Wright Thompson on Cleveland

December, 1, 2010
12/01/10
3:59
PM ET
Abbott By Henry Abbott
ESPN.com
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Holy smokes is that one tough assignment: To put a whole city into one little feature article. But in telling the tale of what happened between LeBron James and Cleveland, that's what must be done.

Wright Thompson did it, in a profound and lavish portrait of a city on the brink.

One key point: Perhaps stupidly, Cleveland bet more than it should have on sports. When all else went wrong, and investment was desperately needed all over the city, the city put its love and money into stadiums. Being the biggest draw of all that, and the guy posing like Jesus Christ himself in a massive banner across from those arenas, implied that James understood the mission and stakes.

In real life, it is just sports, and every Clevelander Thompson talked to seems to understand that reasonable people might decide to leave Cleveland, for a number of reasons.

But in addition to sports, there is a real and ongoing struggle to turn around a city enduring "a 50-year Katrina." James gave the appearance of being a foot soldier, or even a general in the plan to save Cleveland. And on that front, Clevelanders feel more than a little betrayed.

U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, a former Cleveland mayor and presidential candidate, offered Thompson some perspective:
"You're talking about a deep love that people had for him, as a player, and also coming from the area," Kucinich says. "There's a very powerful connection, and people were heartbroken."

Was that connection real or projected?

"I think that happens to anyone in a relationship," he says. "It's not just sports and politics. Any relationship can have that dimension, where people read more into it than is there."

So is all the parsing a smokescreen? The endless quibbles over whether it was the leaving, or the way he left, or how he didn't allow the Cavs time to chase free agents, or that he wore a Yankees hat, or that he quit in the playoffs, or that he broke his promises. Are people angry that he didn't care as much as they did? Are they hurt and struggling to express it?

"It was a relationship where one party to the relationship just left for somebody else," Kucinich says. "Those are painful moments. There is deep pain that comes from that. But the people in this town, there's a lot of heart here. People heal. And they even forgive. They don't forget, though."

Henry Abbott | email

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