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HEARTBREAKERS

St. Petersburg Times staff writer Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

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 the sixth overall pick by the Pirates in the 1985 draft and made his major-league debut 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 Cabrera game when the Braves beat the Pirates by scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS, 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 MVPs 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 team in the United States. 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 the bitter archrival 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 six-plus 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 (three) and Heat.

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.

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Must-see TV

Attendance at Rays games continue to be a concern, but there's no question the area has interest in the team. The three-game series on Sun Sports between the Rays and Red Sox was the most-watched three-game series on local television in more than two years. In addition, each of the three games was the most-watched program on television in the Tampa/St. Petersburg market on all three days.

Monday's game drew an average of 142.658 homes. Tuesday's game averaged 158,188. And Wednesday's game averaged 152,049. In addition, the last half-hour of Wednesday's game drew a rating of 11.7, meaning 11.7 percent of households with televisions - or more than 211,000 homes - were tuned into the game.

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Sad news of the day

Legendary former North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith reportedly is in declining health, seeing his once-famous memory starting to slip. The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer reports that Smith, 79, often doesn't recognize people he has known for years. The paper writes, "Those near the UNC program say Smith has good days and bad days. On the good days, he is his cheerful, unassuming self, friendly and engaging and surprising people with his memory of little details about their lives. But on the bad days, they say, Smith has great difficulty even remembering people he has worked with and around for years.''

Smith coached the Tar Heels to 879 victories (second-most all-time in Division I-A) and two national titles from 1961 to 1997.

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Jersey of the day

Tim Tebow hasn't taken a snap in an NFL game and already he has the top-selling jersey in the NFL. According to CNBC, during the quarter from April 1 to June 30, Tebow's Broncos jersey was the highest-selling jersey. Tebow was ahead of Donovan McNabb's new Redskins jersey and that of Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees of the Saints.

The next three are all quarterbacks - Peyton Manning (Colts), Tony Romo (Cowboys), Brett Favre (Vikings). Four other rookies had jersey sales in the top 20: the Lions' Ndamukong Suh (No. 8 in jersey sales), the Rams' Sam Bradford (No. 9), the Cowboys' Dez Bryant (No. 15) and the Chiefs' Eric Berry (No. 18). Oh, and one more nugget: Michael Vick's Eagles' jersey did not make the top 25, but Eagles QB Kevin Kolb did, coming in at No. 24.

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Three things that popped into my head

1. Don't bury the Red Sox just because they were swept by the Rays and fell 4 1/2 games out of first in the AL East. Seems everyone declared them dead back in April and look how that turned out.

2. Seriously, can you think of a more hard-luck sports town than Cleveland? The Browns have never won a Super Bowl. The Indians haven't won a World Series since 1948, and now LeBron is gone.

3. I'm going to call ESPN and ask for a half-hour to announce that I'm switching desks in my office. I would ask for an hour, but that would be a tad arrogant, don't you think?

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