As Ohio State fans, we are unaccustomed to failure. We expect the best, and perhaps because we keep expectations so high, we frequently get the best. In one corner of Ohio though, expectations are all they've had for quite a while. The city of Cleveland has been dealt an incredible blow by the departure of LeBron James for the Miami Heat. I'm not sure we'll grasp the fullness of the impact this has on the city, the state at large, and perhaps even your favorite state university, for quite some time. First: nothing, short of Art Modell appearing on primetime TV in a "CLEVELAND SUCKS" t-shirt while farting on a picture of glory-days Jim Brown could have been more blatantly offensive to the good people of Cleveland, than Thursday night's televised "Decision" catastrophe. Upon hearing that LeBron's choice would be made on primetime television, I simply assumed that there was no way LeBron would devote an hour to himself without rewarding the fans of Cleveland - whose loyalty knows no bounds, as I will explain later - with a welcome, if a tad bombastic, selection of their team. Instead, we got an hour long ode to LeBron's greatness, with Stuart Scott and a bunch of other who-dat ESPN-types drinking his bath water. If LeBron was simply going to choose another team, this was far from the least painful way to do it. Hosting an hour-long special for such a move is just cruel. Cleveland, more than any other big sports town, did not deserve to have this happen. Ohio, as a state that loves its sports teams with a passion often unfairly derided by outsiders, did not deserve treatment like this from a favored son. The connection between LeBron and Ohio State is not a tenuous one: after all, who can forget the Buckeyes wearing LBJ-themed uniforms not so long ago? Or The Man Himself recording a message for The King's "appreciation day" in Akron? In a 2006 interview with the Daily Show's Jon Stewart on the Ohio State campus, James said that if he had to attend college prior to the NBA, he would have gone to Ohio State. Today, it seems far more likely that James would have suited for North Carolina, or Kansas, or UCLA, and left Ohio State in the lurch. I am usually not one to begrudge an athlete making a decision he feels is best for him. For years, I have felt an odd compunction to defend LeBron from his most ardent detractors. When he wore a Yankees hat to an Indian game, I insisted that it was his choice to root for whomever ever he wants to, and I'd still make the same argument today. When he revealed no connection to Cleveland sports teams whatsoever, I was wary, but again defended his right to not be "a Cleveland guy". Sure, I rued the fact that his teams of choice - the Bulls, the Cowboys, and Yankees - revealed him to be little more than a bandwagon-hopper, but I didn't actually care. It was his choice, and his choice of team has literally no effect on my well-being. I did occasionally find myself wondering if James really rooted for the Buckeyes or whoever the team-of-the-now was (USC, Texas, Alabama, etc.), but shrugged it off shortly thereafter. Did it really matter who he rooted for, after all? What likely kept me going these last few years was my stubborn belief that LeBron, while perhaps not a "Cleveland guy", was an "Ohio guy"; and this was an image James knowingly cultivated, as detailed above. Even if James didn't follow Cleveland sports with a passion, he seemed to "get it". While championships are a regularity at a place like Ohio State these days, Ohio's professional teams, and Cleveland teams in particular, have struggled to even match half of that success. LeBron, more or less, built his legend around "bring[ing] a championship to Cleveland" - something the city has not seen since 1964. In a 2006 interview with Chris Broussard of ESPN the Magazine, the man was quoted as saying:
I don't want to go ring-chasing, as I call it; you know, going to a team that's already pretty established and trying to win a ring with them. I want to stay with the Cavs and build a champion.
Duplicity on such a grand scale is simply a rare thing for so talented an athlete. Ego, however, is not. In the end, if you're going to portray yourself as the consummate Ohioan for seven years, it is not unreasonable for your fans - who have bought into your "Witnesses" schtick and every ounce of hype wholeheartedly, with nary a peep of criticism - to expect you to follow through on your claims of loyalty.
Then it all crashes down /And you break your crown / And you point your finger / But there's no one around 2007 finals sweep aside, it seemed pretty good to be the King in Cleveland. Last year was a bitter disappointment with the season ending at the hands of the Orlando Magic, but, as we always tell ourselves, the next year would be our year. It seemed like the Cavs had made the right offseason move, even if Shaq was ancient. Still, the dream season continued on its course until Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. LeBron's stats: 3/14 from the field, 15 points. He looked utterly listless and careless on the court. Some say he "quit". While I usually lampoon the 300-pound couch potato criticizing the millionaire athlete, I couldn't shake the thought that, for once, he was right. In prior years, Cavs fans could comfortably, and with a fair amount of accuracy, lay playoff woes at the hands of one non-LeBron problem or another - no solid No. 2 "Pippen" guy for LeBron, or no inside presence on defense - but this time around, the only pointing fingers floating around Quicken Loans Arena were pointed right at the King himself. This was his Purdue Harbor; only if that game were entirely Terrelle's fault and the offensive line shared none of the blame. This was the game that made people throw their hands up and ask: "are we sure this guy actually has it?", and for the first time, even the most diehard defenders had to wonder. Few, however, would say Terrelle ever "quit"; it simply seemed the kid was trying too hard. Is a dream a lie if it don't come true, or is it something worse? Now, I must confess: I am not a Cleveland sports fan. Browns games make me want to claw my eyes out (though I imagine many Cleveland partisans feel the same way). I'm not big into baseball, so infrequent Indians success hasn't even registered for me. But the Cavs are a different story. I've been watching the Cavs for a while now; even before LeBron. I won't call myself a "lifelong fan" and do a disservice to those who actually are. However, I frequently had Cavs games on in the background of my life as a kid, because I liked the sport of basketball and knew I "should" root for the home-state team. For a while, they were all sport was to me aside from the Buckeyes. Even so, there wasn't much to remember other than "Wrong Rim" Ricky Davis taking a shot at his own net to try and secure a triple double. It was one of the most pathetic things I had ever witnessed, and embodied the lows to which a desperate sports franchise can sink. Such desperation hasn't been seen around here since the latter days of the Cooper era, and even so, we had it made compared to a team as hopeless as the Cavs seemed to be. All this being said, however, I have always quietly admired the steadfast way in which Cleveland fans have continued to root for their teams despite little in the way of success. No other sports city has had to deal with The Fumble, The Drive, The Shot, The Sweep, and Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Seemingly no other fanbase has had to endure hardships of such awesome magnitude with such cruel frequency; tribulations in which championship dreams become undying city-wide nightmares in a matter of seconds, or over the course of one 48-minute NBA game. I hope that, if and when trying times come to Columbus, I can say the same of our fan base. But I digress. There is some (good?) news for Buckeyes everywhere: Terrelle Pryor is now unquestionably the biggest sports celebrity in the state, and it's not even close. With that newfound title comes even more expectations, piled upon already sky-high expectations. While I have confidence in the young man to surpass those expectations, I've seen what such expectations have done to another, similarly freakishly talented athlete. Remember: Lebron has even gone so far as to offer advice on managing expectations to Terrelle Pryor himself, but it's clearer now than ever that Terrelle's legacy must be entirely his own, and, barring a transfer to Penn State to play wide receiver, he'll never plumb the depths of cowardice that his former nickname-sake did on Thursday.
Speaking of which, I know we retired LiC after the Purdue game, but I'd like to take this last opportunity to shovel a few more clods onto its coffin. Feel free to offer new nicknames in the comments.