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Keith Strudler: King James Goes Home

Life doesn’t always go according to plan. If it did, I’d be writing this from my ski chalet in Switzerland while my 7 year old cures Cancer. Things haven’t gone exactly according to plan for the sports fans of Cleveland, either. That’s pretty much true for all of sporting history, but particularly true at this very moment, where their beloved Cavaliers are now 1-2 to start this NBA season. That wouldn’t be entirely unusual, if it weren’t for the fact that this season marked the return of the Chosen One LeBron James, who returned from Miami to finally bring a title to beleaguered city. And he brought all-star forward Kevin Love with him, who, along with point guard Kyrie Erving, would form the new holy trinity of power in the Eastern Conference, something the Heat managed for the past several seasons.

Only problem is, so far, that’s not the case. The Cavs have looked downright sloppy in their two losses, including an ugly home opener against the lackluster New York Knicks, who Cleveland made look like the ’92 Olympic Dream Team. LeBron’s play has been especially disappointing, particularly in comparison to his chart topping Nike campaign that made his return seem ever so slightly more important than the 1980 hostage escape from Iran. He even indicated as much during his televised pre-game speech against the Knicks, where he asserted this game was, and these are his words, “one of the biggest sporting spectacles in the history of sports.” Remember that’s game one against one of the worst teams in the league. While it probably wasn’t that spectacle he prognosticated, it has been labeled one of the worst pre-game speeches in history. So he does have that going for him.

LeBron has already backtracked slightly from his initial bravado, saying that he’s simply here to help and that it’s going to be a long process. That’s not exactly the message Cleveland fans wanted to hear. And it certainly sounds a bit less like the voice of an apostle. While God may have created the world in seven days, it seems now that LeBron might appreciate a couple of seasons to turn this ship around. And to be fair, it might be a bigger job.

I’d assume the honeymoon will continue for some time, perhaps at least until the playoff run starts in earnest. For now, LeBron can remain the favorite son instead of the prodigal one – a line I stole from an old Oak Ridge Boys song, by the way. But that love affair may not continue in earnest if, dare I even say it, the Cavs find themselves on the outside of the playoffs looking in. The city has come a long way since putting LeBron’s face on urinal cakes when he first split town. But, I’m guessing there might be just a few of those floating around somewhere.

And therein comes the true tale of loyalty and fandom in professional sports. LeBron has been hailed heroic for his return home, leaving behind the luxuries and talents of South Beach. And the assumption has always been that with his return comes his spoils, namely wins and titles. But what if something funny happens on the way to the forum. What if LeBron comes home, and all he brings is the same futility that’s been a part of the city’s fabric since forever. What if LeBron comes home, and he doesn’t bring any presents, and becomes just another in a long list of Cleveland athletes that includes Bernie Kosar and Mark Price and all the other folks that made Clevelanders always long for next year. Perhaps we’ll get a true understanding of what love means.

Anyone who has kids knows the idea that you love someone no matter what. It’s the genesis of about 500 children’s books. But it’s largely true. No matter what my two kids do, and they do a lot I don’t like, I love them just the same. But they’re my kids, and I don’t care if they win an NBA title. I’m not so sure it’s the same for LeBron and Cleveland. He may be they’re favorite son, but there’s a whole lot of water mixed into that blood. Especially since he did win two titles for his adopted family in Miami. We may soon know just how strong that family tie between Cleveland and LeBron really is.

Of course, that’s not the plan. The plan is that LeBron wins the title for Cleveland and goes down in history as the city’s messiah. But as we know, life doesn’t always go according to plan.

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler


The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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