As the seconds ticked down in the Dallas Mavericks' 105-95 series clinching victory over LeBron James and the Miami Heat Sunday night, crowning Dallas the 2010-2011 NBA champions, jubilation erupted on the streets of Cleveland, Ohio. Former Cleveland Cavalier and one-time hometown hero LeBron James earned universal scorn on the shores of Lake Eerie last July when the Ohio native announced with obnoxious fanfare, on what amounted to an hour-long ESPN soap opera, that he would leave the Cavaliers. He abandoned the only NBA team he had ever known to sign a contract to play for the Miami Heat.
"I intend to follow the example of former Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell and extend, to every last Cleveland fan, the bird," an angry James had said, smirking into the camera and offering the one-finger salute. Following the 1995 season the notorious Modell relocated the city's beloved football team to Baltimore. With James' departure, the Cavaliers went from an NBA-best 61-21 record during the 2009-10 season, to last place in the Eastern Conference with a 19-63 mark.
"I tried to make it work here, but it was too hard. And now I think I'd rather take my talents to South Beach and play with my buddies Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh," James told America on his ESPN special, titled "The Decision," while declaring his betrayal last summer.
But in the aftermath of the Dallas Mavericks' first-ever NBA championship, there was only joy in Cleveland as a mob of fans, some wearing Dirk Nowitzki's number 41 Mavericks jersey, celebrated. They gathered outside downtown Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, a site less than one hour from James' boyhood home in Akron, Ohio. It was the arena where he led the Cavaliers for the first seven years of his career, setting many franchise records including the highest career scoring total with 15,251 points. Before this season even began James was a marked man in Cleveland where his jersey was frequently burned in effigy and his reputation forever disgraced.
Cleveland Mayor Frank G. Jackson was one of many city residents thrilled to see James' post-season failures hamstring another team for a change. Jackson proclaimed June 12 to be annually celebrated as "Dirk Nowitzki Day," giving thanks for the German-born Mavericks' star.
"We all owe Dirk a sincere debt of gratitude," Jackson told the cheering crowd in reference to Dallas' Finals MVP. "Since the so-called 'King' walked out on our fine city, costing Cleveland's economy the money and jobs that the team's success had been generating, we have all wished him nothing but the very worst. I think, no I know, that we are thrilled to see that miserable SOB fall short just as he will next season, and on ad infinitum!"
Richard Atkins has lived in Cleveland's Cuyahoga County for all of his 54 years. The businessman and one-time Cavaliers season ticket-holder tried in vain to flip over a parked grey Smart Car in celebration of the Heat loss. Raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio, he had just finished his 11th bottle of beer at nearby Flannery's Pub where he had watched the series' final game.
"The Cavs had been my favorite NBA team since the good old Ted Stepien days," Atkins remarked, referencing the former Cavaliers owner who managed "the worst club, and most poorly run franchise in professional basketball," according to the New York Times. "But for the past year," Atkins continued, "my favorite team has been whoever is playing Miami."
Cleveland fans now turn their attention to the upcoming NBA draft where the Cavaliers hold the first pick after winning the draft lottery in May. They are expected to take Duke standout and point guard Kyrie Irving. It is the first time since 2003 that Cleveland has held the first pick. They used that selection to draft LeBron James who led them to the franchise's only Finals appearance in 2007, when they were swept by the San Antonio Spurs.
After "The Decision," Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert publicly pledged to Cleveland fans that the Cavaliers would win a title before James. He chuckled after James latest season ended Sunday night, leaving him still without a championship.
"You know, LeBron, if all you wanted was to lose in the Finals again, you could have done that here in Cleveland," Gilbert said. "Hell, if you ever showed up in the fourth quarter, we'd probably even win."