I Can't Quit LeBron

It might be normal for Clevelanders to hate him, but I'd rather cheer for somebody.

I tried to forget him, pretend I didn't care. I posted snide comments about him on my Facebook page, shared others' jokes about him. Yet when I saw him again, back in that familiar place where we'd been so many times before, I couldn't pretend any longer.

So now I'm going to confess: I still love to watch LeBron James play basketball. I've watched him since he was a freshman in high school. I can't quit him now. My hands trembled the first night he returned to Cleveland as a member of the Miami Heat. Oh, how I longed to hear Austin Carr say just one more time, "The L Train — throwing the hammer down!"

I haven't bought a No. 6 jersey yet. But I check the box scores every day to see how he played the night before. If he had a great game, I feel a little better about myself — just like I did when he was in Cleveland.

Does that make you mad?

"If you're going to root for the Heat in Cleveland," my youngest daughter warned me, "you better be packin' heat."

I should tell you that my daughter is 27, a professional woman living in New York, making more money than I do. Yet the night LeBron announced The Decision to go to Miami, she locked herself in the bathroom of the Manhattan apartment she shares with two roommates and sat in an empty bathtub with a bottle of wine.

I think she takes this Cleveland sports fan thing too seriously. Maybe it's because she grew up here and I didn't.

Sometimes, I feel like I've been a newcomer for 30 years now. When I first moved to Northeast Ohio in the early '80s, I marveled at your passion for the Browns. The shopping malls were empty every Sunday afternoon in the fall. School kids wore dog masks to class and barked at their teachers.

I left the area for a while, but when I returned in the mid-'90s, what a trip it was cheering for the Indians at the new Jacobs Field and being part of the 455 consecutive sellouts. And I was there at the renamed Q on June 2, 2007, when the kid from Akron led the Cavaliers past the Detroit Pistons and into the NBA Finals for the first time in team history. Afterward, the scene was rapturous, pure joy.

You celebrate so well. I've always loved the way you loved your teams. I just never got into the hating. I'd rather root for someone.

I still cheer for other Cleveland expatriates, from Jim Thome to Manny Ramirez. I've followed their careers since they were minor leaguers in Canton. I can't change the way I feel about them because they took their talents to the bank. It's a business.

Want more heresy? I also root for the Yankees. I worshipped Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris when I was a kid growing up in Kentucky. I'm a fan still. I pulled for the Steelers in the Super Bowl. They're our neighbors. I don't understand the satisfaction you got from watching them lose to the Packers. It's like you're sticking out your tongues at Pittsburgh and whining.

However, after researching this column, I realized maybe it's me who's being too negative. Psychologists say the reactions of true Cleveland sports fans are pretty normal.

Miami University psychology professor Allen McConnell, a Cavs fan, says our feelings about LeBron and others who left are entwined with our feelings about ourselves.

"James's leaving Northeast Ohio will represent a blow to the region's collective self-esteem," he wrote in Psychology Today shortly after LeBron announced his Decision on that ridiculous TV show. "When one's self-esteem is reduced, people lash out at others and denigrate them in order to feel better about self."

If we're depending on Cleveland sports for our self-esteem these days — well, then we need a good sit-down with Dr. Phil.

Minus LeBron, the Cavs' losing streak recently reached Biblical proportions, 26 games, equaling the longest ever by a major league pro sports team. The Browns have made it to the playoffs only once since returning to the NFL in 1999. The Indians are beginning another season, rebuilding as usual. And there's no need to mention the last time any Cleveland team won a championship. I bet "Browns64" would unlock a lot of computer screens around here.

But would a few more victories make us feel better about ourselves?

Yeah, probably.

Indiana University psychology professor Edward Hirt co-authored a much-quoted study about the costs and benefits of allegiance to a sports team. He and his associates found that after a victory, those identified as true fans felt better about themselves and more confident in their ability to perform certain tasks. After a loss, it was just the opposite.

"We can't tell about the longevity of these feelings," Hirt told me. "But if you are constantly reminded [of your team's shortcomings], ... it's probably going to be hard to kick those feelings."

Hirt even discovered that after a victory by their team, true sports fans believed that they would have a better chance of success with an attractive person of the opposite sex.

Perhaps rooting for Cleveland teams is the reason our kids are ugly.

But most research suggests that even cheering for bad teams is a good thing. A University of Kansas study found that sports fans are less likely to feel alienated and depressed than non-sports fans. And Hirt, who became a Cavs fan because of LeBron, noted that hating is "a huge part of fanship." You have to hate the enemy to be accepted as part of the group, he said.

I guess if I want to get along in Northeast Ohio, then maybe I shouldn't be so open about my lust for LeBron.

So in an effort to fit in, I'll leave you with this joke I stole from Facebook:

"Did you hear the one about the new LeBron iPhone? It only vibrates because it has no rings."


Share this story: