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Cleveland moves on as LeBron crowned champ

Associated Press Modified: June 22, 2012 at 4:02 pm •  Published: June 22, 2012
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CLEVELAND (AP) — On the same sidewalk where fans torched a LeBron James jersey in protest two summers ago, office workers on their lunch hours passed gamblers headed to the new downtown casino.

Just another summer day.

While James was in Miami celebrating his first NBA title, fans in the city he scorned to chase a championship had a much more subdued, internal reaction. There were no angry protests, no public outrage, no threats of harm. Those days have long past.

The king got his ring.

And Cleveland, where sports despair's roots have grown for generations, seemed to sigh in acceptance.

"In a way I'm kind of happy for him," bartender Natalie Hardik said between serving pints of beer at Flannery's, an Irish bar and restaurant across the street from Quicken Loans Arena, where James once starred. "But I definitely still feel a lot of bitterness toward him — everyone does."

This city, yearning to celebrate its first pro sport championship since 1964, hasn't forgiven James for leaving as a free agent in 2010. Many can't let it go. There's lingering pain and resentment, but there's also a sense that it's time to move on.

Some Clevelanders already had.

"I hope they have moved on, and I kind of felt many fans had come to accept this would happen during the season," said TV sports anchor Jim Donovan, a longtime Cleveland resident. "Fans felt him winning it all was inevitable, and I think some of them may have given up because it's exhausting to root against the guy. It's better to root for your team."

Cleveland reveled in seeing James fail in last year's finals.

This time, there was no stopping him.

And the sight of James, who grew up in nearby Akron and spent seven seasons with the Cavaliers, hugging and and hoisting a championship trophy was tough to stomach.

"I had mixed feelings," said Mike Kubinski, who watched Thursday's Game 5 at home in Cleveland's Tremont district. "It's a lot like when your ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend gets married. It's not fun."

As he spoke, Kubinski stood just a few away from an outdoor clothing kiosk at Westlake's Crocker Park, where "Lyin' King" T-shirts were sold after James' departure in 2010. Now, there's hardly a trace of James anywhere to be found in Cleveland, where his No. 23 jersey was once omnipresent and his likeness loomed above the city on a giant downtown billboard.

"LeWho?" said Jimmy Pearl of Cleveland. "He left. Outta sight, outta mind, my man."

Coincidentally, at about the exact time James and the Miami Heat were dispatching the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday night, a storm rumbled in across Lake Erie, its thunder and lightning providing the perfect backdrop for another dark moment in Cleveland sports history.

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