LeBron: Will he stay or will he go? Cavs' fans begin playoff run with angst and adoration

Posted by Glen Infante on

LeBron: Will he stay or will he go? Cavs' fans begin playoff run with angst and adoration

by Michael Scott of the Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- If supersized cartoon banners or iconic, mock presidential T-shirts have any say-so, LeBron is here to stay -- at least we Hope so.

Just as the Cavaliers embark on a playoff run that has many followers daring to dream of a first-ever NBA championship, we're all beginning to bubble over with that intoxicating, but distinctly Cleveland cocktail of faith and fear.

One -- a billboard-sized banner (above), which was to be unfurled downtown Saturday but hit a snag Friday afternoon with the city over a permit -- tries to boldly speak into reality the longed-for answer to the 'LeBron question:' Born here. Raised here. Plays here. Stays here.

The most pressing civil question, of course, is this: Will LeBron James, the Northeast Ohio-raised basketball hero, choose to remain in Cleveland this summer when he becomes a free agent?

Or will the Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary's High graduate soon flee for the fame and fortune of New York, Miami or some other warm-weather or high-glamour locale?

"We're just hoping that LeBron knows how much fans love him and that we want him to make the right decision -- that this is his home, where his roots are," said banner creator Glen Infante, 29, of Cleveland. "This city is starving for a championship and he's our best chance to finally get it."

The Cavaliers ended the regular season Wednesday night in Atlanta, finishing with the best record in the NBA and a guarantee of home-court advantage as long as they remain in the playoffs.

But the Cavs superstar -- who will become a free agent once the playoffs are concluded -- has declined since November to talk publicly about his future plans.

Brian Windhorst, who writes authoritatively about the Cavaliers for The Plain Dealer, declared in a story on Sunday that sources close to James are indicating that he is leaning toward staying put.

"But if I was LeBron and I saw my face in that iconic image on my T-shirt, I hope I would have that sense of 'Wow, this is really meaningful to people. They really want me to stay here,' " Hixenbaugh said. "That's the hope I'm thinking of this shirt. We want him to stay and we want this championship."

Hixenbaugh, 40, of Medina, just launched his website to sell the "Hope" shirts this week and tentatively printed only 70 to gauge interest. He said Thursday that he's just ordered a second printing.

He said he chose to mimic the Obama image because he said he has read that James "was a fan of Obama" and that the image "perfectly conveyed the hope that Cleveland is clinging to."

Infante, meanwhile, will unveil his 70-foot-by-30-foot sign over The View nightclub on E. 9th and Prospect on Saturday.

The billboard, designed by Infante and colleagues at ilovethehype.com, was produced by Cleveland printers hotcards.com and Repros Color, Inc. of Cleveland.

It was paid for by donations over the last few months, mostly from followers of Infante's websites -- realcavsfans.com and lebron2010.com -- which he said have about 8,000 total members and up to 100,000 hits on a good day.

The vinyl banner -- likely to show up on televised broadcasts when playoff games are played in Cleveland -- features four cartoon depictions of James, each larger than the other. They portray how he has grown up from childhood, to a highly recruited junior high phenom to a high school star to the NBA's Most Valuable Player in a Cavaliers uniform.

Cavaliers' officials said the fan messages are part of a passionate fan base, said Cavaliers President Len Komoroski in an e-mail interview.

"This is the special time of year when, all together, we take it to another level and work towards our ultimate goal of an NBA championship," he said. "Our fans have played a critical role in the team's success."

Regarding the especially artistic approach to the general "keep LeBron in Cleveland campaign," Komoroski said it is an "exciting, creative and a reflection of how they feel about him."

"We all know and appreciate how much he means to the team and our community. We never take that for granted and we share our fans' passion and excitement about what he does on the court and the positive impact he has off the court, as well."

Hixenbaugh, a part-time artist who works full time as a mortgage consultant in Northfield, has already hit it big with one image.

His Memorial Flag lithograph can be seen online -- an image of the American Flag when seen from a distance, but actually comprising close to 1,000 smaller images of the events that occurred on September 11, 2001 -- hung in The White House and sales raised $30,000 for a fund for fallen firefighters, he said.

The LeBron 'Hope' shirts -- which can be ordered online -- were printed by a Medina company, Icandi Graphics.

Infante said the T-shirts, like his banner, are just another expression of a deep desire.

"Is there any doubt this town is starving for a championship?" he said. "I think this is only the beginning. We've been at this for a few years, but I think you'll see everybody out there doing whatever they can to convince LeBron to stay home with us."



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