Down town: James’ departure stings Ohioans again
There were LeBron James jerseys in assorted colors hanging 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’s leaving the Cavaliers 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 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 going 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.
On Monday, as news of his departure was still sinking in on another scorching-hot summer day, Sherwin-Williams announced that Nike plans to remove the 10-story banner of James that has hung on the side of the paint company’s global headquarters and become a landmark and symbol of renewal.
The massive mural, which shows James in his No. 23 jersey with his head titled back and arms extended wide as if to welcome one and all, was also taken down in 2010 when he bolted for Miami.
Standing on the sidewalk across from the billboard, Tom Valentino of Painesville, snapped some final photographs for posterity.
“I found out it was coming down, and it’s kind of an iconic image here in Cleveland so I wanted to make sure I got a good look at it and got some pictures before it goes away,” he said.
Like many Cleveland sports fans, Valentino was initially disappointed to hear James wouldn’t be re-signing with the Cavs. But as he digested this new reality, Valentino chose to reflect on James’ lasting legacy.
“Oh, man. Where do you even begin?” he said. “The phrase that you hear from LeBron is that it’s bigger than basketball.
“I really took that to heart as a lifelong Clevelander and just a Northeast Ohioan, and just everything that he has brought to our city and our community and our region.
“And let’s just be honest, the basketball was a lot of fun. Every game you would turn on, you would never know what you were going to see from him, an amazing play, the buzzer-beaters and just everything else that he has brought to the city.
“It’s just been something else.”