As a Cleveland sports fanatic, I know the meaning of heartbreak. Clevelanders have been subject to gut-wrenching, last-second losses as that elusive championship slips through our outstretched fingers. Mention Michael Jordan’s ‘shot,” John Elway’s ‘drive” or Jose Mesa’s blown save and you’re sure to cause anguish and distress to anyone on the coast of Lake Erie. The Indians won their last title in 1948, the Browns have yet to win a Super Bowl and the Cavaliers are going on 39 years in the NBA with no ring. Needless to say, in Cleveland, we’re getting desperate.
Since that fateful day in 2003 when the NBA draft lottery ball fell our way and we were guaranteed a local folk hero with the first overall pick, we’ve pinned our title hopes on the shoulders of Lebron James. Although Lebron hasn’t delivered that championship title yet, he’s certainly lifted up a city and put it on his shoulders.
Take a look around town. Billboards up and down I-90 depict his trademark Nike slogan, ‘Witness.” No. 23 jerseys hang from the rafters of every sports merchandise store.
Across the street from Quicken Loans Arena (Lebron’s playground), a banner depicting a soaring Lebron covers the entire face of an apartment building. He has literally reshaped the skyline of Cleveland.
That marketing has certainly had an economic impact on the city. As the Cavs prepared to host their first ever NBA Finals game in June 2007, vendors lined the streets of downtown Cleveland with memorabilia. Cameras were flashing around the giant inflatable Finals trophy outside the arena. What is a normally sparsely populated downtown was the most packed I have ever seen.
Besides these one-time festive occasions, Lebron has had an impact on Clevanders’ everyday life. There’s a coattail effect, as people who buy Lebron jerseys, bobbleheads and L23 sneakers purchase other goods as well. Curious customers and big businesses around these stores thrive. The marketing is nice, and the economic impact Lebron has is certainly noticeable.
Lebron has had an intangible effect, too one that can never be quantified or truly appreciated.
He’s bonded a city. Walk into any barbershop in town and a conversation about Lebron’s recent windmill slam will come up. Fill up your tank at the local gas station wearing your No. 23 jersey, and someone will comment on his game-winning 3-pointer the previous night. Lebron has families and neighbors crowding together around TVs. Heck, he’s even got my priest singing his praises during the Sunday homilee. The fadeaway jumper, the behind-the-back pass, the alley-oop that brought down the house all part of Lebron’s game that has become the talk of the town.
The Cavs represent our only hope for a ring. The Browns are perennial cellar dwellers, and if this season’s any indication of things to come, we’re not going anywhere. The Indians are up and down, but with the loss of C.C. Sabathia, it could be a while before we’re back in the race.
A future championship appears imminent for the Cavs. But once again, we need patience. Even if Lebron hasn’t delivered, he’s put a spark back into Cleveland.
Willis is a member of the class of 2011.