LeBron James Flunks Cleveland 101

Monday, 12 Jul 2010 09:29 AM

By Jon Friedman

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LeBron James made numerous miscalculations in his bombastic ESPN special, "The Decision," on July 8. Come to think of it, bombast was the least of James' sins.

His biggest mistake was failing to understand the psyche of sports fans in general and in Cleveland in particular.

Sports followers are a funny breed. Here in New York where I live, lots of people often take a measure of their identities from the trademarks of their teams. Yankee fans are famously arrogant. Jet fans are forever hopeful. Met fans are fatalistic. Ranger fans are skeptical. Knick fans are cynical, cynical, cynical.

James seemed to think he could make his big announcement — while breaking the hearts of millions of Ohioans in the process — and escape unscathed from any consequences.

Either the 25-year-old superstar and multimillionaire was in denial or clueless. He must've gotten some very bad advice because, as young as relatively unworldly as he was, he missed the picture.

James has lived his whole life in Akron and Cleveland. Didn’t it dawn on him or someone in his camp that he owed his people some special treatment? He needed some additional perspective.

It would have made more sense if James had, for instance, spent more time during his special addressing directly the people of Ohio. When you get right down to it, few Buckeye people could realistically begrudge their hometown hero his opportunity to do what any of them would do in the same situation: escape the Rust Belt for the Sun Belt.

But it was the style that he delivered the bitter pill. That’s how James blew it — because he exhibited such insensitivity to their emotions. They felt betrayed.

With James in Cleveland, they had felt big-time. Now, as if the laughing gas had suddenly worn off, they felt small-time once again — and pained by the revelation. It hurt a lot.

If I had been advising James, I'd have urged him to divide his special into two parts:
  • Part 1: Talking about his move to South Beach.
  • Part 2: Speaking about his fond memories of living in Ohio.
He blew it.

It's too bad, really. Cleveland deserved better. So, too, did James. He didn't deserve to have his suddenly ex-fans burning his No. 23 uniform in effigy. He worked hard to become a world-class basketball player. Nobody wanted to win more than James. It just didn't work out.

But he sure didn't do himself any favors by forgetting the lesson of Cleveland 101.

Jon Friedman writes the Media Web column for MarketWatch.com. Click here to read his latest column.

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