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Cleveland rocked by losing LeBron

CLEVELAND (AP) — Charred remains of a torched LeBron James jersey were scattered among ashes and 10 spent wooden matchsticks on a sidewalk across the street from Quicken Loans Arena.

Over on Ontario Street, workers prepared to remove a massive 100-foot-high billboard of James, his arms outstretched, that has been a downtown tourist attraction for years.

Now, it's only a painful reminder of another Cleveland sports loss.

"It's a disgrace," Reverend Jesse Harris said, standing with a few onlookers under James' imposing figure. "It's time to bring it down."

One day after James ripped this city's heart out by saying he was leaving for Miami, Cleveland distanced itself from a family member.

LeBron James, the schoolboy star from Akron who revived a downtrodden NBA franchise and raised championship hopes for seven seasons with the Cavaliers, is no longer welcome.

By 10 a.m. Friday, every No. 23 jersey bearing James' name inside the Cavaliers' temporary gift shop at the arena had been boxed up and taken away. Every banner with the MVP's face on it stripped from the walls. Every figurine, T-shirt, coffee mug and pennant associated with James was gone.

Upstairs in the team's offices, employees tossed mementos of James in garbage cans.

This wasn't a cleaning. This was a cleansing.

In a matter of hours, James went from the most-adored athlete in Cleveland history to its most hated. From hero to villain before the sun rose.

The moment he announced on Thursday's nationally televised special that he was leaving to join Olympic teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, Cleveland turned on him. Not everyone. Just about everyone. His most loyal fans couldn't understand why he would embarrass Ohio with the world watching.

Cleveland, whose economic woes had been softened by James' arrival and superstar ascension, never saw it coming.

Sure, there were reports he was leaning toward Miami but until James uttered: "I'm taking my talents to South Beach," no one here thought it was possible he had played his last game in a wine-and-gold uniform.

"I understand why he left, but he should have done it on a better note," said Bobby Beese of Norwalk, Ohio. "It wasn't right."

Even those outside Cleveland felt it was mishandled.

"It seems everybody has a bad taste in their mouth, unless you're in Miami," Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "Just the way the whole thing was handled, on TV and everything."

Cleveland will return to normal, but it might take some time.

While understanding the city's anguish, Mayor Frank Jackson attempted to put a positive spin on an impossibly negative situation.

"I know there's a lot of anger in the city, but I know Mr. LeBron James and I do not consider this personally," Jackson said in a news conference at City Hall. "It was not personal against the city. His decision is not going to make or break Cleveland. The city is resilient and has a lot of assets that have sustained us in the past and will do so in the future."

For the Cavaliers, life after LeBron will be very different. Without James, the Cavs are no longer title contenders and now must revamp a roster missing its best player. Cleveland has some tradable assets, but general manager Chris Grant must decide whether to rebuild or try to maintain the club's championship-caliber status.

Grant's charge is complicated by owner Dan Gilbert's pledge that the Cavs will win a championship before James does.

Shortly after James announced he was leaving, Gilbert fired off an incendiary letter to Cleveland's fans, ripping the 25-year-old and promising to deliver a title after James failed.

Gilbert called James' decision "cowardly" and later told The Associated Press he believes James quit during playoff games this year and last. Gilbert's shocking accusation and pointed remarks were the talk of Cleveland on Friday, easing the loss but also raising questions about how he would have acted had the megastar announced he would stay.

Cavs coach Byron Scott, who accepted the job last month not knowing if James would be on his roster, said he liked what Gilbert said.

"He showed last night his passion to win," Scott said at a news conference at Cleveland Clinic Courts, the team's state-of-the-art $25 million training facility Gilbert built not far from James' home. "He wants to win. That's the bottom line. I want an owner like that. I want an owner who will sit in our corner, who wants to win basketball games and wants to win championships. I love that about him. I'm still very, very excited about this team and the situation that I'm in.

"I came to work this morning with a big smile on my face knowing I was getting ready for a big season."

One without James.

Scott played 14 seasons in the NBA, winning three titles with the Los Angeles Lakers. He's been around to see the league change, but never considered a time when a star player, especially one who has never won a championship or even a game in the finals, would captivate the sports world with an announcement.

"It was different," the 49-year-old said. "I do consider myself old school, but I always tell guys I'm old school with a new-school twist. You have to be able to deal with today's players a little differently than you did back in our days of playing. It was something I never thought I would see in my lifetime."

Scott, who turned around teams in New Jersey and New Orleans, must convince the Cavaliers they'll survive not having James.

"It was done last night; it's over with. We came to work this morning to get ready for a season," he said. "We've moved on."

Cleveland may need more time.