Tonight, LeBron James will announce his decision to leave or stay with the Cleveland Cavaliers, a team based near the only home he's ever know, the only pro team he's ever played for. So much analysis after The Decision will be based on the potency of the new team, should LeBron leave. The legacy of King James. How damaging this whole episode has been to his brand. How despicable a young, black and rich showman has become by daring to upset the Old World Order and take his message into his own hands.
I, as you can obviously tell from that, don't agree with the popular senitment that LeBron is some great narcissist for handling his free agency in this manner. I certainly don't have sympathy for the whinging, thrashing media who simultaneously paint James as an egotist as they report his every muscle movement.
The only entity I really feel for through all of this is the collective fanbase of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Not the nouveau LeBron bandwagoners of the last seven years. But the real fans, our counterparts, the cats and kittens who have cried real tears, banged desks in real frustration and swore to write off fandom for good ... only to come crawling back before opening night of the next season.
If LeBron leaves, I can only imagine Cleveland will feel like a funeral.
And this is where Tyreke Evans comes in.
In today's NBA, with singular stars running the game, any team worth its salt runs up against the very fear Cleveland faces today: What if he leaves? Of course, some teams (Lakers, Celtics) have less to worry about, thanks to historic success and free-spending owners. (Even still, the Lakers nearly lost Kobe Bryant in 2004. The Celtics nearly lost Paul Pierce in 2006.) Small markets in the NBA face even greater fears, thanks to a deck stacked for the major cities. Shaquille O'Neal leaving Orlando remains the best example of crushing exit, not just because the Magic lost the most dominant big man of the '90s, but because said big man went on to win four titles (and counting) elsewhere.
Tyreke is our LeBron. He's our megastar, albeit in-the-making, unfinished, "potential." We are a small market. We cannot offer the nightlife, the luxury-tax supporting cast, the history of greatness. We have purple jerseys, Omri Casspi and a biblical mascot. When Evans becomes a free agent -- whether that be in three years, or in six years -- we will know this fear. Billboard pillow talk to Chris Webber? That ain't nothin'.
All humans fear rejection, and a desertion like LeBron may commit tonight, or like Tyreke could commit in the future, feels like a stab in the heart. That's part and parcel of hitching your apple wagon to a star. You want the glorious game-winners, the playoff victories, the chance at ultimate glory? Then you must risk the greatest pain. That's how it is, and it won't change. Be prepared, and hope for the best.
That hope may be running out in Cleveland, and that worries me. But we have at least three more years, and maybe 14, maybe 20. Enjoy them, and embrace the day.