Down town: Cleveland hurting after LeBron chooses LA, Lakers


CLEVELAND (AP) — LeBron James jerseys in assorted colors hung inside the Cavaliers team shop, their retail price slashed by 40 percent.

Eight years ago, some of them were still smoldering in the streets.

The day after James announced he is leaving Cleveland as a free agent for the second time since 2010, anger gave way to acceptance. There was still deep disappointment that the world's best player – Akron, Ohio, born and raised – is leaving again, this time for the brighter lights of Los Angeles and a chance to play with the storied Lakers.

The pain is real. Cleveland is just handling it a lot better.

"It hurts at first, but we'll be OK," said Dave Howes, who manages Harry Buffalo, a sports bar and restaurant directly across the street from Quicken Loans Arena. "We'll rebound from it."

If any city knows how to mount a comeback, it's this one. Once a national punchline for jokes, Cleveland is thriving with new hotels, shops, condominiums and trendy microbreweries popping up on both sides of the Cuyahoga River.

Millennials have flocked to live in once-neglected areas transformed into flourishing neighborhoods with hip food and arts scenes.

A skyline once dotted with factory smokestacks now features gleaming high-rise apartment buildings. There's new construction everywhere, including at the Cavs' Quicken Loans Arena, currently undergoing a $140 million renovation.

Nothing looks as it did a few years ago.

James made it happen. The LeBron Effect. He put Cleveland on the map, changing the city's collective psyche and delivering on his promise by winning a championship in 2016 – the city's first since 1964.

No wonder some are having a hard time saying goodbye. But the criticism of James was more muted this time around.

Two other prominent Cleveland sports figures understood his reasons for going.

"If someone gave me $154 million I'd probably go somewhere, too," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I will miss him, because I loved going to games when he played. It's hard to begrudge somebody. He earned it."

UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic was confident his hometown would fight back.

"We'll be all right," Miocic said while preparing for his bout with Daniel Cormier at UFC 226. "The city is alive now. We have food, good bars, good places to go to, and I think it's going to stay that way for a long time now. The Browns are making moves. The Indians are playing well. ... It's not only about the Cavs anymore."

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