When LeBron James decided to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday, it might have been the most painful departure for a city in sports history. Think about it. James is from Ohio. He's arguably the best player in the game (or certainly, the second-best behind Kobe Bryant). And he didn't leave because another team offered him tons more money. He just ... left.
We really can't think of anything comparable, but here are some other heartbreaking departures.
Barry Bonds/Pittsburgh Pirates
Bonds was sixth overall pick by the Pirates in the 1985 draft and made his major-league debut for the Buccos in 1986. Over seven seasons, Bonds led the Pirates to three division titles while winning two MVP awards. He left via free agency after the devastating Francisco Cabarera game when the Braves beat the Pirates by scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 and the Pirates haven't been the same. In fact, they haven't had a winning season since. Meantime, Bonds, perhaps with a little help from science, went on to win five more MVP awards and become baseball's home run king.
Wayne Gretzky/ Edmonton Oilers
Aug. 9, 1988 remains one of the darkest days in the history of Canada. It's the day Canada's favorite son was traded to the Los Angeles Kings. It wasn't Gretzky's idea, necessarily, to be traded. Peter Pocklington, Edmonton's owner at the time, desperately needed money and trading Gretzky was his best option. But in the end, Gretzky agreed to the trade. The Great One would play 12 more seasons, but all for United States' teams. His loss was felt not just in Edmonton, but in all of Canada.
Brett Favre/Green Bay Packers
The Packers claim the legendary quarterback retired, while Favre claims the Packers forced his hand and he never wanted to leave. Either way, Packers fans felt a little sting when Favre turned up in a Jets jersey the next season. But that was nothing compared to the betrayal they felt (rightly or wrongly) when he showed up a year later wearing the purple-and-gold of bitter arch-rival Vikings.
Wilt Chamberlain/ Philadelphia 76ers
The motivation remains cloudy to this day, but Chamberlain asked for a trade out of Philadelphia in the summer of 1968 after spending several seasons in Philadelphia, first with the Warriors and then with the 76ers. Chamberlain led the 76ers to the 1967 NBA title. After he left, Wilt the Stilt led the Lakers to the 1972 NBA championship, but the 76ers wouldn't win another NBA title until 1983.
Shaquille O'Neal/Orlando Magic
Shaq led the Magic to the 1995 NBA Finals, but the Magic lost to the Rockets. After one more season, like James, O'Neal looked to another team to help him pursue a championship. The Magic went into a tailspin after Shaq's departure. It would be 12 years before the Magic won a playoff series. Meantime, during that Magic drought, Shaq won four NBA titles with the Lakers.
Dishonorable mentions: Johnny Damon going from Red Sox to Yankees, Boston fans seeing Roger Clemens in a Yankees uniform, the Colts leaving Baltimore and the Browns leaving Cleveland, Babe Ruth cursing the Red Sox by ending up with the Yankees.
Future heartbreaker: Carl Crawford playing in Yankees pinstripes.