Monday, July 12, 2010

Cleveland Is Okay. Seriously.

Friday morning, I was in Cleveland, where all the news was about LeBron James. That afternoon, I got on a plane and flew to Not Cleveland in order to attend a wedding. Now I'm back.

The wedding was delightful, except for one thing. Several people I spoke with were firmly convinced that the city of Cleveland was basically on fire. They were grateful that I had gotten out of town "before they burn it down." I blame ESPN for this.

My friends in Not Cleveland had clearly seen coverage of a few sports-bar yahoos setting their $400 LeBron replica jerseys on fire, always within three yards of an obliging TV camera, and come away with the impression that the city had erupted into wide-scale mayhem. Let me assure all my friends in Greater Not Cleveland, wherever that may be: nothing like that happened. Seriously. Everything is fine. And don't be a schmuck, okay?

Cleveland is peaceful and green this afternoon, and a bit cooler than it was when I left it. One big billboard of King James got some stuff thrown at it. That's pretty much the story. Cleveland, seriously, was safer on Thursday night than Kenmore Square is after a Red Sox win.

Where'd my friends get this idea? One slice of the blame, I'm afraid, might go to the idea that cities with large black populations are prone to civic violence. Of course, most of the yahoos burning their authentic replica game jerseys outside bars Thursday night were whiter than the foam on a Coors Light, but facts don't matter here. Some people do something stupid in a city that's perceived as black, and suddenly the rumor goes around that there's a huuuge riot in the hood. Since most people who relay these rumors are terrified of black neighborhoods anyway, and are persuaded that they will be stabbed to death the second they set foot in one, they never ever find out that the dangerous riots never happened. But seriously, my beautiful integrated soul-food-friendly neighborhood looks perfectly lovely today. Maybe the outer suburbs are undergoing some terrible convulsion, but I'm not going out there to check.

More of the blame goes to the sports media, for blowing this story so grievously out of proportion. ESPN, j'accuse. anybody who'd been watching a sports channel was clearly under the impression that LeBron personally founded Cleveland in 1787, that our entire economy was built around his three-point percentage, and that he was the sole donor of the rare blood type that keeps every area child alive. Of course, only the blood-donor part is true. And how could there not be rioting, if we were losing such a civic mainstay? If LeBron left and Cleveland didn't riot, that would mean that ... that ... that the whole LeBron story hadn't been as a big a deal as everyone on TV said it was!

I know it's hard for sportswriters and sportscasters to accept that LeBron doesn't really matter in the big scheme of things, because then they would be forced to accept that they themselves are a bunch of silly, pompous, and inconsequential people making a gigantic hullabaloo about games designed for children. Naturally, no one wants to see himself or herself this way. But nothing proves that you are a silly, pompous, and inconsequential person like making a gigantic hullabaloo about games designed for children. I love sports, too, and sports writing. Sports are part of a city's history and its mythology about itself. But have a sense of proportion, dudes. LeBron James is not an actual king. Seriously. When you treat a routine contract decision like it's the Battle of Waterloo, you're proving that you're just a goofball.

And alas, part of the blame has to go to my adopted hometown of Cleveland itself, for participating in the hype and for turning this thing into a big, soppy aria. Shame on every Clevelander who actually went around acting like LeBron personally founded our city, sustained our economy, and kept our children alive. And more shame still on the Clevelanders who still go around acting that way. Acting like Cleveland has nothing going for it but a single celebrity is a slander on the city, and a logical contradiction while we're at it. (If the only good thing about Cleveland were really LeBron James, why would he stay?) But acting like LeBron leaving is the worst thing that ever happened to this city is a great way to convince the rest of the world that nothing good has ever happened here, or ever will. And when people from other places believe that, it seriously get harder to make Cleveland a better place.

(The perfect takedown of this self-destructive behavior can be found here, courtesy of E. from the CLE.)

Now, in the interests of fair disclosure, I am an adopted Clevelander, and the Cavs aren't my primary sporting loyalty. I still root for the teams I grew up rooting for, and give Cleveland teams the leftover love. If that rules me out of this conversation, so be it. I don't actually believe that LeBron owed it to anybody to stay, or that moving to a new city is "disloyalty." If I didn't believe that people were entitled to change cities for career reasons, I wouldn't be in Cleveland to begin with. But I was disgusted by LeBron's arrogant and narcissistic hour-long TV special dedicated to his own self-importance, and once he announced his little Personal Announcement Special I was happy to see the back of him. But that said, let me clue you in on a little adopted-Clevelander secret:

None of the Clevelanders moaning and wailing about LeBron leaving are really disappointed.

None of the people who are complaining about his disloyalty are surprised. They have always been utterly convinced that he would leave them, and now that it has finally happened they are secretly pleased that they were right.

I have heard people in Cleveland talking about how LeBron was going to leave since the first week I got here, back before his previous contract was signed. Some people here have been talking about LeBron leaving since before the Bush/Kerry election. And now they're finally right.

I hope they're happy. Seriously.

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