I did it in front of my 6 year old son. There, I’ve come clean. Points for honesty? I’m not proud but I would be lying if I said it didn’t happen. And the thing is, I’m not some crazy sports psycho. I never even saw James play in person.. I understand how professional sports work and that Lebron had every right to take his talents.. But still…not like this. Anyhoo..
My wife was working late, so Owen was up past his bedtime standing next to me wearing his favorite pajamas(Lebron James- Cavs home blue, duh) for some good karma to help the “Chosen 1” choose us. After thirty minutes that felt like 80, Lebron mumbled the fateful words, “I’m taking my talents to South Beach”. I instantly turned off the TV and dropped the remote and stood there in stunned silence.
Owen said, “Dad, what does that mean? What does that mean? Does that mean Lebron is leaving?” I said, “It sure does”
Without another word, Owen calmly started stripping off his Lebron PJ’s and put them in the silver trash can in the kitchen. Following his lead, I threw a pillow across the room which happened to knock a framed picture off the piano shattering glass on the hard wood floor. I cut my hand trying to clean up the glass. Who knew fluffy pillows could draw blood? So..
After the mess was cleaned, I walked into Owen’s bedroom and he was sitting on his bed in underwear holding a mini basketball. I sat down next to him, put my face in my hands and started crying. And not just a little. Big tears.
I knew all along that Lebron leaving Cleveland was the likely outcome, but still, when ESPN announced he would be making his decision on a live show called…wait for it..… “The Decision”, I held out hope. Despite the predictions of most pundits to the contrary I thought, “You mean to tell me, Lebron James is going to make every kid in the state of Ohio, who absolutely worship him, stay up late wearing #23shirts and then rip out their hearts? No way would Lebron ever do that to the kids. He would have given Ohio a heads up in advance if that were the plan. Surely he’s not going to break the news like this. He’s got kids standing behind him on stage for christsakes. He’s got be staying right? He wouldn’t do it like this. It makes no sense. RIGHT?”
Unless you live in Ohio it is hard to understand how loved Lebron was by the kids in this state. Owen was lucky; he was only 6 years old. Though he loved LBJ, he has time to recover from the loss and find a new heron. (J Sullinger?) However, for a 13 year old kid, Lebron is all he had ever known about basketball. To this kid, Bron PJ’s, shirts and gear were part of his identity. His pride. He was our guy. Mr. Cleveland. He talked of breaking the curse and how he was a Buckeye. When other teams had Mathew McConaughey and Will Ferrell on the sidelines, Ohio State had Lebron. His movie, “More than a Game” was centered on loyalty to his friends and stoked the flames in North Beach like the factories in the Rust Belt used to.
Ohio felt like we were LeBron’s friends. Hell, Owen and I felt like we were Lebron’s friends. Friends wouldn’t treat each other this way. Friends would cushion the blow. Give each other a little heads up. Not just lump us all in with New York, Chicago and Miami. Those were your enemies. Our enemies. What had they ever done for you except try to beat you? And us.
Instead, Owen and I stood there hanging on every word for 30 minutes and then suddenly Bron just sorta mumbled. ..
“I’m taking my talents…..”
It could have been done so much better. Why couldn’t he have said something like, “I’d like to first thank all my great fans in Ohio who have supported me since middle school and defended me unconditionally even when I have struggled. I tried my best, but I feel like it is time for me to spread my wings and experience something new. Ohio will always be my home but it’s time to move on”. How hard would that have been? I mean, I just made that up on the spot. Doesn’t he have a team highly paid of media consultants working this out?
Please spare me the argument that people would have been just as upset no matter how he said it. Look, we’ve all been through a breakup at some point. Don’t dare tell me there aren’t different choices on the best/worst ways to say goodbye and it “doesn’t matter how you end it”. That is total nonsense. Lebron basically brought his faithful wife of 11years to a huge dinner party and announced he was leaving her for the hot chick from Miami sitting across the table. And then gave her a big, wet sloppy kiss on national TV. (Rally the next day in Miami) Classy.
But still, none of this explains why a grown man would cry harder over a stupid sports moment then he did at his own Mother's funeral. I can only guess.
I was born an optimist. I work hard to instill that trait in Owen. What is the upside in being a cynic anyway? What’s the fun in saying everything sucks and you can’t trust anybody and it’s all about the money. It’s an easy, lazy way to live. And even more criminal, it’s boring. It’s much more interesting to hope against hope. I wanted to believe that this time would be different. Lebron James would announce to the world that he wasn’t leaving his team or his fans. He was going suck it up, stick it out and get a title on his own terms.. The way Jordon did. Bird did. Or Magic or Kobe or Isaiah. I have no doubt The King would have gotten his crown and fulfilled his self proclaimed destiny and what a moment it would have, could have been.
And that one championship would have meant more to the North coast of Ohio than 50 titles would mean for South Beach. After all, Miami has a yacht club full of trophies: Dolphins, Heat, Marlins (who beat Cleveland) Hurricanes and a bunch of rich famous people to boot. James couldn’t win a trophy in Cleveland so I guess the next best thing was to make Miami his trophy wife.
“But you actually cried over an athlete changing teams? I still don’t get it. Had you been drinking? Are you mentally unbalanced?”
A fair question. Answer: sorta and maybe. I suppose I cried because the cynics had scored yet another victory and this one hit close to home. In the blink of an eye, Owen’s first hero upped and changed sides for reasons hard to explain to a little guy.
I said, “I just can’t root for LeBron anymore Owen.”, "But dad he was you favorite”, “Owen, I know he was, but he chose new fans instead of us, so his new fans can root for him, but he chose to leave his old fans. You can still root for him if you want but i just can't anymore. Understand?”
Yesterday, as we were playing basketball on the driveway long after “The Decision”, I said “Owen, who do you want to be today?” “Dad, I’m going to be Dirk and you can be Lebron,…. and I am going to kick your butt!”
“Owen! promise me you don't use language like that around your Mom, teachers or adults that don’t watch sports with me!” I put my arm around him and pulled him close and said, “ but a little secret between you and me big guy, I hope Dirk kicks Lebron’s butt too”
Colin Gawel is a Father/Husband/Songwriter/Drooling fanatic who moonlights as a Coffee shop owner and bangs out silly essays once in a while for his own amusement. much much more at www.colingawel.com