Lessons From LeBron or, If You Really Care About Cleveland, Here's How to Save It


So NBA mega-galactic star LeBron James has signed up with the Miami Heat, leaving not just the Cleveland Cavaliers but the "Mistake on the Lake" itself in a lurch. That seems to be the consensus among the cognoscenit and the hoi polloi alike. Last night on Rachel Maddow, for instance, The Nation's sports guy, Dave Zirin, attacked James for going for big dollars and selling out his almost-hometown. Zirin claimed that James' departure would drain the city of $20 million in economic activity just around the Quicken Arena (he and guest host Chris Hayes also fretted over the emergence of a two-tier system in the NBA, in which big stars make tons of money and lesser role players simply earn oodles of it). And the tweets I skimmed last night were running roughly 100 to 0 calling James a bum.

James' ESPN appearance last night may have been an awful exercise in press relations, but he's being attacked for doing exactly what more than half the population of Cleveland has done in the last 60 years: getting the hell out of the place. On top of that, his motivation seems genuine: As he told Larry King earlier this year, his bball legacy depends on earning champeenship rings, not putting up MVP numbers. He wants to be Michael Jordan 2.0, not Charles Barkley 2.0.

Did LeBron vamoose for the money? Likely not, though this analysis makes an interesting case that because of Ohio's and Cleveland's high taxes, he can make more take-home pay in Florida than in Ohio. I doubt that that is his motivating factor but Clevelanders who make far less should read and weep. That same idiotic, complicated tax system is putting your local and regional economy, which has enough to worry about, in a vise.

While there's no certainty that teaming up with the Heat will lead James to the winner's circle, it's definitely the case that he doesn't deserve abuse for taking full advantage of the free agent opportunities available to him. As labor in a stridently enforced cartel, he puts the asses in the seats and he should extract whatever he can during a career that can end at any minute. We forget that it wasn't so long ago that stars of James' stature were totally screwed by an oppressive management system (Matt Welch doesn't, in this great essay about how Joe Willie Namath, Richie Dick Allen, and Oscar Big O Robertson ushered in an age of "Locker-Room Liberty").

More important, Cleveland's destiny as a dying industrial city is in no way linked to James' staying or going. As economist Dennis Coates has pointed out, having a major professional franchise in an area actually reduces per capita income by about $40 (believe). Cities don't rise and fall on the backs of their sports teams and sports figures (trust me, I lived in Buffalo three of its four Super Bowl years and nothing would have changed had Scud Norwood split the uprights against the Giants).

If Cleveland and its rooters in the press (who never seem to actually go there) want to take some lessons from James' departure, they should think about what they can do for the 99.9 percent of its residents who don't play in the NBA or own professional sports teams.

Which is another way of saying that LeBron James can't save Cleveland (he never could), but there are definite steps that city can take to improve life for its citizens. They may not be as sexy as building generally empty stadiums (how often do the Browns play again?) or subsidzing failing museums (Rock And Roll!) or betting the farm on new convention centers (three white elephants is better than two!). But they have the advantage of actually working to nudge quality of life upwards.

Check out Reason Saves Cleveland with Drew Carey: How to Fix The Mistake on the Lake and Other Once-Great American Cities. Click here to go to a page with all six episodes and background materials. Click below to watch the 50 minute doc. 

NEXT: Reason Morning Links: Surveillance, Lindsay Lohan, and a Sex Tape

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  1. I’m wondering if the whole city of Cleveland can be described as an “external”.

  2. I think most people are pissed at the way he handled the situation with the special on ESPN. It was basically a big fuck you to the fans on national TV. Not once in the hour long show did he thank the Cavs or the Cleveland fans. If he had simply gone and signed a deal with the Heat without the spectacle, I think most people wouldn’t have a problem. Now he is one of the most despised player in the NBA not just Cleveland.

    1. I was unloading a shitload of groceries during the first half of the special, and only turned it on long enough to see the little hemorrhoids logo in the lower left corner indicating he’d gone to the Heat. And he was boasting about all he had done for the city of Cleveland!

      1. You shop at WF Tulpa? I hope you picked up some prunes…

    2. It was basically a big fuck you to the fans on national TV.

      Not really. Folks with inferiority complexes (like those in NE Ohio) believe that, but LeBron did more for Cleveland than they ever did or could do for him. Clevelanders blame everyone but themselves for their dismal town and their futile sports teams. It’s both tragic and funny, the schadenfreude that keeps on giving.

      1. Cleveland fans should vote out all incumbents every time something bad happens with their sports teams. It would be a revolving door.

      2. What an ignorant comment. Go fuck yourself buddy.

  3. He wants to be Michael Jordan 2.0, not Charles Barkely 2.0.

    Michael Jordan stuck with the team he started with and helped them get to the championship level. He also didn’t regularly take dives in the playoffs as “King” James did.

    Maybe it’s just me, but there’s something very cheap about winning a championship by brute force, coordinating with two other superstars so that you all wind up on the same team. It’s like the 1992 Dream Team — yeah, they won the gold, but it wasn’t terribly exciting basketball.

    Of course, the reality is that due to the salary cap, the Heat can only afford to play a couple of scrubs alongside James, Bosh, and Wade, so this move might backfire on them big time, like most of slimeball Riley’s schemes.

    1. Chamberlain, Baylor and West come to mind?

      1. And yet Gail Goodrich was the leading scorer! At least once, anyway.

        1. And they didn’t win anything until Baylor retired, anyway.

        2. I remember him. That little lefty hippy kid.
          BTW, did Chamberlain, Baylor and West lose in the finals more times than the Bills lost the Super Bowl?

    2. I think a better example would be the 2004 Lakers; that didn’t end up working too well, though we did end up with a great quote from Karl Malone.

      1. Yeah, but Mailman & Payton were o-l-d. These dudes are in or close to their primes.


          That’s all I have to say about that.

    3. MJ stayed in in Chicago because he had a decent supporting cast. Not a bunch of washed up veterans who fold like a house of cards in the playoffs. Even then, Jordan never won without Scottie. Let’s face it, Mo Williams is no Pippen. He was pretty much non existent most of the time against Boston, except for the first half of game 6. You need more than one good half to win a series. Jamison had a few good streaks here and there, but by and large Lebron was left by himself most of the time. Nobody else really showed up against the Celts. And let’s not get started about the severe lack of playoff caliber coaching.

    4. Don’t think anyone was fucking Michael’s mother during the eastern conference finals any of the years he was playing.

  4. I don’t understand rabid sports fans. What is wrong with taking the best deal? If Cleveland offered the best deal and he took it, would they still be mad at him?

    1. Cleveland apparently offered him more money, but “best” deal sometimes means something else.

    2. Why would Cleveland fans be mad at him for staying? Best deal or not, that’s what they wanted.

      1. There bit about him “just following the money” is what I was getting at there.

    3. For me, and I think most people, it wasn’t him taking the deal and leaving. It was almost a given that he was gonna leave Cleveland for another team leading up to this offseason. Originally, NYK looked like a better fit, then it came down to the Knicks, Bulls, Heat, and staying with the Cavs.

      The problem came about when LeBron decided to pitch an idea to ESPN to having an hour long signing special during primetime. I’m sure it got tons of viewers, so ESPN banked, as they well should’ve. Still makes LeBron a total douche though, as Steve Nash Equilibrium said up at the top.

    4. I don’t understand rabid sports fans.

      Fan is short for “fanatic”, and you can’t expect sports fanatics to think any more rationally than religious fanatics.

      Players who leave for more money are “mercenaries”, and players who take less money to play on a better team or in a more desirable location are “betrayers”. That’s just how it goes.

  5. More take home pay and living in Miami vs. Cleveland? I think most people in Cleveland would make the same choice in his shoes, but “The Decision” was ridiculous.

    1. LeBron could live anywhere he wants during the offseason, but he chooses to live in his home town of Akron. So I don’t think that was a motivating factor.

      1. You and I agree about Pat Riley.

        My stepson says that he is going to boycott the NBA because of this. We’ll see when I wave a pair of tickets in front of him for the first time the Heat visit the Celts.

  6. I’m just awed by the hype over this. It’s a player switching teams. So what? The business with ESPN making a special about it is just pathetic.

    It’s nonsense to ask for loyalty from these kids, too, because the teams and often the fans aren’t loyal back. Ask Mr. Derrick Brooks about that.

      1. Pro Lib, I am a huge Derrick Brooks fan. He is going to Canton.

        1. What’s a Bucaneer?
          A high price for corn!

          Joe Glazer is the biggest tool when it comes to general managing. He steals from Man U so he can pay for the Bucs shitty roster, and then he throws out a great coach in Tony Dungy to bring in Jon Gruden who doesn’t change a thing and wins the Superbowl with Dungy’s team. Then, he dumps D. Brooks by the way side to bring in a bunch of nobodies.

          1. Wow, sorry for all the mistakes in the last post. [Malcolm] Glazer just pisses me off so much! He’s definitely the worst [owner] in the history sports; even Al Davis takes a backseat to Glazer.

            Plus, he totally looks like a leprechaun.

            1. Should’ve held onto Rich McKay. And probably Dungy, too. All Dungy needed was a decent offensive coordinator.

              1. But Warren Sapp has said that Dungy was too soft on the offense and that Gruden’s attitude was essential in carrying the team to glory.

                1. Warren Sapp’s opinions can be disregarded. On the field, he was great. Off the field, he should shut the heck up.

                  The Dungy/McKay/Kiffin approach would’ve gotten at least one Super Bowl appearance and probably would’ve kept the team at playoff level. Gruden and Allen were very inconsistent and really ruined a decent team in a fairly short time. Not that I’m not grateful for the championship.

                  1. Gruden might’ve had more success if McKay had been retained and if the owners had made it clear that the GM was, in fact, the GM.

  7. “As economist Dennis Coates has pointed out, having a major professional franchise in an area actually reduces per capita income by about $40.”

    This is no doubt true, but to a real sports fan

    1) the pleasure he gets screaming at the TV and calling up his friends to yell things like “Joe Montana is God!” [dated reference, I know, but I’m just not keeping up these days] or “Hell, my grandmother could throw a tighter spiral than that!” is, if not priceless, certainly worth a lot more than $40.

    2) It’s also comforting to know that schmucks like me, who don’t give a damn about sports, are also coughing up the same $40 a year to pay for his habit.

    As for Cleveland itself, it used to make sense economically, but now it doesn’t. That’s how the market works. Libertarian policies like lower taxes would be a good idea, but they would also shrink the city even more, because all the civil servants who lost their jobs would move to Texas or Florida. There’s only room for one big Rocky Mountain city, and that’s Denver. In today’s economy, there’s only room for one big Midwestern city, and that’s Chicago.

    1. Indianapolis, Minneapolis/St. Paul (technically two cities), and Columbus seem to be doing all right.

      1. I’ve lived in Minneapolis, Chicago, and Columbus. I heard debate in both Minneapolis and Columbus about whether either is “Midwest”, though I think most people in each city tend to think of themselves that way.

        1. According to most national media and other elites, anyplace east of the Rockies, north of the Ohio, and more than 100 miles west of the Atlantic, is Midwest. Cleveland, Minneapolis, St Louis, and Wichita are lumped together, yet they are careful to differentiate between New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and the Washington region.

          1. Yes, a variation on the “fly over states” mentality.

            1. Or, a reflection of reality based on historical development, speech patterns that continue to this day, etc.

              I lived in Buffalo for many years. It has for more in common with Chicago than with any city on the coast.

              1. What food is Chicago famous for, and if you say pizza, prepare for the thread to explode.

                1. A pizza that’s really a casserole and a hot dog that’s really a salad?

                  1. Who are you, Episiarch?

                  2. Salad is good for you. Ask Michelle.

                2. What food is Chicago famous for


              2. Oh, I’m not claiming that Buffalo is an east coast city. Just that lumping everything more than 100 miles from the ocean as either Midwest or South while you have fine distinctions for coastal regions is pretty foolish.

          2. I’m surprised no one has tried to get Massholes or New Yorkers to change their political bent because it is generally the same as the other and they’re supposed to hate each other because of their sports team rivalries.

      2. All state capitals. Hmmmm.

        1. St. Paul and Springfield, dude.

          1. Not to mention Lansing and Madison (ugh).

            I’m not sold on Columbus either, it looked pretty iffy once you get far enough away from OSU.

            1. ??? Campus is one of the worst neighborhoods in C’bus. (I’ve got a kid living there.) Say what you like about the dullness of the place, but the middle-class standard of living here is pretty good.

              1. Actually, I have to agree. I lived in Northwest Columbus (between Dublin and Worthington) and thought it was pretty nice. But there’s just something mind-numbingly dull and gray about the place. And the largish city (and capital) acting like a college town business is kind of silly.

              2. I guess I had a different experience.

          2. I was speaking of SNE’s three.

          3. Missouri’s Capitol is jefferson City, though much like Abe Simpson, I’ll be long in the cold,cold ground ‘fore I recognize Missoura’

    2. Cleveland isn’t in the midwest. And why, pray tell, is there only “room” for one big Midwestern city in the first place? Because people like to live in deserts?

  8. “Scud” Norwood. Never heard that one before, made me laugh. I remember being amazed driving through Buffalo on the way home from Niagara in 2003. The subject for 20 minutes on the sports talk show was STILL Scott Norwood.

    1. I cried again today. Thanks, Gillespie and rhofulster, for bringing it up.

      1. Well, if you want to pass along the misery, just mention “Gary Anderson” to any Vikings fan.

        1. Or Lin Elliot to a Chiefs fan *tear streams down cheek*

      2. Nick, I began to chuckle at the distress I caused you. Then I remembered Ernest Byner. Damn. DAMN!

        1. I’ve also got No Goal and a shit load of Monday Night Football stomach punches from the 00’s against teams I despise in my personal hell. But everything is better now that Chan Gailey is our head coach.

          (loads revolver)

          1. Back when I was in college, I did a project for Mathematical Optimization that involved re-aligning the NFL so as to minimize the average total travel distance of all the teams, while keeping the same schedule structure. This of course necessitated throwing out the AFC/NFC distinction and making every division just regional.

            Originally I planned to name each division after a football great who had played for one of the teams, just like in the old NHL. But then one of the divisions came out to be Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Detroit, and I couldn’t think of anyone to name it after. So I dumped the naming scheme and just called it the Great Lakes Division.

            1. Was this before or after OJ became known as Orenthal the Bus Drivin’ Murderer?

              1. After. It was 2001, just before the real realignment that occurred in 2002 (but after the nature of the realignment was publicly known).

            2. Ah, what about the Brown division? Or the Motley division? The Anderson division? The Collingsworth division?
              The Dillion division? The Kemp division? The Thomas division? The Smith division? The Kelly division? The Levy division?

              1. The Barry Sanders division, personified by a great player playing for a bad franchise and never winning the Super Bowl.

                1. Yeah, that division would have been pretty awful. It would probably have been dominated by the Bengals, which is saying something.

              2. I forgot about James Brown! Damn!

                But, I consciously avoided naming it after recent players such as Sanders and Kelly, wife murderers such as Simpson, wrinkle delivery systems such as Levy, or politicians such as Kemp.

            3. I’d say the Norris Division, but that was already used in connection with the old NFC Central.

              1. Chris Berman still calls the NFC North the “NFC Norris”. If the Vikes move to LA he’s going to have to retire that joke, I’m afraid.

            4. If anybody cares, I dug up the project report and the results were:

              Corridor: New England, NY Jets, NY Giants, Philadelphia
              Great Lakes: Buffalo, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Detroit
              Appalachian: Pittsburgh, Washington, Baltimore, Carolina
              Dixie: Atlanta, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, Miami

              Heartland: Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Tennessee
              Midwest: Chicago, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Minnesota
              Frontier: St Louis, Kansas City, Denver, Arizona
              Pacific: Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego

              1. umm, 3 of your 4 teams in Dixie are not actually in the heart of Dixie….just to nitpick a minor point. Otherwise I like it.

                1. Thanks. Some of the division names are a bit contrived, because I didn’t want to use the traditional compass directions. Washington and Baltimore aren’t in the Appalachians and Cincinnati isn’t on a lake, for instance.

          2. But everything is better now that Chan Gailey is our head coach.

            Unleash the Reggie Ball!!!

  9. –The Five Stages of Cleveland Grief–

    Denial: He’ll never leave! He was born here. He built a big house in Akron!

    Anger: If he leaves I’ll burn his jersey and hate him forever!

    Bargaining: OK, OK, calm down and listen to reason. We love you, LeBron! You belong to us!

    Depression: It’s Art Modell all over again. God hates us.

    Acceptance: Well, there’s always the snow, rust, unemployment and Browns.

    1. Hey, maybe the Barons will come back.

      1. And the Stepien Competitors!

        1. And the Indians!

          What, they never left? My bad.

      2. Bring back the Spiders!

  10. LeBron went to Miami because it’s the only good-weather city with a world-class commuter rail system. That’s what cosmopolitan professionals like him are looking for. Mono?!

    I think a better example would be the 2004 Lakers; that didn’t end up working too well, though we did end up with a great quote from Karl Malone.

    That was, briefly, one of the best teams that ever played. They were killin’ dudes?for a while. But that season ended up being decided by injuries. The best teams all limped across the finish, and who won was essentially random.

    Bosh/Wade/Bron isn’t nearly as scary as Shaq/Kobe/Malone. Their skills?and where on the floor each guy needs to be to use them?overlap too much. They’ll be amazing sometimes, but you won’t be telling your grandkids you saw it.

    Remember the All-Star Rockets? No, you don’t.

    1. All-Star Rockets? As a not very rabid Houston fan, when exactly was this? I remember they had Barkeley and Pippen on the team at one time when they were both like 35. Is that what you’re talking about?

      1. I think he means when they had Olajuwan, Barkley, and Drexler?

      2. The Twin Towers? That is, Olajuwon and Sampson?

      3. Clearly, he is referring to the Malone/Murphy/Tomjanovich/Barry Rockets of the late 70’s.

    2. As Don Nelson said yesterday, they need big men.

      Also, it takes great teamwork to win in the playoffs. My guess is that the Heat never make into the finals, in their current configuration.

      Although, if Riley comes back to coach, anything’s possible.

      1. Don’t forget about Mario Chalmers.

  11. I totally forgot FL has no state income tax. No wonder he selected Miami.

    If only he had the balls to say this was the reason.

    1. Money wasn’t his motivation. He would have made the most by staying in Cleveland.

      1. Even after the local and state taxes?

        1. Even after the local and state taxes?

          I believe so. $120 million for six years in Cleveland. In Florida, only a little more than half of his income (Miami and Orlando games) would be state tax-exempt, as his road income (unless I am mistaken) would be subject to local taxes. I’m pretty sure LeBron crunched the numbers, but his motivation for leaving doesn’t fit the usual “mercenary for money” profile. He left for selfish reasons (the best reasons), but at the top of his hierarchy is a championship, not a few more dollars.

          1. Don’t cities/states try to tax visiting players for games played there?

            1. Sorry. I see the sun mentioned my point.

          2. Without taking taxes into account he is leaving money on the table. However being paid $95 million vs $100 million is hadly a great sacrifice.

            Through 5 Years
            Cavs $100,659,473.62
            Heat $95,769,327.37
            Approximately $5 million

            If he signs an extension with the Heat then through 6 the numbers are
            Cavs $127,553,218.36
            Heat $119,089,094.50
            Or approximately $8.5 million different

  12. Lebron James . . . now why should any rational person know or care who he is or what he does?

    1. Man, you are sooooo awesome!

      1. It’s a gift.

    2. It’s like some shitty pop song you recognize despite hating shitty pop music – unless you’re a hermit you can’t NOT know it.

    3. I’ve heard this question before and it’s stupid. Do you avoid all entertainment? That’s why people watch sports.

      1. Entertainment is for losers. Why the fuck aren’t you out building a railroad or something?

        1. Nicely done, CN.

          1. CN, even James J. Hill had time for entertainment.

            1. libertymike defies the “Everyone’s a little bit racist” theory…or he just didn’t see the name of the originator of this thread.

            2. And his entertainment was watching poor children being boiled alive in peanut oil. That’s what I learned in school, anyway. Or was that John D. Rockefeller?

      2. I come here, don’t I? This is way more entertaining than (hawck) sports.

  13. God I am so pissed at him right now. So pissed I might just write an ANGRY LETTER using Comic Sans!

    1. It is the Axe Body Spray of fonts.

      1. Gilbert’s letter is the written equivalent of a toddler’s tantrum, complete with blind rage and self pity. And therefore comedy gold for the ages.

        1. (The funniest part being how he is now threatening…to win!)

          1. Seriously. That idiot vowing to win a championship before Lebron does is the most laughable sports prediction I’ve read since Jon Kitna said the Lions would win more than ten games a couple of years back.

            1. I’m a little disappointed that he didn’t promise to build a monorail. That’ll show Miami!

              1. Yeah, but Miami already has a people mover. Suck on it Cleveland!

                1. Vacant, crumbling steel factories…or beaches?

                  Slush, snow, freezing rain…or warm sunshine?

                  Hairy, fat Cleveland girls…or beach-blanket bingo?

        2. blind rage

          What, did Gund co-sign the letter?

      2. It is the Axe Body Spray of fonts.

        That actually made me lol. Thanks, Tulpa…

  14. “It’s Cleveland. It blows. There’s nothing to do in that town except masturbate and cry.” -Deadspin

    It looks like they’ll have to remake this tourism video:

    1. But they said Cleveland Rocks. By they, of course I mean all the little chicks with the crimson lips.

      Hmm, I wonder if that is supposed to be a different lips than I had always imagined. Someone get LeBron’s mom on the phone.

      1. She’s busy right now.

  15. Anyway, the good and enlightened people of Cleveland seem to be unacquainted with the concept of free agency, wherein teams compete for the services of individuals, who are free to determine the best interests of themselves and their families. Only a tiny percentage of professional athletes ever play for their “home team.” This accident of birth is hardly a moral contract to remain there forever, sacrificing their own happiness for the good of the tribe. Clevelanders would appear to be more sympathetic to those bad old days when players were more akin to indentured servants and the team owners controlled every aspect of their lives. It’s a vulgar and vicious and pathetic mentality.

    1. Actually it’s worse. They think he owes them something due to the random bouncing of ping pong balls.

      I personally do not believe it’s going to be quite as easy for the Heat to win a championship as some believe, but how many of us wouldn’t leave our lives behind if we were offered $19 million a year to move somewhere else.

    2. We understand it just fine. It’s possible to both understand the concept of free agency AND disagree with the way Lebron James handled it. In reality, that’s what’s got most people here and (surprisingly) in much of the media pissed off: he strung Cleveland along, grandstanded, preened and generally acted like a cocksucker before finally letting everyone know he wanted out – on a national TV event that he himself set up and demanded that ESPN air. He played virtually everyone for a fool. And he did this after out-and-out quitting on the team in the Celtics series.

      Some people don’t like it when that happens.

  16. Scud Norwood

    That’s great — hadn’t heard it before. I need to spend more time around frustrated Bills’ fans

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