By Francisco Alvarado
By Trevor Bach
By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Keegan Hamilton and Francisco Alvarado
By Jake Rossen
By Allie Conti
At this point in our mission, there's only one man who can help: Vince the Polack.
His real name is Vince Grzegorek. But nobody can pronounce that, so he's known as the Polack. He often wears hip spectacles, a Cleveland Indians cap wedged low over reddish hair, and a halo of smoke from a Marlboro Light.
He once wrote for a blog devoted to sports-uniform-related news. Now he works for the Cleveland Scene, the town's alt-weekly, where he writes a blog titled '64 and Counting — a reference to the last time a Cleveland team won a title. No other city with three major sports teams has waited that long.
Cleveland fans are never more miserable than when their team is ahead: They just know the mopes are going to blow it. That's why when LeBron finally left, there was Moses-strength wrath and vitriol, but there was also a hint of relief. After 40 years of building disappointment — and dress rehearsals in the departures of Carlos Boozer, C.C. Sabathia, and the entire original Browns team — Cleveland had finally suffered the ultimate injustice.
A few years older than LeBron, Vince has followed the basketball phenom since his breakout freshman year at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron. In August 2009, he wheezed through a pickup game with LeBron at the superstar's alma mater. Never one for restraint, LeBron burst into laughter when Vince had a shot blocked, he recalls, by a "five-foot Chinese guy."
Despite that warm memory, Vince had tried to get a head start on closure by urging LeBron to leave Cleveland during the pre-"Decision" hype. Sacrilege at the time, the column turned out to be mighty prescient. "Somewhere on our way to idol worship," Vince wrote, "we've lost our collective stones to groveling in hopes he won't leave us as so many others have."
So it's not surprising that when we call Vince about scouring his city for LeBronalia, he quickly volunteers the Scene's services. And he pledges his own collection, including a green replica jersey from those St. Vincent-St. Mary days, four T-shirts, a pair of sparkling $120 LeBron Nikes, and a bobblehead.
We dub our collaboration the "Wino and Gold Jersey Drive." To the biggest donor, we dangle tickets for the December 15 American Airlines Arena showdown between the Heat and the Cavs.
Soon, a guy named Adam shows up at the Scene office. He wears glasses, low cap over messy hair, and a deep-seated loathing of LeBron. He drops off a cache of two jerseys, three T-shirts, four pairs of shoes, and six bobbleheads. "I don't want this stuff in my house anymore, and it's too expensive to burn," he explains. "It's cathartic to give it away."
On October 11, we hit the LeBron jackpot. Jungjohann finally agrees to give us access to his stash. He invites New Times to his drab brown house in Broadview Heights, a woodsy Cleveland 'burb. When we pull into the driveway, Jungjohann waves gregariously as he lumbers from the garage. He is burly, hairless, and pleasantly round-headed. An unseen puppy whines behind a door to the house.
On the garage floor behind Jungjohann sit eight or so large boxes filled with what might be the largest surviving collection of Cavaliers-era LeBron gear in the universe. Jungjohann gives us carte blanche to dig through the boxes, and the booty is incredible. There are jerseys of every variety: orange-and-white throwback jerseys, All-Star Game jerseys, and NBA Finals jerseys from 2007, when the Cavs came within four wins of a championship.
The most common item, though, is the simple wine-colored T-shirt modeled after LeBron's jersey. On many of them, the lettering has cracked after repeated washes. These were people's favorite shirts — the first ones they put on after doing the laundry.
And then, buried near the bottom of one box, there's "LeAfghan": a trippy wool blanket stitched with the portrait of LeBron standing next to another LeBron. With winter on its way to South Florida streets, this is the crown jewel of the collection.
Per Jungjohann's instructions, we place two boxes in our trunk and leave the rest with him. He says he'll use secret channels to get the rest of the stuff to South Florida's homeless. It appears that certain homeless advocacy groups, afraid to piss off anybody, have agreed to take his collection as long as it's not publicized.
Jungjohann certainly earned the prize of free Heat-Cavs tickets.
Our Wino and Gold Jersey Donation kicks off on a weekday at Fort Lauderdale's Stranahan Park. First up is Keith Facyson, a genteel 48-year-old who calls himself the granddaddy of the displaced legions who gather under the park's gazebo and cypress trees.
Asked about the homeless advocates who turned down LeBron's unwanted goods, Facyson is quick to protest: "Nobody never got the opinion of the homeless about LeBron James. They never asked us."
Sitting in the concrete shade of the park's enormous gazebo, Facyson is almost dapper in a blue-and-white-striped polo shirt, linen pants, and a baseball cap with a Scion logo. He accepts the first proffered white-and-gold jersey without hesitation. Then he takes a T-shirt too, for when the weather gets cold. "I love LeBron James," he explains. "I think he's gonna help us win a championship."