Somewhere in the rolling countryside outside of Baltimore, former Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell is smiling.
It's not because Modell just looked at his bank account statement and saw all those zeroes lined up in a neat row. It's not because the Baltimore Ravens, a team he once had a majority financial interest in, usually defeat the Browns twice a season.
Modell is smiling because he could be on the verge of losing his status as the most-hated man in Cleveland. All that's needed is for Cavaliers superstar LeBron James to sign with any team but the Cavs.
If that happens, James will immediately become public enemy number one in Cleveland. Modell, who left town when he moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1995, can rest comfortably knowing that he's the lesser of two evils in a city where championship flags have been lost in wooden boxes alongside Civil War relics.
No one knows for sure what James is thinking, although everyone from beat reporters to people that know the man that maintains the grounds at James' mansion has an opinion. One day, he's headed to Chicago and the next day, he's staying put. Tomorrow, he might announce that he's giving up basketball to join the clergy and return to St. Vincent-St. Mary High School as truly "The Chosen One."
If James does decide to play in another city, it would give Modell a get-out-of-jail-free card. He'd still be despised by Browns' loyalists that remain convinced he acted alone in the franchise's move to Baltimore, but we all should know by now that there were other culprits on the grassy knoll.
Modell clearly mismanaged the Browns, but he had help from lame political leaders that turned their backs on him. Together, they ruined a cherished institution that is still struggling to regain its footing 11 years into its next life.
James is the lone villain in his situation. He might get advice from friends, family members and business associates, but the final call will rest on his broad shoulders.
A decision to leave would place a dagger through the hearts of fans that were convinced that he would deliver multiple NBA titles. It would also shoot a hole through the foundation of a franchise that needs his presence to remain a financially-strong institution in an area hit hard by the recession.
Does anyone think that Cavs owner Dan Gilbert will keep the franchise in Cleveland for a long period of time if James is wearing another uniform? The immediate loss of monetary value would make Las Vegas a tempting landing spot if Gilbert did decide to relocate.
Beyond that is the impact it would have on James' credibility. Jim Thome said he wanted to continue playing for the Indians, but he left in 2003 for Philadelphia, where he told reporters that his wife was his rock in a tearful display of emotion that went over like a John Elway smile in Cleveland. Manny Ramirez expressed his love of playing for the Indians in 2001, but he took the money and ran to Boston.
Thome and Ramirez heard boos upon each return to town, but the sounds were nothing compared to what James would hear if he returns to Quicken Loans Arena as an opposing player. Modell never heard boos because he's stayed clear of the area from the moment he left.
I never thought I'd see the day when Modell might actually receive better poll numbers than any living creature in Cleveland, but it could happen real soon. The Browns are and have always been bigger than the Cavaliers, but "King" James - The Chosen One - is larger than life.
If he leaves, he might want to hide out somewhere far away. I think Modell has an extra room or two at his pad.