LeBron James: The Hometown Zero

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We thought he was one of us. We thought he wanted what we wanted. His actions suggest we all thought wrong.

It doesn’t take a visionary to see what Cleveland sports fans yearn for. Forty-six years of failure from the city’s three major teams has caused a hunger for a title that no other town can rival.

When LeBron James stepped onto the NBA scene, he acknowledged Cleveland’s historic anguish and declared his intention to turn around the city’s fortunes, providing hope for a fan base always expecting despair.

That optimism was shattered during “The Decision,” the bulkiest notch on Cleveland’s belt of misery that includes “The Drive,” “The Fumble,” “The Shot,” “The Jose Mesa Debacle” and “The Holding Kenny Lofton At Third Base Ordeal.”

LeBron walked away from Cleveland without fulfilling what he claimed he had set out to do. How could a player aspiring to go down with Jordan and Magic and Russell and Bird take the easy road out?

Did LeBron earn the right to explore his free agency options? Of course.

If LeBron truly wanted to join his cronies in Miami, then no one can argue with his decision.

But had he truly wanted to relocate to South Beach, there should have been no need to drag out the process into a self-centered spectacle.

LeBron claimed he didn’t make up his mind until the morning of his hour-long ESPN egotrip. Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade indicated that the process started months ago. So which is it?

If LeBron truly was undecided in the days leading up to his deadline, then so be it. Clevelanders wouldn’t have the right to condemn him for his difficult decision.

But based on LeBron’s actions since the Cavs were bounced by Boston in the second round of the playoffs, who knows if Cleveland was even on his short list?

He refused to offer an opinion on the team’s coaching search. He ignored calls and texts from owner Dan Gilbert, potential coach Tom Izzo and others. And his lack of involvement or interest prevented the team from recruiting other free agents and exploring trade options.

Was he entitled to a fresh start? Absolutely.

But there was no need to bring the Cavs along for the ride, only to leave the franchise in shambles. No person with respect for the organization would have dragged the team through the mud like LeBron did.

In fact, one could argue that LeBron never really gave the Cavs a chance.

The six-year deal he’ll receive from the Heat? He never offered the Cavs that long of a commitment.

He was wise to sign a three-year extension in 2006 to keep his options open for this summer in case the Cavs bottomed out. But once he recognized that Gilbert was willing to spend whatever necessary to put championship pieces around him, he should’ve promised the team stability.

The saddest part of the entire saga is that LeBron never realized the impact of his decision on the town he was abandoning. He knew he earned the right to conduct a recruiting process, but he never considered the damage he was doing to his hometown along the way.

Now, he guaranteed Miami fans “eight championships.”

“Not one, not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven,” he went on at his Miami welcoming. “And when I say that I really believe it. I’m not just up here blowing smoke at none of these fans, because that’s not what I’m about. I’m about business.”

LeBron assured Clevelanders the same thing in 2006 when he said he wouldn’t rest until he brought the starved city a championship. How did that guarantee work out?

Perhaps in the summer of 2016, LeBron will seek out his next best opportunity to latch onto a title contender.

But even if LeBron’s promise to Miami is left unsatisfied, Heat fans still won’t understand what LeBron did to Cleveland.

He ditched his hometown, the city he pledged to salvage from the depths of disappointment.

For that, Clevelanders will never forgive.

Now he’ll never be able to fulfill that objective, having left the franchise in his dust. In Cleveland’s eyes, he went from a hometown hero to a zero in a matter of minutes.

Whether or not he made the right choice will be based on the legacy he leaves behind in Miami. But that won’t alter the way he fired his free agent missiles and sunk the Cavaliers.