Thursday, August 5, 2010

Stay classy, Cleveland

For Cleveland sports fans, the last week has brought another bout of post-Decision ugliness.
First came the Tribe fan from Sandusky with curious fashion sense (and the cultural awareness of a toaster) who decided it would be a great idea to flaunt LeBron’s #6 Miami jersey during a game at Progressive Field.
Later that same week, an Akron marketing company classed up Route 18 eastbound between I-71 and I-77 with an anti-LeBron billboard. Its curt sentiment tells James he'd be wise to sell that mansion in Bath.
The LeBron-centric news cycle reset earlier this week, when James took out an ad in the Akron Beacon-Journal thanking his home city for its support. James then took his Brother word processor to the electronics store to get it fixed, because all the nice things he said about playing in Cleveland for seven years, as well as a heartfelt apology for the crass spectacle of “The Decision,” somehow got erased from the floppy disc he mailed to the ABJ.
All of this points to the obvious conclusion that the LeBron v. Cleveland affair is not going to just fade gracefully into the back of the blogroll. It may dissipate during football season, but the unseemly drama of James’s departure, combined with the wretchedly attractive sob story of Cleveland’s sports history, likely means a hot week’s worth of coverage leading up to LeBron’s return to The Q on Dec. 2.
That’s five or six days of ESPN-baiting and local papers working fans into an angry lather. You will likely read stories about elaborate fan protests - my favorite idea so far involves a knife company sponsoring the game and giving each patron a plastic handle to attach to his or her back for LeBron’s pre-tipoff introduction.
On game night, I can envision streets surrounding the arena lined with enterprising purveyors of LeBron-hating apparel and other novelty items. You may see at least one guy selling a screen printed t-shirt that has Delonte West’s head superimposed on Darth Vader’s body. The catchphrase writes itself: “LeBron, I am your father.”
Inside will be the first sellout of the 2010-11 campaign. Security will be stepped up with extra metal detectors, wand-wielding cops, and maybe even bomb sniffing dogs for that bunny-boiling lunatic fan who’s serious when he says he wants LeBron to suffer a catastrophic injury – or worse.
The game will be secondary to the spectacle. If you attended the final Browns’ game at Municipal Stadium in 1995, then you remember how nobody was paying attention to the action because they were too busy tearing the seats apart or mournfully sawing through the wooden bleachers (yes, people brought saws to the stadium) in the Dawg Pound for a final souvenir. It was the oddest, most surreal sporting event I ever attended, and I still have my piece of bleacher (signed by Steve Everitt) stashed in a closet at my parents’ house.
I don’t expect that kind of destructive madness at the Q, but the atmosphere is going to be similarly strange. Arena-wide “You quit” and “asshole” chants are possible. Lusty booing every time LeBron touches the ball is a certainty.
Still, Dan Gilbert would be wise to take notes from Browns’ president Mike Holmgren, who in last weekend’s Plain Dealer asked football fans to tone down the rowdy and obnoxious behavior that has driven some people away.
Gilbert already fired his canon of outrage across LeBron’s tattooed bow. The scorned hyperbole of Gilbert's infamous LeBron-bashing letter rallied Cleveland fans around what is going to be the first season of a long rebuild. With that accomplished, it’s time for the Cavs’ owner to come out publically and implore vengence-minded Clevelanders to leave the torches and pitchforks at home for LeBron’s return.
As much as we may want to see fire and brimstone rain down on James, ownership must take the high road here. Take a nice, big ad out in the PD that week. Sponsor radio and TV spots telling fans that they must represent Cleveland in a positive light and LeBron in fact was not the linchpin holding our economy together.
I worry Gilbert may instead organize his own anti-LeBron shenanigans. I don’t want to turn on TNT that night and witness 20,000 fans wearing “Down with the King” t-shirts. Zydrunas Ilgauskus will be back that night, too, so some folks want the Cavs to hold a “Z Appreciation Night.” No dice, I say, because even that seemingly noble gesture would in actuality serve as a not-so-subtle jab aimed at LeBron.
I just don’t want the city to look bad on national TV, okay? The nation will be watching with eager anticipation for funny old Cleveland to do something stupid and reckless because LeBron was obviously the only thing we had going for us. They’ll tune in for the same reason that “Jersey Shore” is a smash hit. People naturally want to see other people at their worst. Let’s not give those snobs the satisfaction of seeing us crack up.
Now, some form of fan-sponsored brow beating is unavoidable and God knows LeBron deserves at least a controlled ration of righteous wrath for his clueless jerkitude. By all means, let’s boo our guts out. However, death threats, pornographic Gloria-Delonte apparel, and chucking beers at LeBron’s head are just three of the immature responses we may want to avoid.
Please, for the love of all that is Cleveland, let’s stay classy for this one. LeBron is not worth it.

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