So I just finished reading Terry Pluto and Brian Windhorst's new book, The Franchise: LeBron James and the Remaking of the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it stirred up quite a bit in me (including frustration with the maddeningly distracting typographical errors throughout the book).
I loved basketball as a kid. Despite my size, I played it in middle school and even made the "A" team. I remember going to the cavernous Coliseum at Richfield to see World B. Free and the Cleveland Cavaliers play Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76ers in the mid-'80s. Then I moved to Central Florida right around the same time the Orlando Magic came into the NBA, and my allegiance switched from a hapless established team to a hapless expansion team.
I followed the boys in blue closely, through Nick Anderson, the drafting of Shaq in '92, the acquisition of Penny Hardaway a year later, the Finals sweep by the Rockets in '95, the lockout the following season, Shaq's departure, the player revolt that cost Coach Brian Hill his job, all of it. I would stay up into the wee-hours and watch games on the west coast swing of a road trip. I would be captivated by Chip Caray's play-by-play coverage alongside Jack "Goose" Given's color commentary. I went to a lot of games at the O-rena, as we once called the Amway Arena. My boss was a season ticket holder, so opportunities presented themselves more often than you might think.
Then along came the lockout of '98. That killed professional basketball for me. I walked away from what I perceived as greed, disrespect for the game, and disregard for the fans. When I moved back to Northeast Ohio in 2000, I attended a few Cavs games at Gund Arena in downtown Cleveland -- it was a new venue to me, hosting a team with new colors. I was working in downtown and my father-in-law has quite a few business connections that have made tickets fairly accessible. While the team was never destined for greatness during those years, it was still a good time as a marginal fan.
But everything changed in 2002. I remember my wife and me sitting in our West Akron home, just down the street from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, watching LeBron James' high school basketball games broadcast on ESPN2. Those games were crazy to watch. He was truly a man among boys. And a year later, the ping-pong balls finally gave the North Coast a break, and The Chosen One became a Cavalier.
A couple years later, I had the opportunity to attend James' 21st birthday party at the Cleveland HOB. I found myself at one point next to him as he walked by with his entourage. His physical presence was absolutely stunning. Now he is building a house around the corner from our current home. It is not a gated community, which is odd for someone of his stature. (I'm used to all those professional athletes living in Isleworth down in Central Florida.) So in an odd turn of coincidences, he went to high school a couple of miles from where I used to live, and is building a home a mile or so from where I now live. He moves in circles I can only dream of, but thankfully he seems to be about as down-to-earth as any twenty-something multi-millionaire from the projects can be. In short, he is impressive on so many levels.
There is no denying King James is the real deal. I hope he stays a Cavalier for his entire career and that it is a long and prosperous one. Although I doubt I'll ever be as big a fan of the NBA as I was in the '90s, the trip to the NBA Finals last season was exhilarating for even the casual fan and hopefully a preview of even greater things to come.