Sport has had a hold on me from an early age; like four years old. My first memory of when me and my still best mate knocked about together was when we were playing football at the top of my garden. My dad was ill that day (a rare day off for him) so we spent the day playing one v one games of football and in between going in and steeling liquorish all sorts from my old man. My favourite memory of that day was the clash between Plymouth and Hibs which ended in me breaking the neighbours’ fence. I somehow doubt the two will ever clash again. Sport has been the foundation of pretty much most of my friendships over the years; there’s Mike who is a huge United fan like myself, Brian in Philly to whom my first question was “flyers fan?” and tons of others that I could mention but wont bore you with (mainly cos your probably bored already.)
Anyway I’ve wanted to write a blog for sometime know but I’ve always found some reason to put it off. This past week however a sports event that didn’t take place on a field, or a hard court, or a golf course or anywhere else for that matter, grabbed my attention.
Any people reading from the other side of the pond (and at this point i am aware that this will be about six people) will know who LeBron James is. LeBron, as he is known to most of America, had reached the end of his contract in Cleveland where he had played since he was a rookie back in 2003. Seven years and no championship rings later, LeBron chose to leave the city that he had called home and sign for the Miami Heat where he joined up with two other all stars in Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Okay fair enough you might think. Seven years is a long time to be anywhere; why shouldn’t he want to move somewhere where he could win a championship. After all winning titles and medals is what it’s all about right? And what’s not to love about Miami? This is all well and good; however LeBron chose the worst possible way to handle this. A one hour television special was dedicated to the big moment. Something about this is hugely wrong to start with. Can you imagine that happening over here? A hour TV special to announce where Joe Cole is going to be playing his football next season. Yet we are probably not too far behind. When Ronaldo got his wish last summer and moved to Madrid, 90,000 people turned up at the Bernabeu to greet him and watch him walk up and down a catwalk in his new sparkly white shirt. (For the record I don’t begrudge him his move at all. He’s always wanted to play there and we got 6 fantastic years out of so called one trick pony.)
“I’m taking my talents to South Beach and I’m gonna sign for the Miami Heat”
In one sentence LeBron ripped the heart out of one city in front of a national audience. Cleveland has not had a championship since 1964 when the Browns (NFL team) won the NFL championship, before the Superbowl came into existence.. When a man named Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1995 and changed their name to the Ravens, he became public enemy number one in Cleveland and I would put good money on him never setting foot back in North East Ohio ever since. This link here ought to tell you how popular the guy is. http://www.ridertown.com/news/MDW/MDW.html
In 2004 sports network ESPN named Cleveland the most tortured sports town in America. LeBron was seen as the man who could change all that and finally bring a championship to Cleveland after years of hurt. The Cavs reached the NBA finals in 2007 but were swept aside by San Antonio in a 4 games to 0 route. In 2008, 2009 and 2010 the Cavs failed to make it back to the finals despite a number of additions to the team. The latest defeat to Boston in round two of the playoffs was the final nail in the coffin for LeBron who was now free to talk to sign for anyone he pleased.
Speculation was rife about where LeBron would sign and even President Obama had an opinion on the matter saying that he would love to have LeBron come and play for his hometown Chicago Bulls. When it came down to the crunch, 3 teams were left in the mix; the Cavs, the Heat and the New York Knicks. 3 days beforehand, it was announced that LeBron would make his announcement on national television. Surely LeBron wouldn’t break Cleveland fans hearts in front of a watching nation.
He wouldn’t, he couldn’t........ He did. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was flabbergasted. In an open letter to Cavs fans he promised them that they would win a championship before LeBron and the Heat would. http://www.nba.com/cavaliers/news/gilbert_letter_100708.html Somehow I can’t see that happening.
So why do I care about what happened so much? Honestly i have no idea why. I have been to Ohio once and I can’t remember being overly in love with the place. Yet for some reason i find myself fascinated by this whole story and really annoyed about the whole thing. I want to go buy a copy of NBA 2011 for the PS3 just so I can beat the Heat. Maybe it’s because of my game with the Browns on Madden 10 and my own frustration at not been able to bring the city of Cleveland even a virtual championship.
More likely is that to a lesser extent United fans went through a similar thing last season with Carlos Tevez. Now before anyone says anything I am not for one moment comparing the enormity of the two situations at all. As a United fan I’ve been extremely lucky over the years with the success that our club has achieved and if anything we have played the role of the Miami Heat in a lot of these situations. You only have to look back at the players United have acquired from Leeds over the past two decades, Cantona, Ferdinand, and Smith, to know that this is the case. These players were loved by Leeds fans, certainly in the case of Cantona and Smith, and they signed for their biggest rivals. The difference with Tevez was that whilst it could be argued that the Leeds players moved on because they wanted to win trophies like LeBron says he is, Tevez was clearly motivated by money. He could have stayed at United and added to his medal collection, but he instead chose to move to a rival club; something he said he would never do and thus his legacy at United was tarnished. When he returned to Old Trafford in September of last year he had said that he wasn’t sure what kind of reception he would receive. It didn’t take him too long to find out. United fans subjected him to the biggest chorus of boos the ground had heard in a long time. And all because he wore a sky blue jersey.
Fans take time to forgive those who they believe have wronged them. Michael Owen was booed at Anfield when he returned in a Newcastle Jersey, Paul Ince cant step inside Old Trafford without getting abuse. Across the pond Roger Clemens couldn’t go back to Fenway Park once he has dissed the Boston fans when signing for Toronto. Signing for the Yankees only made things worse.
We don’t forget because we are passionate and we spend our good money following these teams around the country, or staying up until god knows what hour to watch them play. I am writing this 30 mins before the World Cup final where two nations who ever never been crowned champions will battle it out. Their fans will go throw all sorts of emotions; joy, despair, elation and inconsolable misery.
Jerry Seinfeld once said that as sports fans you are essentially cheering for Laundry. Well yeah i guess we are. But i believe the case of Tevez and LeBron it goes deeper than that. As United fans we always believed that Tevez was one of our own because he ran is arse off and never gave up. The fans loved him for it, and as a result we loved him. LeBron brought Cleveland hope and in one sentence he dashed those hopes. It going to take a while before those hopes are can be raised again.