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Published: Thursday, 6/24/2010

Oh, LeBron, it's been wonderful

LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers goes for a dunk. LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers goes for a dunk.
MIC SMITH / AP Enlarge

My passion for professional basketball crashed and burned in the 1988 playoffs between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Chicago Bulls. As a native Clevelander, I should have known better than to fall in love with any team from that town, but I did.

Blame Mark Price. He made me believe in miracles. So did the whole team of then-standouts from Ron Harper to Brad Daugherty, John "Hot Rod" Williams, Larry Nance, and Craig Ehlo. They were my boys, stringing their most fervent fan along with promises of greater glory.

Predictably, they broke my heart. I'll never forgive Michael Jordan for ruining what was a beautiful relationship built around a hoop. It's not been the same since.

Sure, I follow the Cavs out of a sense of inbred loyalty, but now I do it with a detached air that keeps me grounded about the reality of ever experiencing a championship in my lifetime. "Maybe next year" is the lame mantra Indians, Browns, and Cavs fans repeat year after year.

It's how they cope with chronic disappointments at the ballpark, stadium, and arena. So it's puzzling to see many of them acting like fools in love over an Ohio- born and raised NBA scoring sensation.

Truth is, they've been head over heels with LeBron James from the day he put on a Cavs uniform and gave them something to dream about. But what's not to love about the basketball superstar?

The son of Akron is everything and more adoring sports writers have gushed about for years. Besides being an unparalleled talent on the court, the 25-year-old is apparently a genuinely nice guy off the court who seems to have his head on straight, despite the celebrity craziness that surrounds him.

But it's time to have a little heart-to-heart chat with love-struck LeBron fans. They've gone overboard in their ardor for a guy who excels at basketball, and they are embarrassing themselves.

Look, I understand their obsession with the NBA marvel and feel their pain at the thought of losing him to free agency. King James has made them believe in miracles. He's strung them along with phenomenal promises of what could be and brought them to the edge of ultimate triumph. But the King didn't bring home the crown.

And the Second Coming was a no-show in Game 5 of the playoffs with Boston. I'm just saying. Did he buckle under pressure, was it the elbow, or had he already moved on to his next conquest in a bigger market?

I know it hurts. But extreme fawning over the former No. 23 is unhealthy. It bespeaks a desperateness that borders on all-out panic.

Even psychologists around the state have registered concern about the growing angst over what may or may not happen a week from today when James becomes a free agent. Ohio's Rust-Belt communities have enough self-esteem issues without adding rejection from a homegrown god.

But we're a glutton for punishment. Lovesick fans are holding "LeBron James appreciation rallies," or performing impromptu dance routines beseeching his favor, or blogging until their fingers bleed in frantic attempts to petition fate and avert the risks of free agency.

A minor-league baseball team recently made a major-league pitch to the basketball great to stay in the area, play baseball for a year or so, and, well, be just like Mike. Both the funny and the heartfelt keep the insane hype over a single - albeit game-changing - player alive.

That's probably just the way James likes it. It's good to be King and wooed from New York to Los Angeles, from big-city mayors to the President himself. Can you imagine if the same energy and interest were put into courting the best educators for our children, people who could truly make a difference in lives?

Me neither. But groveling over even a stellar athlete is so beneath us. No love affair is worth losing all pride to beg for a second chance at an iffy commitment.

If LeBron James, who has lived all his young life in Ohio, needs to satisfy a wanderlust to go where the Lakers are King, will he hurt us with goodbye? Oh, yeah. But, to borrow from Gloria Gaynor, we will survive.

Think we'd crumble, lie down, and die from yet another professional sports setback? Oh, no, not us. Go on now, go.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com

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