Before LeBron James, there were thousands of empty seats for most Cleveland Cavaliers games and downtown was silent after dark. With him, every game is a sellout and nearby bars and restaurants bustle. As they face the possibility of losing the free-agent NBA superstar, residents wonder if the man they call King James might take a little of this struggling city's economy with him. "The kingdom lies where the king resides," says a restaurateur.
James has helped inject untold millions into Cleveland's economy. His team, which had an average home attendance of about 11,500 the year before he joined, sold out every game in its 20,000-seat arena last season, and he's boosted television revenue and jersey sales for the Cavs. "He has created another reason to come visit downtown," says one businessman. "He is, in fact, the greatest show on earth. And we love a great show." But that show will go on, says a resident: "People are gonna support the Cavs no matter what."