CLEVELAND - Cleveland fans gathered around televisions and yelled in anguish last night as LeBron James announced he will leave the Cavaliers and sign with the Heat.
"I'm really stunned. I never thought he'd leave," said Tom Sheehan, 15, of Westlake, who wore a James Cavaliers jersey as he watched the announcement. "It's like we just lost a championship on the final shot at the buzzer. It's so disappointing."
Jerseys were burned by fans outside a bar in suburban Lakewood, according to WEWS-TV of Cleveland. Footage on the station's website shows a fan taking off a T-shirt reading "Please stay LBJ" and laying it atop a pile of burning No. 23 Cavaliers jerseys.
In downtown Cleveland, there were additional patrols to deal with crowds, but police said no problems were reported.
At the Harry Buffalo bar across the street from the Cavs' Quicken Loans Arena, some fans sat quietly stunned while others cried out in disbelief. Men gathered around the bar and buried their heads in their hands.
"Honestly, I think it was very arrogant," said Earl Mauldin of Cleveland. "And I think it was a slap in the face to this city who had supported him and been behind him since he was in high school. To go on national TV and spit in our face like that is very, very, very wrong."
The bar, which had been teeming with an exuberant crowd, emptied quickly.
"If you decided that you wanted to go to play in Miami,'' Mauldin said, "you could've did it in private."
Besides the emotional pain, James' exit will hurt financially. The Positively Cleveland convention and visitors bureau estimates that in recent years, Cavs home games each netted about $3.7 million in ticket sales, souvenirs, food and hotel bookings.
Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert sent a blistering e-mail decrying James' actions.
"As you now know, our former hero, who grew up in the very region that he deserted this evening, is no longer a Cleveland Cavalier," Gilbert wrote.
"This was announced with a several-day, narcissistic, self-promotional build-up culminating with a national TV special of his 'decision' unlike anything ever 'witnessed' in the history of sports and probably the history of entertainment.
"Clearly, this is bitterly disappointing to all of us. The self-declared former 'King' will be taking the 'curse' with him down south. And until he does right by Cleveland and Ohio, James [and the town where he plays] will unfortunately own this dreaded spell and bad karma.