The below-the-belt punch delivered last night to the solar plexus of the city of Cleveland by its wayward native son (by way of Akron), LeBron James, soon may be magnified by an equally devastating blow to the city’s pocketbook.
The emotional toll of LeBron’s nationally televised announcement that he is “taking his talents” and moving them to Miami was obvious even before the self-styled Chosen One finished explaining the rationale behind his decision to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers and cement himself into a trio of NBA superstars on the Miami Heat.
In the middle of King James’ self-centered proclamation (“this was about making me happy”), ESPN cut to a shot of some Cavaliers fans reacting to LeBron’s announcement: They were setting fire to his Cavaliers jersey in the parking lot of a local tavern.
Later, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert issue a scathing open letter in which he denounced Clevelend’s “narcissistic former hero” for his “cowardly act of betrayal.”
To maintain the suspense in the run-up to his television spectacular on ESPN, LeBron didn’t bother to make a courtesy call to his hometown franchise to clue them in regarding the pain he was about to inflict on them. He gave long-suffering Cleveland sports fans even less notice than their previous most-hated pariah, Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell, who years ago abruptly moved the city’s beloved NFL franchise to Baltimore.
According to economic analysts, the pain from LeBron’s defection will be financial as well as physical. Analysts estimate downtown businesses in Cleveland will lose at least $48 million per year in the wake of LeBron’s departure; the region will lose an additional $150 million in revenue derived from the Cavaliers perennial appearances in NBA playoffs; and the value of the Cavaliers franchise may be downgraded by more than $100 million.
And last, but not least, James pays more than $1 million per year in taxes to local governments. LeBron insists he has no intention of moving out of his Ohio residence, but we can safely assume he may have second thoughts about this when the smell of burning Cavaliers jerseys (and season tickets) reaches his mansion.
Those are just the tangible figures. Intangibles, like the value of the LeBron “brand” being synonymous with Cleveland are harder to estimate. But hundreds of millions of dollars does not seem like an exaggeration.
The monetary side is only one part of James’ value, said economist LeRoy Brooks of John Carroll University in University Heights. The other part, in economist’s terms, is utility. That’s a bureaucratic way of saying “he makes people happier.”
“It’s not just the money. He makes people feel better, more enthused [about Cleveland],” Brooks said.
Nick Kostis, owner of a restaurant and comedy club on East Fourth Street, a pedestrian-only district near the Cavaliers’ arena that began to take off in the early 2000s, puts it more succinctly.
“The kingdom lies where the king resides,” he said.