July 8, 2010 was the day that LeBron James became a villain in the eyes of most NBA fans, deciding to move down to Miami, team up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and chase championships with his buddies.
That was three years ago, today.
As the years have passed, LeBron has racked up MVP awards, the Miami Heat have won two championships (and lost one), his image has been rebuilt and he's once again one of the league's most popular players.
It was a long three years, and after that immediate backlash following his choice to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, the strides the world has made to forgive him seem great.
An hour special with Jim Gray lobbing him softball questions and ruining his reputation in the process changed the perception of LeBron from an enjoyably great player who couldn't put together a championship run to public enemy numero uno in the NBA.
Immediate reaction to James' choice to leave on national television was exponentially negative over the course of the next few days.
Cavs fans commenced burning James' jerseys while talking heads pondered what the move meant for his legacy.
Most shocking of all (although refreshing for Cavs fans), the team's owner, Dan Gilbert, sent out a letter to fans labeling James as a deserter, calling him heartless, cowardly and disloyal, all while dropping this beauty on the world:
"I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE"
The caps-lock is Gilbert's emphasis, not mine.
Better yet, Gilbert also happens to lead the ownership group of Fathead, LLC., the company that makes those giant wall stickers of sports stars. Following James' departure, the price of a James Fathead in wine and gold suddenly dropped from $99.99 down to $17.41, the year famous traitor Benedict Arnold was born.
Overnight response from Cleveland and Miami was perhaps the most interesting contrast.
Two Cleveland Plain Dealer columnists tackled the issue immediately. Bill Livingston took a hard-line approach criticizing both James for quitting on the team, and the Cavaliers for enabling James' egotistical few weeks.
James is the local legend who severed his ties with the area and now becomes as reviled as any sports figure other than Art Modell. He is the great player who left unfinished business after quitting on his team on the court and left unanswered questions by quitting on his city off it.
There is no doubt, however, that Cleveland enabled him with the huge billboard-sized banner across from The Q; with the "Witness" signs, as if he were able to perform miracles; with the sing-along by city and state officials, pleading for him to stay. There was a clear indication from the moment he wore a Yankees cap to a New York-Indians playoff game in what was then called Jacobs Field that he felt he could do anything he pleased. No one in the Cavaliers' organization would ever tell him no.
Meanwhile, Terry Pluto eloquently put together the complaint that Cavs fans would use for years to come,"It's not that he left, it's how he left."
Maybe this happens when you get too much, too soon. Maybe it happens when you forget where you came from, or what you mean to the people of Northeast Ohio.
But LeBron James should feel a sense of shame and pain for putting together a self-serving ESPN special to inform the world that he no longer intends to play for the Cavaliers. To sharpen the insult, he titled his switch to the Miami Heat as "The Decision."
Of course, their counterpart, Greg Cote with the Miami Herald, took an expected approach while simultaneously taking a shot at Cleveland.
As for Cavaliers fans feeling angry and betrayed? Get over it, mi amigos. Players leave. Ever heard the phrase, “greener pastures”? Besides, when Column A is Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and living on South Beach and Column B is far less a supporting cast and living in Cleveland, well, let’s just say Mensa membership is not required to reach the conclusion James did.
While critics simultaneously panned Gilbert and James for the way they handled themselves on July 8, James remained steadfast in an interview with J.R. Moehringer of GQ that he wouldn't change anything about the way he handled free agency: "When I ask what he'd change, what he'd do differently, he says cheerily: 'Nothing at all.'"
The months waxed and waned. LeBron eventually admitted that the execution was poor, but the choice was still correct. Fury turned into a dull ball of anger in the pit of Cavaliers fan's stomachs, let out whenever the Heat came to town over the next few seasons.
Fans booed and the Heat lost in the NBA Finals during their first season together. Then fans booed a little less until it became a dull murmur coming from the 200-level seats, and the Heat went on to win a few titles.
The Decision was such a huge moment in sports history that it's actually become one of the longer Wikipedia articles that branch off from the "Cleveland Sports Curse" page, which is starting to get depressingly lengthy.
Looking back on it almost turns it into a parody; surely something so ridiculous couldn't actually have happened.
Predictably, opinions changed over the past three years and fans across the world can at least appreciate what an amazing spectacle LeBron is on the court.
Yet there it remains, a wart on an otherwise tremendous legacy.
Odds are his free-agency decision of 2014 won't be nearly as ill-formed as it was three years ago.
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