LeBron James’ decision to return to Cleveland has had an unintended consequence: sealing Buffalo, New York’s fate as the most mind-numbingly depressing city in which one can be a sports fan.
For years, the competition on the opposite ends of Lake Erie was fierce and unrelenting. The resumes are remarkably similar: Cleveland hasn’t won a title since 1964, Buffalo since 1965. The ensuing years have been filled with countless moments of sports heartbreak set against the backdrop of once-glorious cities decaying into something we have derisively labeled as the Rust Belt.
“It was good once, but don’t go back there no more.”
And for all the scorn heaped upon LeBron for his much ballyhooed departure for Miami four years ago — plenty of it coming from this corner — he is now doing something admirable by reversing that trend. While it may not be altruism in a true sense — he’s jumping onto the horse that’s equipping itself to win the Triple Crown instead of one last race, after all — it is still refreshing. The Great Lakes region is oozing former residents across its borders, hence Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany’s reprehensible yet business-savvy expansion of the league to a larger population of East Coast snobs. I respect LeBron for saying “You know what? Being from Northeast Ohio is something to be proud of. Embrace this. Wear this.”
It’s the type of validation that most of us who have been scorned can only dream of. And for Clevelanders, it’s the closest thing they’ve had to a championship feeling since the Beatles and Stones sold their first records on American soil.
Which brings us back to Buffalo.
For all the influx of hope that has suddenly been jolted into Cleveland, starting with the buzz created by drafting Johnny Manziel and now a full-blown tidal wave of joy that LeBron can surf on from Miami, there is no prospect of the clouds lifting over Buffalo.
Even the city that was running a distant but respectable third to Buffalo and Cleveland in the misery race, Seattle, is now scratched after the Seahawks Super Bowl breakthrough. And even if LeBron’s yacht sinks in Lake Erie with all the Cavs aboard, Buffalo doesn’t even have the luxury of knowing what a day like this feels like. A day of optimism.
Nothing has changed in Buffalo, unless it is for the worst. The Bills are still ownerless, and even though a lease locks them to Ralph Wilson Stadium for the rest of this decade, there’s no guarantee the person who purchases the team will have a long-term vision that views Buffalo through the windshield instead of the rear-view mirror.
The on-field product has some promising young pieces, but still hasn’t figured out how to reach the playoffs since 1999 in a league where the salary-cap rules are pretty much rigged to assure that such a drought is impossible.
The most amazing thing about the Bills?
They’re still better than the Sabres.
Buffalo was at its worst on the ice this year, with the Sabres grabbing a league-low 52 points. That put them 15 points behind Edmonton for the next-worst record in the league. That’s seven wins and an OT loss behind the NEXT crappiest team in hockey. They were 65 (!) points behind division winner Boston — in other words, the Sabres could have played two full seasons and still not catch up to the Bruins in the standings — and 41 points out of a playoff spot.
Like Cleveland, Buffalo has a home-grown star who is among the best in the sport, and could potentially lead his hometown team to the promised land. Only his name is Patrick Kane, and he just signed a contract extension that keeps him with Chicago through the 2022-23 season.
Drink up, Buffalo. This round’s on us.