Friday, June 18, 2010

On Cab Drivers, Cleveland, and LeBron's Big Day

July 1st is right around the corner.  And every fan in New York knows what that means: It’s the day LeBron James’ contract with the Cavs officially terminates, and The King takes his first steps toward joining our beloved Knicks.  At least, that’s what we think.  For a more objective, nuanced opinion, I wanted to hear what the other side thinks.  And with a work trip to Cleveland on this week's docket, I had a perfect chance to do some primary research.

It's not just another day in Cleveland.
One thing I quickly found out for sure: Cleveland’s trying. A flash mob of 200 people gathered at Tower City yesterday (pictured) for a massive song-and-dance sales pitch.  In nearby Akron (James’ hometown), a huge rally is planned tomorrow for “LeBron Appreciation Day”.  And on the day he becomes a free agent, an Indians’ minor league team – the Lake County Captains – is changing its name to the LeLake LeCounty LeCaptains, and every player’s name will add a “Le” at the beginning.  Cleveland wants us to know they’re fighting, and that they fully expect to win.

But the word on the street?  Not quite as hopeful.  Granted, I only spoke to a small sample -- and a large proportion of it was cab drivers -- but still, the results were surprisingly unanimous:

“He’s going.  To New York.  More money.”

“I didn’t think he could say no to the extra $30 mill (he'd get for staying in Cleveland), until Izzo turned down the coaching job.  He must've known LeBron's leaving.”

“I don’t know.  It's tough.  I think he’s leaving.  Probably Chicago.  Maybe New York.”

"You know what?  He's gonna do what he's gonna do.  Bye."

"I'd go if I were him.  He'll make twice as much in New York in endorsements."

"New York?  They buy him?  I heard that.  Guess how old I am?"

This all, of course, was exactly what I was hoping to hear.  But I have to admit, at the time, I felt a little guilty.  Like we were stealing from these people.  People who hadn't experienced a championship (in any sport) in the last 50 years.  I liked Cleveland.  I think it's underrated.  It's quiet.  It's clean.  The people are nice.  One night we went to an Indians game (who by an incredible stroke of luck, were playing the Mets).  Another night we went to Lola, a delicious new restaurant on East 4th Street, which was like a smaller, cleaner, G-rated Bourbon Street.  We walked along the Cuyahoga.  We passed the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Cleveland's a proud city.  Tough, yet polite, seemingly just waiting for its big break.

On my way to the airport, I talked up the cab driver again.  I asked him if he'd watched last night's spectacular Celtics-Lakers Game 7.  I figured it'd be a good lead-in.

"Nah," he said.  "I watched the History Channel."
"Really?" I asked.  "The History Channel?"
"You already know what's gonna happen," he said, very matter-of-fact.  "You know who wins, and you know who loses.

"That way you can't get your heart broken."