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The LeBron James Fan Experience

Jun 21, 2012; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) celebrates winning the 2012 NBA championship at the American Airlines Arena. Miami won 121-106. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-US PRESSWIRE

The weird thing about being a sports fan is if you are truly emotionally invested in a team or player, in most cases you will have your heart broken more often than not. It’s rare that a team wins titles year after year after year, so the majority of the time you end the season disappointed. I’ve always speculated though that if your team or player is victorious on the last day of the season, the jubilation of that win makes up for the pain of the past. Up until tonight it’s been a ten year journey of having my heart broken. No wins on the last day of the season for my favorite player. February 18th, 2002 was the day I decided to be a LeBron James fan. It was two days before my 10th birthday and I wasn’t exactly content with the fact that Tracy McGrady was my favorite player. Can you really blame me? On that day I saw the now famous LeBron James “The Chosen One” Sports Illustrated, with a 17 year old high school sensation gracing the cover and decided I would be one of the first to jump on the LeBron James bandwagon. From that point on I’ve looked at the NBA drastically differently.

I’m not a nine year old kid anymore. I’m a grown man. I’m entering my junior year of college. I’ve been writing about basketball since I was a junior in high school and I’ve thought about this exact day since LeBron James got drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2003. Yet, I have no idea what exactly I’m supposed to say in this moment. I guess the best way to put it is how I put it on Facebook and on Twitter immediately after the game; this is one of the best days of my life, and I don’t care what anybody thinks about that statement. The seconds were ticking away in Game Five and while my friends and family were congratulating me on something that I had been waiting so long for, I found myself not so much watching or thinking about the game that was just about to conclude; instead I was thinking about everything else that I’ve been through over the last ten years.

As the bench players started checking in for the stars all I could think about was the eight previous seasons of pain. Two seasons of missing the postseason entirely, then six consecutive seasons of having my heart brutally ripped out of my chest. It sounds like a drastic overreaction, but those who know that feeling of being far too emotionally invested in a team or player know exactly what it feels like. It’s a stomach punch, a groin kick and a Ric Flair chop across the chest all rolled into one sudden blow that is indescribably crushing. I have no qualms admitting that I’ve taken some LeBron James losses way too hard. Just ask the closet in my former bedroom in Elba, New York and the remote to my current television. I’ve completely broken down, gone into seclusion and even taken a few sick days for school the day after those losses because I couldn’t deal with the pain. It’s hard being a sports fan. Most people would agree that I take sports—the NBA in particular— too seriously. In my defense I learned to catch a ball before I learned to walk, so being a sports fan was engrained into my psyche early on. I never had much of a choice. I was taught to always try my hardest and give everything I had for my team. As I grew older and stepped on the court to play high school basketball, I played with the attitude that I would die for my team if I had to. That is the right way to play. So as soon as I found a player to care about (LeBron James), there was obviously going to be quite a bit of passion behind that fan experience.

I’m the guy who wore Cleveland Cavaliers T-shirts/LeBron James jerseys to school every day during LeBron’s last 3 playoff runs in Cleveland just because I needed to match my outfit with my bright red Cleveland Cavaliers shoes. Yeah, I’m that guy. I’m the guy who had his father paint LeBron James’ jersey above his bed… a bed that was covered with a Cavaliers blanket and two Cavaliers pillows. I’m the goofball in the picture below who rocked the face paint, cape and LeBron jersey to a regular season game last year. I didn’t do those things because I was a true Cavaliers or Heat fan. I’m admittedly a “bandwagon” Heat fan, or whatever people are calling it now that Miami has won the title. I can tell you with almost absolute certainty that there hasn’t been a Heat fan that’s been as passionate about their team as I have about my player. Heat fans got their title in 2006. I hadn’t gotten mine yet. I went into each and every year with hopes seeing LeBron hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy, followed by late-spring pain as he and his teams fell short. As my passion built up, so did the pain. Every loss became harder to deal with. The annual postseason failures were crushing to someone like me; someone who has always cared more about things than he should. Then, just as he did when I was 9 years old, LeBron James came to my rescue and has allowed me to once again look at the NBA in a different light.

I’m that guy

After nine years, six postseason disappointments, a decision, a welcoming party, three regular season MVP’s, and countless arguments with friends, family and random strangers about the legacy and current status of LeBron James, it’s time for me to take a breath, sit back and enjoy this victory. Just as LeBron James can enjoy the trophies, the ring, the champagne and the universal recognition as the best player in the world, I can too. Ten years ago I certainly didn’t expect that LeBron James would be winning his first NBA title with the Miami Heat while I was visiting home from Florida where I was in the middle of my sophomore and junior years in college. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve told you was more ridiculous; the first title part, the Heat part or the living in Florida part. Regardless, I would’ve called you insane and then logged into AIM, or whatever was cool back then. I really don’t remember. I do however remember every step of the way in my journey of being a dedicated LeBron fan. The first game of his career at Sacramento. The Christmas day duel with my former favorite player Tracy McGrady. The triple-double against Washington to kick off his playoff career. Dropping a 3-2 series lead against Detroit, then closing the deal against them the following year thanks to LeBron’s 48 Special and Daniel Gibson’s brilliant Game Six. Being incredibly overmatched in the 2007 NBA Finals against San Antonio. Going 1 on 5 versus Boston in Game Seven in 2008, and nearly winning. Ripping through the regular season and collecting his first MVP in 2009. Falling short against Orlando and putting a dent in my closet with a television remote in the process. Again collecting an MVP, and again getting taken down by Boston in 2010. Becoming public enemy number one by declaring he was “Taking his talents to South Beach.” No-showing in the 2011 NBA Finals. Then this year putting the Miami Heat on his back and submitting one of the greatest NBA postseasons ever. It didn’t happen as planned, but it happened and that’s all I care about right now. Ten years as a LeBron fan… that’s hard to believe. Nine years of hopes and dreams dashed, one season of unimaginable happiness. The way I feel right now is worth all of the pain in the world. Thank you, LeBron James.

sonnygiuliano