Once LeBron James went on national TV, only to tell Cavalier fans that he was bolting for Miami, he instantly became one of the most hated sports figures in Cleveland history.
However, the man he’s battling for that title, Art Modell, says King James still has a long way to go before he is more hated than the former Browns owner.
Modell sealed his fate as Public Enemy No. 1 when he moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1996 and left the city of Cleveland without an NFL franchise for the next three years.
Modell told the News-Herald on Friday he understands James’ decision and that there is little the fans can do about LeBron leaving.
“Do I think LeBron James as he leaves Cleveland will become the most hated man in Cleveland, more hated than Art Modell?” Modell said from his home in Baltimore. “Nonsense. Nonsense. I don’t think there’s any basis for it.
Modell knows this from his own experience: James no longer will be The Chosen One in the eyes of most Cavalier fans.
“The fans will carry on, but there’s little they can do about it,” Modell said. “It’s his call. He’s a free agent. Too much is being made of it. He’s going on network television at 9 tonight to announce what he’s going to do. Too many dramatics. I resent the whole thing being turned into a three-ring circus.
“Anyhow, I wish him well. I wish the team that gets him well. And as long as I do well, I’m fine.”
James says Akron will always be his home. Likewise, Modell says his heart will always be in Cleveland, even though he hasn’t stepped foot in Northeast Ohio in 14 years.
“LeBron James is in a difficult spot,” Modell said. “He’s devoted to a lot of fans there. I wish him luck if he leaves. I wish Cleveland good luck if they lose him. I still love Cleveland. Nobody could ever take that love away from me. Nobody.”
Modell may still love Cleveland but the city will never forgive him for what he did. There are fewer fanbases in the NFL more loyal to their team than the Browns faithful.
So, while James may be more hated at the moment, the scars caused by Modell run much deeper in Cleveland. Modell is, and always be, the most hated sports figure in Cleveland and that’s something even LeBron James can’t change.