No matter where or how the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James finish in their quest for an NBA chip this season, The King’s fundamental return reflexively signals celebratory level upgrades in the quality of life afforded to many of the commoners who call the suddenly dynasty city destination, Rust Belt metropolis home.
“LeBron is a one-man economic stimulus package,” Nick Kostis, owner of Pickwick and Frolic Restaurant and Club near the Quicken Loans Arena where James and the Cavs play recently reflected. “It’s going to benefit everybody,” added Kostis, estimating that his bottom-line alone could grow by a “minimum of $150,000” this year.
In the most recent census data compiled, of all cities with populations topping 250,000, the city of Cleveland was pegged as the country’s second poorest behind the bankrupt Detroit. In all, nearly 37 percent of all its residents were found to be living under the federal poverty rate.
But with one powerful essay, one simple utterance of the landscape-altering catchphrase “I’m going home,” native son James has irrefutably changed all that. A Bloomberg News report recently predicted his reemergence will easily generate upwards of $200 million annually to the Cleveland economy, particularly when factoring in other variables such as tourism, taxes, service industry spending, and team business.
As James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love prepared to host Carmelo Anthony and the New York Knicks in their season-opener Thursday night, ESPN saw fit to air live shows staged outside the arena throughout the day, including a pregame concert headlined by hip hop star Kendrick Lamar.
As a persistent and awe-inspiring degree of buzz griped the air, game tickets were rumored to selling for an average of nearly $800, some 14 times the average cost of the same tickets just a season ago when James was still with Miami and in South Beach. Nothing could dim or diminish all the pomp and circumstance born of The King’s return, not even the Cavs’ ultimate bumbling and fumbling, mistake-filled 95-90 defeat.
“LeBron is a global brand and Nike puts a ton of money into it,” said Edward Hill, dean of the College of Urban Affairs at Cleveland State University. “The result is that Cleveland, a mid-size city and region, gets the spillover. LeBron gives the city some positive name recognition and at no cost to us.”
And on this day, the scene around Quicken Loans foretold just as much. As fans lined the streets in desperate hopes of being among the ones fortunate enough to snare a free “Re-Established 2014” T-shirt bearing James’ likeness, among the ones fortunate enough to get their hands on a lasting piece of local history, restaurant owners shuffled in additional workers for what they were sure would be a night of constant reveling and a season of endless business.
“I want kids in Northeast Ohio to realize there’s no better place to grow up,” James wrote of his home state back in that SI article. “Our community, which so much, needs all the talent it can get.”
On Thursday, his vision had surely come to be. And no matter how or where the Cavs finish this season not much can happen to distort that big picture.