What Does the 100-Foot LeBron Banner Say About Cleveland’s Fandom?

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The first time LeBron James suited up for the Cleveland Cavaliers, the city embraced its hometown hero with the aplomb you might expect, and nothing encapsulated the relationship between the two like the original LeBron banner: the “We Are All Witness” Nike endorsement from 2005. It was kind of hilarious, for the coldhearted, to see the image of the banner up when James took his talents to South Beach. So this second go-around, which will be more than 100 feet tall and feature LeBron’s “arms outstretched and ‘Cleveland’ across the back of his jersey,” according to CBS Miami, is funny for many of the same reasons.

Remember that for a majority of James’s last year with the Heat, the idea that LeBron would be going back to Cleveland wasn’t taken very seriously by anyone outside of Ohio. This is, of course, in stark contrast to 2010, when it seemed like everyone except the denizens and fans of the Cavaliers knew that James was leaving (even if the most popular theory was that he’d wind up on the Knicks). Add in the fact that the banner is on schedule to be across the street from the arena in time for the home opener — against, incidentally, New York — and it all starts to feel a little bit like the city planners who approved this are desperate to keep any small thing from making James angry, no matter how briefly. He is only on a two-year contract, after all.

Yes, James is still the best basketball player in the NBA, and as the undisputed shoulders upon which greater Ohio’s hopes for an NBA championship rest, it would make sense to promote him and curry good favor, especially after the Heat hedged their best with the luxury tax and ended up losing LeBron in the process (people who don’t think the Mike Miller amnesty weighed into his decision to leave are kidding themselves). The Cavs wound up with enough luck to re-land James, and they’re not about to watch him leave again.

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To clarify: This would be excessive anywhere. It was excessive the first time, especially considering James’s lack of success during his first go-around with the Cavs. Their sole Finals appearance saw them swept by the San Antonio Spurs — not for lack of trying on LeBron’s part, to be sure, as he averaged 25 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists trying to will this squad into a team that could beat Tim Duncan and company — in 2007, and it’s right up there with those goofy LeBron and Kobe puppet advertisements, back when ESPN was convinced that Kobe and LeBron were going to meet in the Finals one of these days.

That, obviously, didn’t pan out. And James’s shortened contract is likely due to the fact that there’s going to be another lockout, ahem, adjustment to the Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2017, when the NBA’s new television deal is coming into effect and bringing in a predicted ton of money — above and beyond the profits that the league already enjoys from broadcasting rights. That aside, do they really need a 10-story banner to replace the old one? Really?

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