
Also, the Cavaliers' team value dropped 26 percent in 2011 and another 7 percent in 2012, said a Forbes report. To prevent the further hemorrhage of cash, the Cavs, whose worth decreased from $476 million to $434 million according to Bloomberg News, are keeping expenses to a minimum. And their payroll is well below the salary cap at $57 million.
Thanks to the arrival of All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, there is teeming promise in Cleveland. But, really, the fondest wish is for LeBron to come home in 2014, when he becomes a free agent.
Why not? LeBron was born and raised in nearby Akron, some 39 miles away from Cleveland. It would be a beautiful story to tell – hometown hero turned prodigal son comes back to bring Cleveland its first-ever NBA title before dribbling away to watch the sun set into a burst of orange.
Real life, however, isn't that rosy.
Truth of the matter is, Cleveland makes little basketball sense for LeBron. Why return to a team that is still in the throes of rebuilding, with not enough talent to seriously contend in a conference with powerhouses like the Chicago Bulls, New York Knicks, Indiana Pacers and the budding Brooklyn Nets?
Even if he opts for free agency and inexplicably bolts out of chic Miami, why would LeBron pick Cleveland ahead of New York and Los Angeles, the top two media markets that can offer The King millions of dollars more in endorsement deals?
And then there's Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, whose one-time friendship with LeBron is now as fractured as America's relationship with North Korea.
The author at the 2007 NBA Finals between the Spurs and the Cavaliers in Cleveland, where a giant mural of LeBron James once towered in a building over 20 stories high.
Sorry Cleveland, but to borrow the words of the sometimes annoying Taylor Swift, you and LeBron are never ever getting back together.