It’s become one of downtown Cleveland’s great tourist attractions. No, not the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or the big rubber “FREE” stamp in Willard Park (even though those are pretty cool). This landmark welcomes visitors to the city with awe.
But on this day, the corner of Ontario and West Huron sits bare. The 10-story-tall LeBron James banner that once hung from the Sherwin-Williams building is now a distant memory.
The dust has settled following the announcement that James will be taking his talents to La La Land to join the Los Angeles Lakers. There were no jersey burnings. No scathing letter. This time around, things were more subdue. How can we be mad? LBJ came through on his promise and delivered the first championship to Cleveland in more than 50 years. Sure, he was great for the Cavaliers, but off the court, James proved to be a slam dunk for the city of Cleveland.
We’ve been down this road before. Remember “The Decision?” In the season following LeBron’s departure for the sunny beaches and trendy nightclubs of South Beach, the Cavs’ value took a nosedive from an estimated $476 million to $355 million. The team was no longer in the national spotlight. Primetime televised games were non-existent. However, there was a glimmer of hope as fans continued to fill the seats at the Q. Why you may ask? Well, a marketing tactic by the Cavs forced season ticket holders to renew for the following season prior to the teams’ playoff run in 2010.
The LeBron James Effect? LeConomics? Whatever you may want to call it; James’ absence will be felt in the vicinity of Quicken Loans Arena. During LeBron’s second stint with the Cavs, the number of restaurants and bars within a mile of the Q increased from 165 to 210. That’s a 13% jump, while employment at those establishments rose more than 23%. Scoring tickets to see ‘The King’ was more difficult than landing seats at ‘Hamilton’ as the Cavs sold out every home game this past season. In the 11 NBA playoff games played at the Q since 2014, over $31 million was generated for the city – games that likely would’ve never happened if it weren’t for James.
LeBron’s impact on Cleveland goes well beyond the city limits. ‘Mistake on the Lake.’ ‘Burning River.’ The old and outdated stigmas were replaced with a positive ‘Believeland’ mentality that caught not just the attention of locals, but also the eyes of the nation. In recent years, Cleveland has been trending upwards with a thriving downtown, vibrant entertainment scene and revamped museums. Have you been to the Cleveland Museum of Art?
But hey, let the numbers speak for themselves. Cleveland tourism prior to LeBron’s return in 2014 and a year after resulted in an increase of $100 million. Hotel rooms rose nearly 15% with nearly a dozen or so new hotels popping up across the city. On the national stage, Cleveland emerged as that cool city people wanted to explore. And of course, to see the world’s best basketball player in action. Oh boy, let the Jordan-James debate rage on…
Perhaps we’re numb to LeBron’s departure. Maybe it hasn’t really sunken in yet. Come next spring when we’re scrolling through downtown Cleveland during the height of the NBA playoffs, we’ll realize and appreciate all the good that came from James and his impact on the city.