Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
Before the LeBron debacle, there was Art Modell's press conference on November 6, 1995.
Years before LeBron James announced on television that he would be taking his talents elsewhere, the emotionally damaged group of people known as "Cleveland sports fans" watched their football owner announce from downtown Baltimore that he'd be relocating the 49-year-old franchise.
The November 6, 1995 announcement was made in front of Baltimore's Camden Yards, steps from where Modell would be getting the new stadium he wanted. Baltimore's own NFL team left in the middle of the night a decade prior. Despite that shared trauma, Maryland politicians at the press conference struggled to hide their excitement over stealing another city's team. One day after the Baltimore press conference, voters in Cleveland approved a referendum that would fund a renovation for the stadium. For Modell, it was too little, too late.
Back in Cleveland, two months of games still remained after the decision, giving Browns fans a chance to vent, mourn, and ultimately vandalize the old Municipal Stadium before the team left for good. The 65-year-old facility held the hearts of Browns fans. But in the eyes of Art Modell it was a burden on his franchise, made even more embarrassing when Cleveland's NBA and MLB teams got brand-new digs in 1994.
In the 1990s, politicians saw modern stadiums and pro-sports as economic development. As a result, the decade saw a fair share of NFL teams change locations. Los Angeles lost both of its franchises and Houston lost their team as well.
As one would expect, the Browns's final home game that season wasn't pretty. NBC Sports's Jim Gray reported during warm-ups that those in attendance looked like they were there "for a funeral." By the end of the game, fans were ripping out rows of seats and throwing them onto the field.
The city got an expansion team and a new stadium in 1999, which have supplied a limited amount of good memories so far. As for Modell, relocating the team became his defining move, despite decades as an owner. When he passed away in 2012, every NFL team except Cleveland's held a moment of silence for him.
Before the original Browns played their final home game in 1995, Bob Costas asked then-mayor Michael White what he would say to Modell if he could.
"I've known you a very long time," White replied. "You've done a lot of good things in this town. But the very worst thing you've ever done in your life is what you did to Cleveland on November 6th."