LeBron James is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier. This news, along with his choice to join the Los Angeles Lakers, came quietly Sunday night. There were no heartfelt letters, no big reveals, no TV specials. Just a short announcement from his management group and a city left behind to process it.
In the time since this announcement was made, since realizing the Cavs’ recent run of contention is now over, my feeling remains unchanged. It’s not one of anger, of bitterness or frustration. No, in the wake of James’ departure, I feel only one thing.
Am I disappointed, let down by the fact this ride which began just four years ago came to a sudden stop? Of course. I always knew this chapter of Cleveland sports would eventually close, I was just hoping there were a few more years left.
However, it’s officially reached its conclusion. In the end, I only have one thing I need to say to James.
Thank you for coming back in 2014, even though you never had to.
Thank you for deciding it was your life’s mission to bring an end to an entire city’s sports drought.
Thank you for proving that undying loyalty towards Cleveland sports despite endless years of futility can pay off.
It’d be easy to be angry today. To hold grudges, to see James’ departure to Los Angeles as another example of Cleveland fans getting kicked to the curb. We felt nothing but bitterness when he left in 2010, why shouldn’t we feel the same way again now?
But to be bitter is to ignore what life would be like for us if James never returned. It would be pretending everything we’ve experienced in this brief, yet enthralling four years never happened. It would be forgetting a moment Cleveland fans never thought they’d live to see.
I remember every second of June 19, 2016. The entire day leading up to Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors, the anxiety-ridden final minute of the contest, the block, the shot. I remember crying, screaming at the top of my lungs until my voice turned hoarse, hugging people I’d never met and haven’t seen since. I remember being physically incapable of removing the smile from my face for months afterwards.
I also remember every day I spent before that. Every day being told Cleveland teams always lose. Every day being reminded of the previous failures of local sports. Every day being the butt of jokes, of people laughing at the idea of a Cleveland team ever coming out on top.
This life of being the punching bag of the sports world would still be going if it weren’t for James.
I have plenty of thoughts about how this went down from the Cavs’ perspective, how it appeared the team may have not only expected this departure, but had also been planning on it for a while. I’m sure those thoughts will be shared as the dust begins to settle.
Not today, though. Today is about reflecting on everything we’ve experienced in the past four years. About remembering the greatest sports moment I’ve ever been a part of, and being thankful for the man who gave me that.
If there’s any sadness I’m feeling in all this, it’s mainly because I wasn’t quite ready for the ride to end. The experience of witnessing a championship is something I’ll never forget, but I also know James’ departure may make the distance we have to travel to get to the next one even greater.
At the same time, the wait for Cleveland’s first championship since 2016 sounds much easier to deal with than waiting for the first title since 1964.
For a while, it seemed that drought would never end. But it did, in one glorious night we’ll always remember. All thanks to the greatest player on the planet making the choice to come home and end an entire city’s sports suffering. He gave Cleveland a sense of pride you can never, ever take away.
Cleveland fans reassure themselves during hard times by saying “there’s always next year.” LeBron James will forever be known to me as the man who gave us “this year.”
For that, I will always be grateful.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook