As you drive down Ontario Street toward downtown Cleveland, it becomes blindingly clear whom the city belongs to. Literally.
There is a 10-story LeBron James billboard mounted across the street from the Quicken Loans Arena that is 110 feet high and 212 feet wide. In 2007, the federal government deemed the sign to be two-and-a-half times too large for its close proximity to highways.
Because the government felt that the billboard posed a dangerous distraction to drivers, they strongly urged the state of Ohio to push city officials and billboard owners to remove it.
Silly feds. They forgot that King James rules the city.
Gov. Ted Strickland ordered the State Transportation Department staff to immediately stop in its removal of the sign and said, “There is something spiritual about this presentation.”
Strickland even utilized taxpayer dollars by having state workers and lawyers research the issues for a possible court fight.
He wasn’t alone in his conviction of the deification of James. City council members and County Commissioner Peter Lawson Jones all supported retention of the sign and involved the media in their quest.
Today, the sign remains though the image has changed. No longer does the banner display James midway through a dunk.
The current image, like the former image, still serves as a proud reminder of how “WE ARE ALL WITNESSES” to James’s greatness. The picture captures his pregame ritual of rubbing chalk onto his hands and then throwing the dust into the air. Nike even made a commercial out of the famous custom.
How could King James possibly leave the city that worships the billboard he’s mounted on?
Despite the 10 different rumors that spring up daily about where James is headed and with whom in what package deal, the reality is that he’s probably not leaving Cleveland.
No, I didn’t speculate and guess like every other sportswriter. A source in Cleveland close to James informed me last weekend that the King was staying put.
Logically, the decision makes the most sense. James was born and raised in Akron, less than an hour south of Cleveland. He hung out at Gund Arena (now Quicken Loans Arena), home of the Cavaliers in his teenage years, and familiarized himself with former Cavaliers coach John Lucas.
Lucas was so taken with the youngster that the coach defied NBA rules and invited the 17-year-old to a voluntary workout with the team. The Cavs were fined $150,000 and Lucas was suspended for two games.
A relationship between the team and James had begun to sprout.
Then came the accusations that the Cavs tanked the 2002–2003 season to improve their lottery chances for the opportunity to draft James. Desperate teams do desperate things and this desperate team really wanted James.
Cleveland, the team and the city, did end up winning the lottery. Thus, the hometown hero stayed home.