It’s not a traditional political topic, but I saw a lot of cultural symbolism in last night’s news, as suggested in this morning’s Jolt:
I’m sure some folks are sick of the topic, but I found the epic hype and buildup to LeBron James’ free agency decision a pretty fascinating portrait of the intersection of sports, money, celebrity, and cities’ identities. (It also is a minor factor in the governor’s race, and James Pethokoukis notes that the Cleveland Plain-Dealer is looking at the tax angle: “James, the Cavs’ all-time leader in scoring among other categories, potentially could be leaving as much as $40 million on the table by not signing a maximum contract with the Cavs and instead going with the Heat. It is believed Miami officials attempted to get around this fact by pointing out the difference in state income tax rates. Florida has none and Ohio’s is six percent. James would have to pay out-of-state income tax for most of his 41 road games per season, but none of his home games. That is a difference that could save James millions over the next five years when also including his endorsement earnings, which are believed to be about $15-20 million per year.”)
Like I said, I didn’t have much dog in this fight, but it’s not hard to feel bad for Cleveland. Here you have the classic Rust Belt, working class, no-glamour all-grit city that already had its football team taken away from it once. (What other city names its largest newspaper, “The Plain Dealer”?* You might as well call it the “Northern Ohio Nothing Special.”) Now the kid from Akron has left, in the most high-profile, endlessly hyped manner possible, to go to arguably the east coast’s biggest party town, the city of beaches and palm trees, bikinis, Crockett, Tubbs, Cuban sandwiches and the glamorous tropical life. He goes from one of the nation’s most diehard sports town to a place already overstuffed with celebrities and that has a hard time selling out Dolphins games (and they only have eight home games a year). Yes, LeBron James wanted to win championships and be on a better team. But he also ditched an adoring fan base, who now confront the fact that they will probably have to wait years or decades before they get a comparable talent. The message of his move is clear: nobody wants to play in Cleveland, and that relates in part because nobody with options really wants to live there.
The fact that LeBron James put his fans through months of speculation and a media frenzy that made Brett Favre’s annual to-retire-or-not-to-retire Hamlet routine look underplayed was, deliberate or not, an unnecessarily cruel twisting of the knife on his way out the door.
I’m reminded of a quote from Allahpundit after Nike put out the ad with Earl Woods’ voice: “The time is right, my friends. We’ve got a porn star running for Senate (as a Republican!), we’ve got a formerly wholesome sports icon nailing everything within a hundred-foot radius — heck, we’ve even got Spitz’s own hookers writing for major metropolitan newspapers. And of course we’ve got a new governor in New York who’s somehow made himself seem even scummier than Spitzer is. America 2008 was an innocent place. America 2010 is ready to party.” This was April, when he was speculating about a political comeback for Eliot Spitzer. Now Spitzer’s gotten an even bigger prize: America has 50 governors, but only Bill O’Reilly and Keith Olbermann can say that like Spitzer they host 8 p.m. cable news shows.
* I’m informed that the local newspaper in Wabash, Indiana, is also named The Plain Dealer.