Talking Sports: Jack Kopanski

Well, Cleveland, it happened. He left again.

For the second time in eight years, LeBron James is leaving the Cavaliers. Granted, it’s coming under much different circumstances than the first time, but number 23 is gone nonetheless.

This time, there are no jersey’s being burned, though. Perhaps a little resentment, anger or depression, but fans have no reason to defame the name of the man who brought this city its first championship in 52 years. He came back and did what he promised he would.

Say what you will about how James handled going about his decision, at least there was no televised special that made a fool out of the city. In the most un-LeBron James fashion, the announcement was made last Sunday night in a one-sentence press release put out by his agency, Klutch Sports.

“LeBron James, four time NBA MVP, 14-time NBA All-Star, and two time olympic gold medalist has agreed to a four year, $154 million contract with the Los Angeles Lakers.”

And just like that, it was done. No press conference, no Sports Illustrated story about it, just that one sentence.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this decision was not the manner in which it was announced, nor the decision itself, but instead the willingness for LeBron to commit to a team that is loaded with — nonetheless talented — youth, and hasn’t landed another big name free agent.

Paul George decided he wanted to stay in Oklahoma City, Kawhi Leonard seems to be trapped in San Antonio for the time being as the Spurs are asking for the sun and moon in return for Leonard, yet LeBron opted to sign for three guaranteed years, with an option for a fourth.

It didn’t anger me when I thought about how he’d commit to Los Angeles, but only gave Cleveland two one-year deals and a two-year deal. It just left me thinking, “Why?”

Why commit long-term to a team that isn’t guaranteed to get another All-Star to play alongside you? And even if they did, a good chunk of the young corps of players that likely attracted LeBron would have to be moved to do so.

Why go to the Western Conference when you know you’ll be on a collision course with either Houston or the somehow-continuing-to-get-stronger Warriors? To go from being the king of the East, nearly guaranteed to continue his consecutive trips to the NBA Finals streak, to a longshot to even make the conference championship seems somewhat mind-boggling for a player that values winning as much LeBron.

While his motives and reasonings will likely never be truly known, at least not while he’s still in the league, no one can take away what he did for the city of Cleveland in his time here. In these past four years, James’ presence has done wonders for not only the psyche of Cleveland fans, but also for local downtown businesses.

A study done by estimated that when LeBron returned in 2015, the spike in the Cleveland economy was up around nine-figures. Another study done at Harvard University, showed that the number of restaurants and eating and drinking establishments within a mile of Quicken Loans Arena increased by nearly 13 and 14 percent respectively. Employment at those establishments also increased by 23.5 percent.

With the Browns season starting up soon, and Cleveland being known, rightfully so, as a notorious “football town,” the economic impact of James’ departure will likely be lessened for the time being at least. Gone are the days, though, of Cleveland receiving the kind of positive national attention it did during the second reign of LeBron.

As tough as these coming years may be for die-hard Cavs fans, I have just one thing to say to you: Look up.

Next time you’re in The Q, look up into the rafters and tell me what you see. Hanging boldly and proudly is a banner that no one can ever take away. It reads 2016 NBA CHAMPIONS. It took 52 years, but it’s there.

Were it not for the kid from St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron, Ohio, there would still be that empty space. Both in the arena, and in the heart of the city.

So while our paths now part, perhaps for the final time, for all you’ve done for the fans and this city, I can only say:

Thank you, LeBron.

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