LeBron James: The Decision and The Reaction

I am not from Cleveland.

Prior to 2003, I was not a Cleveland Cavaliers fan.

Prior to 2007, I'd never spent a second in Cleveland, and couldn't relate to the plight of their fans at all

But, somewhere along the line, that all changed (well, not the part about being from Cleveland. I'm still from Connecticut.). Thanks to LeBron James, I fell in love with the Cleveland Cavaliers. And thanks to LeBron James, last night, I had my heart ripped out.

First, a little background. As recently as 2007, when asked about my basketball allegiances, I would always say "I'm a LeBron fan, not really a Cavs fan". My failed trip to the 2007 NBA Finals -- remember, I had tickets to Game 5, which obviously didn't happen -- didn't change that. I blamed LeBron's teammates for failing him, rather than being upset that the Cavs didn't win a championship.

Over the last 18 months or so, my allegiances started to shift. It was no longer just about wanting to see LeBron win a championship, I wanted THE CAVS to win a championship. People would ask me where I wanted LeBron to sign, and I wouldn't hesitate to say Cleveland. Sometimes I'd get a follow up question along the lines of "wouldn't it be easier for you to see him play if he was in New York or New Jersey", and I again wouldn't hesitate. I didn't care. I've flown to Cleveland to see him play before and I was absolutely willing to do it again.

Part of it was wanting to see LeBron become a champion in his hometown, but part of it was wanting to see the Cavaliers win a championship, period. I wanted Zydrunas Ilgauskas to win a title, I wanted Mo Williams to win a title, I wanted all the guys on the team to win a title, and I wanted to be at The Q when the Cavaliers hung that banner.

So last night, I drove to Greenwich, CT, with mixed feelings. I had every reason to believe the reports that LeBron was going to announce that he was signing with the Miami Heat, but I held out hope that it wouldn't be the case. I specifically wore my road LeBron jersey, because it was the one that said "Cleveland" on the front. People approached me and asked me if I was a Cavs fan. I didn't hesitate to say yes. People asked me if I wanted LeBron to stay in Cleveland. Again, I didn't hesitate to say yes. People asked me where I thought he was signing. Then? I hesitated. The logical part of me wanted to say "Miami", since that's where all signs were pointing, but the hopeful fan in me wanted to say "Cleveland". In the end, I usually ended up saying "I don't know."

Livestreaming the proceedings from Greenwich definitely made the event go better, but when the decision came down, I got out of there as quickly as possible. The hundreds of Knicks fans who were there were angry, but they couldn't understand. The Nets fans in attendance were pretty much resigned to their fates from the beginning. The Celtics and Lakers fans were confident that their teams were still better, and the two (yes, I literally saw only two) Heat fans there were celebratory.

Cavs fans (and yes, I wasn't the only one)? We were just sick. After walking the half-mile to my car, I just sat there. I don't think I drove away for at least 20 minutes. I wasn't sure what to think. To quote Comic Book Guy, "there's no emoticon for what I'm feeling" was probably the most apt description.

As I drove home last night, my sick feeling turned to actual physical illness. I didn't break down and cry like some fans. To make another "Simpsons" reference, it was like when Laura Powers ripped out Bart's heart, then drop-kicked it into the trash. About 15 miles into my drive, I had to pull into a rest stop and vomit. Yes, I actually vomited. Sure, I could say that it was a combination of the oppressive heat, frequent walking and the fact I hadn't eaten since 9 a.m., but I knew that wasn't the case. It was LeBron-induced illness.

The rest of the drive home was a blur. I had my iPhone on shuffle, and the songs seemed to reflect my mood: "Good Girl Gone Bad", "I Will Always Love You" "Cat's in the Cradle", "Another One Bites the Dust", "Cruel Summer", "Where is the Love". Sure there were other ones mixe in there, but those were the ones that stood out. The one that stood out more than any was Rihanna's "Take a Bow", in particular these lyrics:
Don't tell me you're sorry 'cause you're not
And baby when I know you're only sorry you got caught

But you put on quite a show, really had me going
But now it's time to go, curtain's finally closing
That was quite a show, very entertaining
But it's over now
(But it's over now)
Go on and take a bow
It wasn't just last night that was the show, it was the past seven years. All the talk about wanting to bring a championship to Cleveland, about Akron being his home, about being "the King of Akron", that now appears to have all been part of the show too.

I tried to pinpoint what I'm feeling on the 5 stages of grief, but what I'm feeling isn't there. It's not denial (I know LeBron's gone, and he's not coming back). It's not anger, though it might have been if I'd actually been watching the decision on TV. It's not bargaining or depression, and it sure as hell isn't acceptance. It's really some combination of all five, with an emphasis on "why" and "how". I really just want to know, without the spin, why LeBron did this and how he possibly could think he could do this and still be able to call Cleveland/Akron home.

At some point in the future, I'll eventually reach acceptance. I'll break down and buy a LeBron Heat jersey, because somewhere inside I'm still a LeBron fan, as I've been for 10 years (yes, dating to his sophomore year of high school). And at some point I'll be able to look at my LeBron Cavs jerseys without getting that sick feeling in my stomach. But I know it's going to be awhile before I can put a pair of LeBrons on my feet.

Come next season, will I be a Heat fan? Unlikely. At best, I'll be back to being a LeBron fan, with no real allegiance to his team. And come October, will I still be a Cavs fan? I don't know. I wish I could answer that question right now, but I can't. And I guess on some level, the fact that the answer to that question is no longer an immediate no shows how much things have changed for me. My loyalties aren't as easily swayed as LeBron's are.

Watch a replay of the livestream from Greenwich, CT