George M. Thomas: Akron mayor makes for awkward, yet compelling radio guest when LeBron is topic

By George M. Thomas
Beacon Journal sports writer

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Sometimes the best radio is the most awkward radio.

Some great radio hit the signal coming out of downtown Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan (92.3-FM) Wednesday afternoon when Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic joined co-hosts Andy Baskin and Jeff Phelps on Baskin & Phelps.

Baskin, who also serves as sports director for WEWS (Channel 5), gave the mayor time to address statements Baskin made about Plusquellic in a blog post last week.

A Channel 5 reporter quoted the mayor, who suggested that owner Dan Gilbert was to blame for LeBron James leaving the Cavaliers.

“Dan Gilbert can be mad at me if he wants to be, but I wish Dan Gilbert would have spent some of his money and gone out and bought a couple of all-stars and then said to LeBron, ‘Hey, I’m giving you a team that you can win a championship here.’ Instead, everybody waited, held their cards close to the vest and said, ‘OK, LeBron please sign,’ ” he told WEWS reporter Bob Jones.

The tale of Akron’s favorite son’s departure from the Cavs is a long and winding road and it’s possible that the absolute truth will never be known. But this is it in a nutshell: James has two world championships and two Most Valuable Player trophies from them. Nothing else should really matter.

However, Plusquellic took offense to that blog post and interpreted it to mean that he shouldn’t have an opinion regarding sports in Northeast Ohio.

Baskin said point blank before the mayor’s appearance on the show that he’s entitled to his opinion, but that seemed irrelevant to Plusquellic. From the Cavs to casino and racino gambling it sounded very much as if he has an ax to grind with Gilbert.

Baskin and Plusquellic spent the better part of the segment talking over one another and didn’t reach any common ground until the word “goodbye” was spoken.

Plusquellic defended James passionately, sounding like the fan he confessed to be in the process.

“You know why? Because people in Cleveland still criticize, when I go up I hear it, I hear it in sports bars, people are still booing, people are still rooting against him and blaming him and there’s always another side to the story,” he said.

He likened James’ situation to that of Beanie Wells, former running back for the Arizona Cardinals, after Baskin said that going after Gilbert four years after the fact made little sense.

“The fans in Cleveland who go after LeBron anytime I’m in the room, when somebody comes up and says something, ought to get off his back, too,” he said to Baskin. “Nobody said anything about Beanie Wells, who played for the Cardinals those years. Nobody bashes him. I’m sure there are hundreds of Cleveland folks who went and played ball somewhere and no one bashes them.”

Beyond all of that, however, it pointed to a basic fact that I’ve learned in nearly 14 years of working at the Beacon Journal. There isn’t a lot of love lost between Akron and Cleveland. One’s the big brother and the other is the alleged picked upon little brother. James confessed as much in an interview he would probably like to take back. In the September 2010 GQ he expressed his hatred as a child for the city (Cleveland) that adored him without reservation as an adult.

If Plusquellic wants to be allowed to criticize Gilbert by suggesting he spend some money, he shouldn’t have been surprised when someone in the know pointed out that his facts were in error and that the Cavs paid the NBA’s luxury tax for at least James’ final two seasons. He has that right, just as Clevelanders have the right to criticize James.

Compelling radio it was, revealing at least one deep wound that won’t heal. It would have been better if an actual conversation had taken place. One person tried and one person didn’t.

George M. Thomas can be reached at gmthomas@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Zips blog at http://www.ohio.com/zips. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/GeorgeThomasABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.


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