So Maybe I Don’t Have the Pictures to Prove It, But LeBron James and I Have a Special Kind of RelationshipBy Greg Boose
June 04, 2007
If you’ve spoken with me over the past several years, then you would know that I care deeply for the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise.
It’s just one of the many annoying things about me: I totally dig NBA basketball and I obsess over the Cavs.
That’s all I’ll really say about that because I don’t want to scare anyone away who isn’t a sports fan.
But I would like to share the story of me getting booted from the 19th birthday party of one of the most popular persons in the world right now.
Maybe you’ll be into hearing about that.
LeBron James, the superduperstar of the NBA and basketball savior of Cleveland, turned 19 on December 30, 2003.
That night I was in Cleveland Heights drinking beers and eating wings with my buddy, Henry. We were watching and screaming while the Cavs battled the Indiana Pacers on a smeared television screen overhead.
The bar we were at, for an awful reason given by the manager when I asked him twice to turn the juke box off so that we could hear the game, blasted “It’s Raining Men.”
“We only turn the TV sound on for football games,” he said from behind the counter.
The Grease Soundtrack started up.
“But there’s a crowd of dudes over there all wanting to hear this game and you’re playing this… this bullshit?” I asked with my arms up over my head.
“We only do it for football.”
“You’re a complete idiot,” I told him. “I’m never coming back here. Ever.”
He whipped a towel over a shoulder to show me he didn’t care.
So Henry and I bounced as soon as the Cavs fell by three points.
On our way down the stairs, Henry’s phone rang for the seventh time in the last seven minutes. This time it was a friend from college whose father owned a few bars downtown.
He listened for a minute, grabbed me by the shoulder, and then started pounding on my back while repeating “Are you serious?” into the phone.
And just like that Henry and I were on the VIP list for LeBron James’s 19th birthday party down in the Flats.
Picture two white boys in leather jackets pacing back and forth in front of a club called Kaos while hundreds of African Americans waited impatiently in line.
Picture Henry clapping his phone shut, a side door popping open and a head sticking out. Then a hand waving the two white boys over. Then my Pumas disappearing before the jeers got too out of control.
Picture Henry and I following a guy named Bobby through a series of checkpoints where huge men with walkie talkies attached to their heads were told to remember these two white faces, to let us go wherever we wanted, to not worry about us because we were friends of the boss.
Picture the back bar, rectangled and dark and where the action was, stocked with a long buffet table and circular tables.
Picture LeBron’s mother Gloria sitting on a bar stool and me setting up shop right next to her and smiling. Then picture me immediately standing back up to do my routine where I pat myself down to be sure that I had everything: keys, phone, wallet, and my (non-digital) camera.
LeBron wasn’t there yet, and so Henry and I milled about and ate skewered food and drank a couple rounds of free drinks.
“Check this out,” Henry said.
On one of the tables was a large birthday cake frosted with the entire Cavaliers roster. I pulled out my camera and took a couple of quick shots of it.
But then Henry took it too far and grabbed a fork, holding it inches above the cake like he was going to dive right in. I took a quick picture.
“Hey! Get over here, guys!” we heard.
It was the owner, the one responsible for the party, the guests, the cake. Henry knew him well and jumped over to shake his hands.
“What do you guys think you’re doing? Don’t do things like that. Come on.”
Henry explained we were just having a good time. I was introduced. Small talk. Walked away.
We went to the main bar, but not before making prolonged eye contact with the bouncer to be sure that he remembered that we were allowed back in the VIP area.
After circling the dance floor twice we headed back.
I made conversation with the woman who was to sing happy birthday to LeBron at midnight. She went by the name of Mocha and had been approached by someone for this gig when singing karaoke the previous week.
I wasn’t too impressed, and so I did the only thing I could think of and I took Gloria James’s barstool after she got up just so I could give it back her.
Then they all started to show up.
Dujuan Wagner was first to come through the back door, dressed in a huge brown sweat shirt and showing off a large sparkling chain that hung from his small neck. He was Cleveland’s top draft pick the year before but hadn’t been playing much because of bad knees and a troubled kidney. His entourage created an instant presence.
Next to come in was DeSagana Diop, another injured Cavalier and one who I heckled whenever I got the chance from the stands. The dude was the 8th overall pick in 2001, and a complete disaster on the professional court. I bit my tongue when I saw him, drawing blood.
Then it was Maurice Clarett, the Ohio State University running back who would end up behind bars in 2006 on a myriad of charges and who would headline sports pages for months. As always, Clarett was wearing a Bob Marley T-shirt. I put my hand on his thick shoulder when he got close and I lied and said that I went to OSU. I couldn’t get over how short he was.
And then came LeBron James: flanked by two diamond earrings and two beefy security guards with shaved heads. Henry and I giggled like school girls discovering a hated classmate’s diary, and we tried not to stare at this man-child who was already worth $150 million.
Over the next hour Henry and I talked to a large woman who worked security for the Cavs and whose neckline dipped close to her stretched belly button, three semi-hot girls with large hips and wandering eyes for celebrities, and one of Henry’s coworkers.
When LeBron walked out into the main bar, we followed.
And when LeBron paraded past me in his white suit I patted him on the shoulder and wished him an unnoticed birthday wish.
Mocha sang from the deejay booth and Henry and I retreated back to VIP.
I told Dujuan Wagner, after getting my picture taken with him, that we needed him to get healthy and back on the court.
LeBron sat down at his family’s table to eat some cake and to sign some autographs.
I pulled out my camera and focused, but before I could take a picture a man from the table put his hands up. LeBron’s mother spoke to me: “Why don’t you ask? Why don’t you ask first and maybe he’ll let you take a picture.”
Many people stared. “Of course,” I said. “I’m really sorry. I totally understand.”
I was completely embarrassed. I was embarrassed like I was standing on a train platform with my fly down this past Saturday afternoon:
Finally, around 2 a.m., I thought it would be a fine idea for Henry to stand 15 feet in front of LeBron’s table and for me to take a picture with the superstar in the background.
The flash went off.
A short black man in a fur coat pointed at me.
And the party just stopped. It stopped as if I had accidentally backed into a million dollar statue and it fell onto a priest in deep prayer.
I was instantly grabbed by both of LeBron’s security guards who demanded the film. One snatched the camera out of my hand and attempted to open it. While the man struggled comically with the simple back latch, I pleaded for him not to open it as I had pictures from a friend’s wedding on there. And pictures from Halloween. And pictures of my family. And pictures of me and Dujuan Wagner. And that the picture I just took wasn’t of LeBron but of my buddy just standing there having a good time at a bar.
After threatening to smash my camera on the ground because he couldn’t figure out how to open it, I relented and swung the back open. My film was ripped out and crinkled and thrown to the floor in front of everyone.
“That sucks,” is all I could muster.
The security guards walked back over to LeBron who, get this, held up his fist for them to bump. LeBron James gave these guys ‘rock’ over taking care of business, over taking care of Greg Boose and his impossible-to-open ordinary camera.
Before I could shake it off and the party could resume, another man got a hold of my armpit and pulled me over to the owner. Henry followed closely behind. I pleaded innocent, but we were asked to leave. Immediately.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history this year.
LeBron James will be on one of the world’s largest stages.
Even though I now live in Chicago and Henry’s in Manhattan, I’ll be watching and screaming like I always do while the Cavs battle the San Antonio Spurs on a smeared television screen overhead.
And when I see LeBron heading to the sideline during a timeout and bump fists with any of his teammates, I’ll instantly remember the night when he locked eyes with me and had me thrown out of his party for taking a picture that no longer exists.