x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

James could stay with Cavs for good

While I am sure that it bedevils the good people of major media centres such as New York and Los Angeles, the Cleveland area in all of its rustbelt glory is in fact a great place to live.

"Don't leave us, man," a Cleveland Cavaliers fan said to LeBron James last week. "I ain't leaving," responded the team's star man. It was almost too good to be true. When I heard this news, I was ecstatic. And not only because I have been speculating that James would in fact stay in Cleveland. While I am sure that it bedevils the good people of major media centres such as New York and Los Angeles, the Cleveland area in all of its rustbelt glory is in fact a great place to live. Minus the snowy winters. I am not entirely surprised that the pride of Akron has hinted he will be staying.

Having spent my early childhood in the city, I have a local bias. Soon after I learned to talk, I was cheering for the Browns, the Indians and the Cavaliers. The subsequent years of abuse as a Cleveland sports fan have pre-conditioned me to accept losing. For as long as I can remember, I expected the worst from the local teams. Most recently, James single-handedly turned the Cavs into a legitimate contender. For someone who supported the Cavs in the lean years between 1994 and 2003, I do not know what to make of the success.

The team was so unpopular in the late 1990s that I could get tickets from touts for the spare change in my pocket. One year I went to the team's pre-season inter-squad game and counted around 50 people in the 20,000 seat stadium. It finally dawned on me last year that I should enjoy the "LeBron James years" in Cleveland because the era could be coming to a close. The experience has been entirely enjoyable. Of course, the Cleveland sports world will someday go back to normal as the home of perennial losers. For the foreseeable future, it appears as though James will be sticking around and what sweet news that is.

I want to believe that he decided to stay because he feels the same strong attachment to the city that I do. Before you scoff, consider the following anecdote. Some years ago, I spent some time with former NBA player Ron Harper. I once asked him if he ever regretted being traded away from Cleveland. He was famously traded to the Los Angeles Clippers for Danny Ferry, who now works as general manager of the Cavs. Ferry never really developed into a top talent in the league. Harper went on to win five NBA championship titles in his career, including three with Michael Jordan.

For all of his NBA success, Harper's response to my question was unforgettable. I remember the pained look on his face as he wholeheartedly expressed his regret that he did not bring a title to Cleveland. While not a native son, Harper can claim regional ties as he was born in nearby Dayton, Ohio and went to college in Oxford, Ohio. It seemed as though he would have considered trading in his five titles to have brought a championship to Cleveland. He really wanted to win one for Cleveland.

I am certain James knows of Harper's regrets because I am told they have mutual friends and acquaintances. I know Harper has met James's mother, Gloria, because I saw them sitting next to each other at one of James's high school games in 2003. While it would be a little too convenient to suggest that Harper's regrets have inspired James to stay with the Cavs, I like the idea and I am sticking with it. The cynic will suggest that with the NBA's salary cap set to plummet, James's best financial option is to stay.

The cynic might also add the NBA's collective bargaining agreement gives the Cavs, as the team that holds the player's rights, the chance to offer more money than any other NBA team. Whatever it takes. Beggars cannot be choosers. gdole@thenational.ae