Cleveland Sports after LeBron James: It is up to Locals to keep it Hot

By Meta J. Mereday

In a city where there are three professional sports teams – Browns (football), Indians (baseball) and Cavaliers (basketball), not to mention the one of a kind Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it seems that there should be life after the departure of basketball star LeBron James.

Many news stories have highlighted what the possible outcome would be with an estimated revenue loss ranging between 20 and 40 million dollars. Other stories lament the number of empty seats in the arena pre-LeBron and the packed house during his reign as “King James” of the Cavaliers. 

According to the Associated Press, the Cavaliers averaged approximately 11,500 fans before he joined the team and, during his Cleveland sports career, the 20,000 arena was sold out every game. Coupled with the rise in Cavaliers merchandise sales and thriving businesses around the arena, many banked their hopes on the hoop dreams of the star that rose from nearby Akron, Ohio. 

Now, he is part of a high profile, three man front in Miami where James hopes to add a championship ring to his career treasures. What will happen to Cleveland sports remains to be seen as the city begins the process of starting over post LeBron.  ESPN and others were on hand when the Nike “Witness” billboard was removed that signaled to many Cavaliers/LeBron fans that he really was gone. 

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, in his heated letter regarding LeBron’s departure, launched the challenge that “Cleveland will win a championship before LeBron,” has fired up many Cleveland fans who needed a boost, now they await the players who will deliver on that promise.   

Many argue that the way LeBron made his decision could have been different, but that is Cuyahoga River water under the bridge.  As the Mayor of Cleveland and many others have stated they are not taking it personally, and are moving on. 

Cleveland sports has changed in a number of ways during the seven years that LeBron lived and played in the area including being dubbed “the Comeback City.” The spotlight should now shine on the rest of Cleveland and not just the Cavaliers.   

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a multi-million dollar tourist attraction and boon for Cleveland and residents outside the city now know about the many fine dining experiences along East Fourth Street, which is billed as a “destination instead of a location” with fine eating establishments and trendy housing, presents a sustainable living environment for present and future Clevelanders.

Hollywood has taken an interest in Cleveland with a TV Land show entitled “Hot in Cleveland” that provides a backdrop and indirect references to the city that was often maligned prior to the arrival of James.

The full impact of the loss of James to the Cleveland sports community remains to be seen, but clearly the resilience of the people of Cleveland and the passion of the Cavaliers fans in light of the situation will set the tone for other cities to follow. 

The economic forecast of an emerging metropolis should not rest on the athletic skills of any one individual, but on the pooled efforts and accomplishments of all who work and reside there. 

Sports teams are great contributors to the coffers of their host cities and that is an economic reality, but the dependence on who plays where should not be the total measure of that city.  The fire is still in the belly of Cleveland as it continues its redevelopment and it is the locals who will keep it hot! 

Mereday is a contributing writer for Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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