CLEVELAND — Cleveland fans gathered around televisions and yelled in anguish Thursday night as LeBron James announced he will leave the Cavaliers and sign with the Miami Heat.
At a shopping area in suburban Westlake, a loud "No" was heard the moment after James said on ESPN that he was going to South Beach. Hundreds of people who had clamored to see the announcement turned their backs and headed home in droves.
"I’m really stunned, I never thought he’d leave," said Tom Sheehan, 15, of Westlake, who wore a James Cavaliers jersey as he watched the announcement. "It’s like we just lost a championship on the final shot at the buzzer. It’s so disappointing."
Jerseys were burned by fans outside a bar in suburban Lakewood, according to WEWS-TV of Cleveland. Footage on the station’s website shows a fan taking off a T-shirt reading "Please stay LBJ" and laying it atop a pile of burning No. 23 Cavaliers jerseys.
In downtown Cleveland, police had additional patrols to deal with crowds, but Patrol Officer Nancy Dominik said no problems were reported.
At the Harry Buffalo bar across the street from the Cavs’ Quicken Loans Arena, some fans sat quietly stunned, while others cried out in disbelief. Men gathered around the bar and buried their heads in their hands.
"Turn it off," someone yelled.
"Honestly, I think it was very arrogant," said Earl Mauldin of Cleveland. "And I think it was a slap in the face to this city who had supported him and been behind him since he was in high school. To go on national TV and spit in our face like that is very, very, very wrong."
The bar, which had been teeming with an exuberant crowd, emptied out quickly.
"If you decided that you wanted to go to play in Miami, you could’ve did it in private," Mauldin said.
At The Purple Shamrock bar’s two locations, owner Frank Borally had promised to pick up patrons’ food tabs if James had chosen to stay with the Cavs.
"I would have paid it threefold … if he would have stayed," Borally said. "It’s bad, it’s not good. We’ll deal with it. It’s Cleveland, it’s typical Cleveland."
Bar-goers had started making reservations for tables of eight and 10 by mid-afternoon.
"We were packed, and then everybody left," he said.
He said James’ presence kept his business going when Cavs’ fans went to the games, especially during cold-weather months.
"I hope Mr. Gilbert has a good plan set up, but we need a miracle," he said, referring to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert.
In Berea, at a bar about a half mile from the Cleveland Browns’ training camp, fans in Browns jerseys were asked if what James did is worse than Art Modell, who took his Browns franchise to Baltimore in 1995, where the team stayed until fans in Cleveland fought to get it back.
"No way. Lebron did us a favor," said Fred Sczerpak of Berea. "He’s a loser. He turned his back on us and good riddance.
"The difference is, Modell took a team everybody loved. That’s why we hate him even more."
In Westlake in the minutes before James revealed his decision, Bill Lincoln of Bay Village described it as "like Christmas morning, only somebody is taking away your presents."
Fans across the northeast Ohio region had sung, danced and cheered in a campaign to keep James. On Thursday, "LeBron Watch" parties throughout the region featured dunk tanks, beer specials and poster giveaways.
The Harry Buffalo bar had painted "STAY LBJ" in white on the building. On the sidewalk were cardboard cutouts of James dunking, and several posters for the "More Than a Player" campaign were hung about.
Many fans had written messages to him on the sidewalk in chalk. One said: "We will always love LBJ, but we’ll love you more if you stay."
Also making an appearance was the pleasedontleave23.com campaign’s "Witness Mobile," a 1987 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme covered with signatures of fans who wanted James to stay in Cleveland.
The Positively Cleveland convention and visitors bureau estimates that Cavs’ home games each net about $3.7 million in ticket sales, souvenirs, food and hotel bookings.
James has been with Cleveland since he was drafted in 2003. The team had an average home attendance of about 11,500 the season before he joined, and sold out every game in its 20,000-seat arena last season.Cavaliers owner blasts James
CLEVELAND (AP) — Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert says LeBron James "quit" during the playoffs and should be accountable for his actions.
Gilbert, who posted a letter to Cavs fans on the team’s website shortly after James announced he plans to sign with Miami, tells The Associated Press late Thursday night that he feels "personally betrayed" by James and that it’s "accountability time."
In a phone interview with the AP, Gilbert says "people have covered up for (James) for way too long. Tonight we saw who he really is."
Gilbert says James quit on the Cavs during their second-round series against the Boston Celtics, who rallied from a 2-1 deficit to eliminate Cleveland.