Around 1 o’clock Friday afternoon, the phone rang at my desk. A lady wanted to know what I could do about The Young & The Restless not being on.
The answer was, of course, nothing. Because at that moment, local television stations were excitedly covering LeBron James’ announcement via SI.com that he was coming back to the Cavaliers.
The coverage was breathless and often celebratory. Leon Bibb of WEWS (Channel 5) recalled the decades of Cleveland sports frustrations and said that for now they had been erased.
There were interviews with people on the street, recaps of celebrity and regular-folks tweets, and the search for appropriate experts. The Beacon Journal’s Bob Dyer was interviewed on at least two local television stations — and one, WKYC (Channel 3), had him on the air before the Beacon Journal’s news partner, WEWS.
The scrambling led to some mistakes. A WOIO (Channel 19) reporter said on the air that she had lost the audio from the studio. A WKYC graphic referred to the Cavaliers “chaplin” — when he wasn’t Charlie, but the team’s chaplain.
There came a point where there was not much more to be said, or fresh voices to be included, and stations for the most part drifted back to regular programming. WJW (Channel 8) was the first to drop out of live coverage, at 1 p.m. about 45 minutes after the news broke. WEWS followed roughly 40 minutes later and WOIO at 2 p.m. — while WKYC soldiered on, even though its march often included long stretches of anchors sitting around talking. And talking.
But people were talking, had been for ages both locally (where, among other things, WOIO promised to name its sports studio after LeBron if he came back) and nationally.
Nate Silver, the statistical whiz famous for predicting the state-by-state outcome of presidential races, had written on his FiveThirtyEight.com that LeBron should neither stay in Miami nor go to Cleveland if he wanted to win championships; even if the star brought 20 more wins to the team next season, that would not be enough for another ring. But by Friday, he had a new post — analyzing the Cavs’ chances with James and Kevin Love.
LeBron, for that matter, made his announcement via Sports Illustrated’s website, SI.com. Even how SI got the story was newsworthy. Advertising Age said the announcement was “poised to be the biggest traffic event in the history of the magazine.” It explained how writer Lee Jenkins (who had an “as told to” on James’ announcement) had helped make it happen. And the scoop was so big that “only about six Sports Illustrated staffers saw the piece before it went live.”
Humorist Andy Borowitz, a former Clevelander, wrote for NewYorker.com, joking that James congratulated Clevelanders on “realizing the incredible dream of having me back.”
Overseas, the Daily Mail, the gossip-laden British publication currently under fire for screwing up a story about George Clooney, gave the LeBron news big play on its website. Not as big as a report from a sensational Texas murder trial, but bigger than a new story about Khloe Kardashian.
On the other hand, Al Jazeera America did not have the story hours after the announcement, its sports section full of World Cup stories.
Still, on Twitter, LeBron comments dominated. When I was one of 52,000 retweeters of LeBron’s new Instagram in a Cavs uniform, my retweet was retweeted by a friend — in Milwaukee.
At one point, eight of the nine trending words and phrases on Twitter were LeBron-related, topped by a hashtagged Cleveland but also including Miami, Cavaliers, “coming home” and “Lee Jenkins.”
To be sure, not everyone cared. Some time after the call from that soap-opera fan, one came in from a reader with several questions about Dancing With the Stars.
But there was something akin to a national conversation spread across the Internet and social media, although the conversation could get redundant. At one time, you could find D.L. Hughley, a comedian with Ohio ties, tweeting, “Damn Cleveland!!! Y’all gotta ALOTA Lebron Jerseys to unburn!!!!” Around the same time, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert was tweeting, “My 8-year-old: ‘Daddy, does this mean I can finally wear my Lebron jersey, again?’... Yes it does, son. Yes it does!” And, hours later, Northeast Ohio’s own Drew Carey came on board: “Been out of range. Just heard the news about @KingJames. Time to un-burn those jerseys! :)”
And, as more than one commentator noted, the frenzy over LeBron’s move — it’s still hard to call anything about him a “decision” — was tied in part to the feelings Northeast Ohio has about itself, and how LeBron’s essay renewed his affection for the region, and his understanding of its gritty base.
In the SI.com essay, James said, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.” In that there seemed to be echoes of writer (and former Beacon Journal columnist) David Giffels’ collection of essays about Akron, The Hard Way on Purpose.
Which, by the way, begins with an essay focusing on LeBron. At the end of that essay, Giffels wrote that he believed the King would return one day.
“I look at those words — he will come home — but I know I need to qualify this belief,” Giffels said. “You come from a misunderstood place and you develop a habit of qualifying everything — and I realize ‘hope’ is the only way to do so, to ultimately believe that is the force that will conquer, and I curse myself for this, for all the goddamned hope of it all.”
James understands that, too. “I’m not promising a championship,” he said on SI.com. “I know how hard that is to deliver.” But he gave people a reason to hope, and a promise to earn success through hard work. On purpose.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog. He is also on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 and firstname.lastname@example.org.