Like any good dictator, LeBron James gets what he wants when he wants it. If LeBron wants Shaq, he gets him. If LeBron wants Amare Stoudmire, he gets him. If LeBron wants Mike Brown fired, he’s gone.
If LeBron wants Quicken Loans Arena changed to New York Yankees Arena, it’ll be changed without reservation. And if the Cavaliers don’t appease any of his demands, he’ll board a private jet headed straight to New York City, leaving Cleveland behind in the dust.
Bottom line is this: No other athlete in the history of sports has held a franchise and city hostage the way LeBron James has. You have to think of it this way: LeBron James doesn’t need the city of Cleveland and the Cavaliers as much as the city and the team need him — and he knows it.
As “The Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video” puts it, Cleveland’s economy is based on LeBron James, which in reality is 100 percent true. But just go back to the five seasons prior to LeBron’s arrival. Bars, restaurants and parking garages in downtown Cleveland were empty when the Cavaliers played at home. The team was lucky to get 5,000 fans into the Gund Arena. And one of the only reasons fans went to see the Cavaliers was to win a free chalupa from Taco Bell if the team scored 100, which almost never happened.
But after being drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft, LeBron James has single-handedly led the franchise to once unthinkable success, appearing in three Eastern Conference finals and one NBA Final. And those once-empty bars, restaurants and parking garages are thriving when the Cavaliers are in town, all thanks to LeBron James.
Point blank, LeBron James holds the fate of not only the Cavaliers franchise but the city of Cleveland in the palm of his hand, which makes him a dangerous man. If he re-signs with the team at the end of this season, let the good times roll. But if he signs elsewhere, especially New York, all hell will break loose and the city may never recover.
Now don’t get me wrong, LeBron James is the best basketball player I’ve ever seen. He’s made players and coaches around him better and has given hope to so many folks who are dying for a championship in Cleveland. But the way in which he addresses his contract status as no big deal, wears Yankees gear to Indians games and openly shows his love for New York is a slap in the face to the Cleveland fans, business owners, players and coaches who need some sort of assurance that he’s committed to staying in Cleveland for the foreseeable future.
It seems in order to maintain the Cavaliers’ success, business owners’ prosperity and Clevelanders’ spirit, we must continue to appease the King and meet his every demand, or else.
And that’s why no athlete should ever have as much power over a sports franchise and a city’s future as LeBron James does.
Contact assistant sports editor Randy Ziemnik