We've seen conference championships. We've seen spectacular regular seasons. But with each one of those glorious campaigns comes the seemingly inevitable: crushing, bitter disappointment.
All of that was supposed to change when the Cleveland Cavaliers got the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. There had never been a more hyped prospect out of high school. His games were on ESPN. He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated. He grew up in Akron, Ohio.
Tortured sports city finally lifted and carried to the promised land on the shoulders of a hometown kid turned superstar. That's how it was supposed to go, right? That's the only way it could go, right?
No, no, no.
This is Cleveland. There's no way he lives up to the hype. He'd be a bust. This is all too good to be true.
Well, that's what I thought initially. Then after one game in a Cavaliers uniform, I was all-in.
He was spectacular in his NBA debut. He scored 25 points and chipped in 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals. He was just 18 years old and his game had some obvious flaws, but I had never seen anything like him. Nobody had ever seen anything like him. He had the making of the kind of superstar that would normally haunt and torture Cleveland teams --guys like Michael Jordan or John Elway. But this time it was different. He was on our team. He was from our home. All those years of heartbreak would be forgotten because we had LeBron freakin' James.
Fast-forward seven years and his achievements were more amazing than I could have ever imagined.
2003 Rookie of the Year. 2009 Most Valuable Player. 2010 Most Valuable Player. 2008 NBA Scoring Title. League leader in Win Shares in 2009 and 2010. League leader in PER in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Six All-Star games. Two All-Star game MVP awards. First team All-Rookie. Two selections to the All-NBA 2nd team. Four selections to the All-NBA 1st team. Two selections to the All-NBA Defensive 1st team. Career 26.9 PER in the regular season. Career 27.1 PER in the postseason including an absurd 37.4 in the 2009 postseason.
We were witnessing greatness. I bought the "Witness" t-shirt. We all did.
How can someone who is undisputedly the greatest player in franchise history also be the franchise's biggest disappointment? Well....
He dragged the 2007 Cavaliers to an Eastern Conference championship, only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the Finals.
Every single ESPN analyst picked the Cavaliers to beat the Magic in 2009. LeBron put on one of the most absurd performances in NBA history during that series. And the Cavs were ousted with nothing to show for it.
Despite his greatness, disappointment remained the theme.
Every single ESPN analyst picked the Cavaliers to beat the Celtics in 2010. The Cavs jumped out to a 2-1 lead in the series only to fall flat on their faces and lose the next three games. LeBron tore off his Cavaliers jersey as he left the court and we all knew what we had just seen -- his last game in a Cleveland uniform.
The Summer of 2010 came and, well, you all know how that turned out. He went on ESPN, spat in our faces, and bolted for South Beach.
We've seen conference championships. We've seen spectacular regular seasons. There's one thing that we haven't seen in over 60 years. LeBron James was supposed to change that. And now his words ring hollow.
"I've got a goal and it's a huge goal and that's to bring an NBA Championship here to Cleveland and I won't stop til I get it." - LeBron James, March 31 2010
Was LeBron James a total failure? Not at all. Did he fail to live up to the hype? Not at all. If anything, he exceeded the hype. But the fact remains that he was our best chance to capture that elusive championship. He brought us to previously unknown heights, only to fall short of the ultimate goal. A Cleveland championship was within our grasp -- and it slipped away. If that's not a disappointment -- then I don't know what is.