If I were more web savvy, this post would be in Comic Sans font in tribute to Dan Gilbert.
Nothing is ever easy in Cleveland and for some reason no one that currently resides there particularly wants it to be.
I left Cleveland in 1988 a true believer. You root for the home team. You root for the home team even if the owner is a jerk. You root for the home team even if they haven’t had a good quarterback in over 20 years. You root for the home team even if their stadium is referred to as the “Factory of Sadness.” You root for the home team even if the home team cuts the most loyal player in Cleveland history. You root for the home team even if the home team moves to another city and is replaced by a poor mimeographed copy of the home team.
At some point around the turn of the millennium, I said to myself getting punched in the gut over and over again is really starting to hurt. I was unemployed, living in Los Angeles and suddenly realized why that city has no football team. They always get to watch the best game! Every week! If two undefeated teams are playing that Sunday, they don’t have to suffer through a 6-3 slugfest between the home team and an equally bad team from Detroit.
The greatest con ever perpetrated by sports franchises was putting the names of cities on their uniforms. It must have been an afterthought at the time, but sixty years later they would be able to hold that town hostage in the name of civic pride. There is just no way in the world that whatever Cleveland’s current football stadium is called could in any way be economically feasible, but it’s there, it’s beautiful, and it hasn’t hosted a game that mattered since it was built.
Bernie Kosar was when I decided that I’d had enough misery. Kosar grew up dreaming about playing for the Cleveland Browns. He actually maneuvered his graduation date from college so that he could play for the Cleveland Browns. He had his brain beaten in playing for over a decade for the Cleveland Browns. And then they cut him. Thanks for your loyalty Bernie, but it’s a one-way street be sure to get your parking validated when you leave.
That’s when I said to myself screw it; I’m just going to watch sports to see the best athletes in the world achieve great things. It made LeBron James leaving Cleveland so much easier for me than the rest of the city. No jerseys were burned at my home that night. They had seven years to put a decent team around him and failed. They had seven years to find just one other player who could create their own shot and they failed.
Danny Ferry ruined my life once when the Cavs traded a pre knee blow out Ron Harper to the Clippers and he was back here again to mire perhaps the greatest physical specimen ever to grace a basketball court into years of basketball sludge. I get to choose between watching LeBron play with competent teammates and more torture from Danny Ferry? Ron Harper has five championship rings and I’m still stuck with that bald stiff twenty years later? Where do I buy my Heat gear? I agree, the TV show was a bad idea, but I was elated that he was finally free. I love watching number 23 play, but the rest of you I can pretty much take it or leave it. Is it possible to take the name of my city off those uniforms for a couple of years?
That’s where race comes into it, because I found myself dealing cards at angry spurned lover/comic sans poet Dan Gilbert’s new Cleveland casino, and at that casino there were three things that you could not talk about without starting a fight politics, religion, and LeBron James. (Dan he wasn’t returning your texts. Did you really think that he was coming back?)
At that casino I met a ton of people both white and black and by my own personal straw poll, white people were enraged and thought LeBron James was almost as big a heel as Art Modell, black people were disappointed he was gone but quick to point out “You don’t own him!”
Four years and many suspicious ping pong balls later, LeBron is back and all is forgiven. It’s not forgotten, but it’s forgiven. You see by leaving, LeBron was giving us a chance to reload, had he stayed we’d still have all those mediocrities he led into a San Antonio ambush in 2007, arguably the worst team 2 through12 ever to make a NBA finals.
About a month ago, things were looking way too easy. The Cavaliers were clearly the best team in the NBA. He was going to do it. LeBron James was going to come back and win a title in Cleveland …and no one cared.
Are you kidding me? The Cavaliers are blowing teams out nightly and there is nothing on sports radio, but people fussing over whether Johnny Manziel was going to make it out of rehab alive? It’s a football city, they told me.
Then Kelly Olynyk pulled Kevin Love’s arm out of its socket. It was a weird season for Love, the team was clearly better with him on the court, but somewhere everyone in the media was looking for dirt that he wasn’t fitting in with the rest of the team. To me it was more racial weirdness.
In the modern world, it isn’t racist to say that basketball is a sport dominated by African-Americans. It’s just a fact of life. You can be in the middle of a race riot and pretty much everyone there will agree that blacks are for the most part better at basketball than whites. You can’t be Danny Ferry and accidentally imply that a player born in Africa still has too much Africa in him, but other than that the point is moot. (Suck it Danny Ferry!)
Then Kyrie Irving got hurt. Suddenly, it was again time for all those years of grief and disaster to be thrust on LeBron James’ shoulders and for the first year in his career he’s actually looked human. 2015 LeBron James has looked exhausted and beaten to a pulp all season long and still he somehow performed at Herculean levels. He beat the Bulls on a buzzer beater from just inside the three point line, on a day where it appeared that some random guy on the street had a better chance of sinking a jump shot.
Still no one cared. The next Michael Jordan is here and he’s on our team this time. Still the radio shows were about who was going to be the next backup tackle for the Browns. Is there anyone here but me noticing that LeBron James is performing miracles on a nightly basis after somehow making it through D-Day alive and with just a little bit of ammunition left in his guns?
Then Matthew Dellavedova happened. Hell, I’m watching the team play every night and until two weeks ago I didn’t even realize that he was from Australia. He’s a six foot four, really good looking white guy who is barely in the NBA. Does he hustle? Your damn right he hustles, if he didn’t hustle he’d still be in Australia not here at the bottom of the rotation making less than a million dollars a year.
First Dellavedova tricked the Chicago Bulls Taj Gibson into a technical foul by locking onto Gibson’s legs after a minor skirmish. Then he dives for a ball and knocks the Atlanta Hawks’ Kyle Korver right out of the playoffs with an ankle injury. Two nights later he is caught up with the Hawks best player, Al Horford. Horford takes a swing at him and is ejected. Delly for Horford? I’ll make that trade any day of the week.
Suddenly, the Cavaliers fifth best guard is all over the radio. Is he a dirty player or just a white guy who hustles? The TNT crew argued back and forth like mad dogs. Horford apologizes, but implies that there is a “brotherhood” among NBA players that you don’t play that way because it tends to cause injuries. Am I the only one who sees a ton of racial weirdness in the use of that word “brotherhood?”
Last night I went to see LeBron James close out and sweep the number one seeded Atlanta Hawks. It was only the second NBA playoff game I ever attended. The first was in Chicago the same series that Michael Jordan made the “shot” against the very hustling and white Craig Ehlo. That had been the last twenty five years of Cleveland basketball, Michael Jordan staying up in the air just a fraction of a second longer than Craig Ehlo followed by the movie “White Men Can’t Jump.”
Because James sat out the fourth quarter, he didn’t average an astronomic and historic 30-10-10 for the Hawks’ series. The pre-game intros were loud. Kyrie Irving was announced first and got a huge ovation from a crowd happy to see him back and finally healthy. LeBron got a huge and well deserved ovation. Neither was as loud as the sound of Dellavedova checking in for Irving after the Cavs had pretty much ended the series in the first three minutes of the game. “Delly! Delly! Delly!” Every time the man from down under touched the ball the crowd went wild.
For a while I wanted to chalk it up to more racial weirdness. My grandfather used to watch every single Cavaliers game. He was a diehard fan. I’d see him watching and he’d mutter the word “black”. All the players were black. I’m not sure if that bothered him or if he was just pointing out the obvious. He was after all still rooting for the home team.
So for a second I thought this is horrible. LeBron James is doing unheard of things. JR Smith and Iman Shumpert are the two happiest people to ever be traded from New York to Cleveland in the history of sports. Tristan Thompson is owning the boards like a beast. Dellavedova catches a rebound in mid-air and somehow manages to push it back up and through the hoop and the crowd goes ape.
I think about it for a while, and I decide to give the crowd and the entire white population of the city the benefit of the doubt. No one here can relate to being LeBron James. He won the equivalent of one hundred genetic lotteries. This city that hasn’t won a title since it was led by the equally fiery and genetically gifted Jim Brown the year before I was born has absolutely no idea what it’s like to be young and gifted. It has no idea what it’s like to be able to fly. It probably does have some more racial issues to work out, but in the end I decided to give the city the benefit of the doubt.
They don’t want to win a title with the next Michael Jordan. They can’t relate. This city that’s eaten dirt for the last half century wants to somehow be led by a hustling white guy, who probably plays too hard for the rest of the league. He is a guy who probably won’t be in the league in three years, but being overmatched, pushed around, a little too hyper, and coming back for more punishment? Matthew Dellavedova won’t have to buy a beer in Cleveland for the rest of his life.