Originally written on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 11/19/14

“’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.”

I don’t know who originally said that quote, but I think in life that’s probably a good rule of thumb. Obviously this quote would seemingly apply to romantic love, but love can come in many different forms. So too, then, can this quote have many far reaching applications in life.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot in recent weeks, as we as a community of Cavaliers fans continue to deal with the fallout of LeBron James turning his back on us. This holds especially weighty context as Kyrie Irving continues a meteoric rise toward stardom.

To compare and contrast LeBron James and Kyrie Irving is wholly unfair. The two couldn’t be more different in almost every way: as people, as basketball players, as ambassadors of the Cavaliers franchise. Well, we’ll get to that 3rd one in a minute. But certainly they are different men, different players, different backgrounds, different futures.

But yet there is an inevitable tie between the two that grows every time Kyrie Irving steps onto the court and does something that makes all Cavaliers fans shake their heads in disbelief at the 19 year old rookie PG doing something we’ve not seen since that 18 year old rookie used to roam these halls. Because of what LeBron James did to this franchise, the city of Cleveland, and really, to the whole state of Ohio, Kyrie is always going to be judged slightly differently. Call it innocence lost, if you will, but there are some things that will never be forgotten, and some wounds that never fully heal.

So is it better to have loved and lost? No matter how much I hear Cavs fans sheepishly lie to themselves and others and offer up revisionist history about how “I never really liked LeBron that much”, and “I’m glad he’s gone, he was always a quitter, he never performed in the 4th quarter”, and other such nonsense, the fact of the matter is that LeBron James was more beloved in Cleveland than any other athlete I have ever seen in my life.

It’s easy to forget, I suppose, how LeBron would light up the Q, how a packed arena would joyously join in communion with LeBron as he offered up his chalk tossing ceremony. How we used to love watching LeBron joke around and laugh hysterically with his teammates on the bench as the Cavaliers were en route to another destruction of another opposing team. The jerseys, the shirts, the posters, the billboards, the blogs, the talk radio calls, and on and on and on. LeBron’s presence was ubiquitous in daily life in Cleveland. The city really was his kingdom.

It’s why the fallout has been so visceral, so real. This was so much more than a guy exercising his free agent right to play for another team. This was loving, and ultimately losing. It was a roller coaster ride unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in sports, and I doubt I ever will again. The odds of another transcendent mega-superstar playing in Cleveland, for our team, are beyond slim. The odds of another transcendent mega-star being from Cleveland, and the Cavaliers winning the lottery, and picking him, are non-existent. This was a once in a lifetime situation.

And we as fans dared to believe. We stood up for LeBron when others doubted him. We turned a blind eye to the complaining about calls, the uncomfortably awkward reactions to things like being dunked on in a pickup game at a Nike camp, etc. Above all else, we dared to trust him, that he would not only lead the city to that oh-so-painfully-elusive championship, but that he would also pick us in free agency.

So yeah, we loved and we lost. And you know what? The saying is right. It’s better than having never loved at all. Where would this franchise be without LeBron James? Dan Gilbert wouldn’t be the owner, Chris Grant wouldn’t be the man with the plan, Byron Scott wouldn’t be the cool and collective coach developing young players, and Kyrie Irving probably wouldn’t be the new hope.

Another famous Irving, Washington Irving, once said “Love is never lost. If not reciprocated, it will flow back and soften and purify the heart.”. Which brings us back to Kyrie Irving. The Cleveland fans’ love for LeBron James was ultimately unrequited, which sucked. But despite all the national pundits’ inane demands that we “get over it already”, Cavs fans actually picked themselves up a long time ago.

The anger may never fully go away, and why should it? Why should Cleveland fans apologize for being so disappointed that not only did our homegrown superstar leave, but he left a team that won 60+ games back to back seasons. LeBron was MVP in back to back seasons. Cleveland was among the top 2 or 3 contenders for the Championship in back to back seasons. And LeBron not only walked away from that, but he stabbed the franchise in the back in doing so. No common courtesy of letting Dan Gilbert and the front office staff know ahead of time? Going on national TV to inform the Cleveland fan base that gave so much love and loyalty that, you know what, we just weren’t good enough for LeBron.

So yeah, Cleveland fans were mad about it. And quite frankly, the national media are the ones who can “get over it”. This fan is done apologizing for it. That night of the decision was real, and it was raw. There was a lot of emotion and a lot of intensity. But the thing everyone seems to forget is how resilient Cavs fans were. Resilient to the point of being defiant.

Cavs fans didn’t wallow in sorrow. Cavs fans haven’t abandoned the franchise. If anything, the community of Cavs fans has grown more united and more together than ever before. We find ways to have a blast rooting for marginally talented players like Manny Harris and Christian Eyenga. Sure, it might not be as much fun as watching LeBron James tear other teams apart like the old days, but it’s still fun.

But now there’s Kyrie Irving. Words can’t describe the immense pressure of walking into this franchise at 19 years old and more or less filling the role of LeBron James. Kyrie has talked a lot about carving his own path, and he’s well on his way of doing that. But still, deep down, I think we all feel it. That familiar pull. That inner desire to see Kyrie Irving lift this franchise to the one place LeBron James never could.

Those expectations are unfair, and Cavs fans deserve credit for not explicitly putting that pressure on him. And that’s where the lessons of LeBron come into play. The number one reason it’s better to have loved and lost is because of the lessons we learn from losing. Cavs fans are already 10000% united behind Kyrie. But even still, the fans won’t quite treat Kyrie like we treated LeBron. It’s always going to be different.

Some people talk about that one bad heartbreak, where a scar is left behind on the heart. That could be applicable in a sports sense, too. That scar will remind us of what LeBron James did. But at the same time, Washington Irving’s thoughts are coming true as well. Cavs fans are ready for what’s next. We’re ready to put our hope into Kyrie Irving. The trade of Ramon Sessions and likely loss of Antawn Jamison after this season means one thing. It’s 100% Kyrie’s show now.

And so as Kyrie celebrates his 20th birthday today, it’s kind of symbolic. Kyrie is moving on from the teenage chapter of his life to the prime of his professional life. And so too are Cavs fans ready for the next chapter in our franchise’s story. I feel like everyone from the owner down to the fans are so much smarter in a basketball sense for having gone through the LeBron chapter. Not just smarter, but better prepared. No longer are we going to rely on one player to deliver a title. It’s now about building the right team. But at the center of that team, there has to be a leader and a face of a franchise. For Cleveland, that leader is turning into Kyrie Irving right in front of us.

I for one, am excited about this next chapter, and couldn’t be happier to have Kyrie Irving at the controls. So Happy Birthday, Kyrie. Our franchise is now your franchise.

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