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LeBron James Owes The City of Cleveland Nothing…Except A Run At The Title

A few weeks back, after I wrote an article on the Kentucky-West Virginia college basketball game, I got one especially poignant e-mail, amongst the hundreds that I received.

It was from an old woman in Kentucky, who was simply thanking me for shedding light on Wildcats big man DeMarcus Cousins, differently than anyone in the media really had all year. For describing Cousins as the goofy and jovial kid who came out of his shell over the course of the season, rather the undisciplined thug that many made him out to be coming into it. For using a whole year’s worth of actions to define him, rather than a bad first impression to chastise him, like others had.

My response to that e-mail was simple: There was no need to thank me. That I wasn’t some crusty old media member, who took a first impression, banged out an easy, thoughtless, 800 word column, just so I could get out of the newsroom by the early afternoon to catch a few holes of golf. Instead, I was simply a fan of sports who loved writing, and that Cousins had endeared himself to me, like so many in Kentucky over the course of the 2010 college basketball season. That it was my responsibility as a writer to learn all the facts- good and bad- before casting judgement and sharing an opinion publicly.

Again, it was just one e-mail, and one response. And truthfully, I didn’t think much of it. At least until a column called, “LeBron James Owes Fans A Refund,” was forwarded to me Monday afternoon. Or as I like to call it, the latest edition of “As the Media Grumbles.”

Now before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I have no personal vendetta with Tim Potvak, the AOL Fanhouse columnist who wrote the piece. Quite the opposite. Truthfully, I’m about as familiar with his work as he probably is with mine. Which is to say I had never heard of the guy until Monday.

But I also think his column is the latest- in an endless line of examples- of the old-school media being out of touch with the modern athlete. And as someone who is a bit younger, I have a completely different take, and feel the need to share it.

The premise of the article is really as simple as the title sounds: Basically that LeBron James should pay the wages that he earned for Sunday’s game with the Magic to all the fans who paid to see him play. That he owes them for showing up to support him, even as he decided to take the night off, for no reason other than to rest for the postseason.

Potvak’s thought is a nice idea in principle, but one with which that I couldn’t disagree more.

LeBron James owes nothing to the people of Cleveland at this point, other than his best effort once the playoffs start this coming Saturday.

This season marks the second straight season that Cleveland will have home-court advantage through the entire Eastern Conference playoffs, and 2010 will double as a year that the Cavaliers also have home-court in the NBA Finals too, should they make it that far. And with all due respect to Mo Williams, Shaq, Big Z and the rest of the gang in Cleveland, that didn’t happen because of them. It happened because of the King.

More importantly, James has made the Cavaliers relevant nationally, like it hasn’t been any time basically in the last two decades.

According to his bio on AOL Fanhouse, Potvak has been covering the NBA since 1989. So surely he must remember what Cleveland was like before LeBron. Because I sure do.

What I remember is a revolving door of Danny Ferry’s and Ricky Davis’, Trajan Langdon’s and Wesley Person’s, and a team that featured a lot more losses than wins. Sure there was maybe a hint of playoff fever once every few years, but if the city of Cleveland had any real hopes of seeing a champion, they’d have to flip on their VHS copy of Major League II. The Cavaliers were sometimes good, but hardly great, and definitely never memorable all these years later.

Since LeBron got to Cleveland though, that has changed, as the city has turned into a basketball hotbed and Quicken Loans Arena into one of the toughest road venues in the NBA. The Cavaliers went 39-2 there a year ago, and are 35-6 at home in 2010. Granted it wouldn’t have happened without the wonderful fan support of the people of Cleveland. But at the same time, those same people aren’t showing up to see Anderson Varejao and Anthony Parker now, just like they weren’t paying to see Langdon and Person 10 years ago. Without LeBron, their tickets wouldn’t be worth the paper they’re printed on.

Later on in Potvak’s article, he says, “Joe Hardhat (A clever pun if ever I’ve heard one. What was “Johnny Everyman,” already copywrited?), who paid a day’s wage three months ago to buy two good seats so his son could see his first Cavs game Sunday, deserves better treatment than this.”

First of all, “A Day’s Wage.” Really? What does Joe Hardhat do for a living? Work in an 1860’s textile mill?

Beyond Joe Hardhat’s day job though, there’s something important. Because if Joe Hardhat paid a day’s wage three months ago to see LeBron in the last week of the season, and came to Quicken Loans Arena on Sunday afternoon surprised that LBJ wasn’t playing, well, then Joe Hardhat is a sucker. Sorry Joey T. You’re my boy. But it’s true.

The fact is, whenever you buy tickets to games this late in the season, they come with an unwritten warning that the buyer better beware.

It happens in the NFL, when teams rest their starters in the weeks leading up to the playoffs, and in Major League Baseball when everyone calls up their entire Triple A roster for the last week in September.

And it happens in the NBA, when oversized men recklessly throw their bodies at each other for five months straight, and need a few days off to rest at the end of the regular season. The same way that an overworked businessman takes a long weekend after an especially difficult quarter. Would Joe Hardhat prefer that his team not be in the playoffs at all? At least then his kid would get to see their favorite star player. Granted it’d be in a half empty arena, with nothing on the line. But still.

While I know I don’t speak for every fan, I do feel comfortable making this statement. Especially considering that it was just two weeks ago, that I myself was Joe Hardhat. No need to worry though. You can just call me Aaron.

It was Easter Sunday, and these very same Cavaliers were coming to Boston to take on the Celtics. With the holiday, as well as a Red Sox-Yankees game captivating the city later that night, I knew this might be my only chance to see LeBron in person, at a reasonable price, in my lifetime.

Sure I ran the risk of the Cavaliers limiting the King’s minutes, or not playing him at all, and the same with the Celtics and Kevin Garnett. It even led to me question if I should actually go through buying the tickets or not, before I ultimately decided that the reward greatly outweighed the risk. And apparently 21,000 other Joe Hardhat’s agreed, as a capacity crowd at the TD Bank North Garden witnessed one of the best regular season games of the year.

Now with that said, I know I don’t speak for every Joe Hardhat, Johnny Everyman or Billy Blue-Collar out there.

Some may think that regardless of what juncture of the season we’re in, LeBron does owe the paying fans a few minutes on the court. Potvak even points out that James could make a quick appearance in the first half, before retreating to the bench to rub elbows and crack jokes with Shaq and Mo Williams, and be plenty rested by the time the final whistle blows.

And that’s all well good. But to the people who think this way, that LeBron needs to make an appearance, to appease the paying customer, let me ask you this: What if God forbid, James got hurt? Would the $200 you paid to see to see 10 minutes of LeBron, be worth watching your teams championship hopes go up in smoke? Because it wouldn’t be to me.

So in the end I’m going to have to disagree with Tim Potvak, and say that LeBron did the right thing by sitting on Sunday afternoon.

He did the right thing by avoiding a meaningless game against a potential playoff opponent, and chose to rest his body rather than simply pad his stats. By not playing, LeBron was actually more unselfish and more sacrificial, than if he had actually taken the court.

And to Joe Hardhat, I’m sorry. Sorry that you paid a day’s wage to see the King, and simply got a few of his court jesters instead.

If it’s any condolence, you may have missed LeBron on Sunday afternoon, but cheer up, you’ll hopefully see him quite a bit more in the playoffs the next few months.

Sure it isn’t the same as being there in person. Isn’t it better than the alternative though?

(Love the article? Hate it? Let Aaron know by commenting below or e-mailing him at ATorres00@gmail.com. Also, if you’re looking for Aaron’s thoughts on all things sports, please be sure to follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres and Facebook.com/aarontorressports)

About Aaron Torres

Aaron Torres works for Fox Sports, and was previously a best-selling author of the book 'The Unlikeliest Champion.' He currently uses Aaron Torres Sports to occasionally weigh-in on the biggest stories from around sports. He has previously done work for such outlets as Sports Illustrated, SB Nation and Slam Magazine.

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