The Trials and Tribulations of a Cavaliers Fan....
Today, Sunday, June 24th brings with it a brand new reality for Cleveland Cavalier fans and the people of Northeast Ohio. Our former hero and sports "savior" has now won an NBA championship for the Miami Heat. Crazy right? The guy we thought would finally take one of our teams to the promise land instead left his hometown to take his talents to South Beach. The city of Cleveland has more die hard sports fans living in any given apartment complex downtown than Miami has in 300 square miles surrounding the city. The last nine years and our journey with Lebron still almost seem surreal. I can't even begin to imagine all the different emotions and feelings running through the hearts and minds of Clevelanders the last couple days. There are a lot of opinions I'm hearing that I don't agree with, but I would never be obtuse enough to think that everyone is going to react the same way. We are all entitled to express our opinions however the hell we want, especially based on what has transpired the last couple years. But today I need to make sure that I at least have the opportunity to put down in writing the way that I feel.
I've thought about it for the last two years how I would react when Lebron won a title for another team, for another city. As I, like many, knew that it was inevitable. There is no question that my feelings have changed as each month passed after "The Decision". Sometimes you are so blinded by anger, frustration and the feeling of abandonment that you can't clearly express your emotions. That was certainly the case for me anyway. I think about how my dad and brother are feeling; both having lived through more years of Cleveland frustration than I, and what this means for them. In Nate's case I am fairly certain that there is still not an ounce of him that does not want to knock Lebron on his ass, and I'm sure that he woke up on Friday morning with a sick feeling in his stomach. My dad, on the other hand, I believe has secretly taken solace in watching Lebron perform at the level he did, and finally winning a title. One thing is for certain, despite the performance of LBJ, all three of us are completely disgusted that the Miami Heat as a team have won another title, and the Cavaliers are once again still searching for the answers.
For me personally it is very difficult to put into words the way that I feel at this moment, and really what the last nine years of this saga have meant. It started with Lebron coming to Cleveland and bringing an excitement to the Wine and Gold that will probably not be replicated again until we win a title, if ever. From the 03-04 season to the 10-11 season the Cavaliers gave me the best seven years of my life as a Cleveland sports fan. The Q was packed every single night with 20,562 screaming fans creating the best home court advantage in the NBA. We built a team that was eventually rolling over the competition consistently during the regular season. Downtown and the buzz around the Cavaliers was so electric that it became difficult to think about anything else. You couldn't miss a game, and when they had off days you wished they were playing. The offseason seemed like it lasted for a year. All I wanted to do was watch Cavaliers basketball. It was so special to be a part of and to see the people of Cleveland able to take so much pride in one of our sports teams. Some of the best memories of my life with my friends and family are a direct result of those seven years. It was an incredible journey that I will never forget.
Professionally I started my career with the Cavaliers organization in 2007, just as we were laying the foundation as the preeminent force in the Eastern conference. The team's success was a huge contributing factor to the birth of the Lake Erie Monsters and professional hockey returning to downtown Cleveland. I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that Lebron had a direct impact on my life and my ability to achieve my professional goals. Would the Monsters even be here? Probably not because Dan Gilbert would have never purchased the Cavs. The Cavaliers, in fact, probably would no longer be in Cleveland, but that is an entirely separate discussion. Our business flourished in those years and my opportunities to advance were in part due to that success. Don't get me wrong, I would have been successful no matter where my career path had taken me, but I was getting to do it all in the city that I loved. I am fulfilling my lifelong professional goals in Cleveland, the city that I have always dreamed that I would live and work.
My friends will point directly to my very clear bias for Cleveland, and especially the Cavaliers; but I always believed very strongly that Lebron was going to be the greatest player in history. His skill set is one that has never been seen before in the NBA and may never again. Certainly there may be players that come along that will be in the "greatest of all time" conversations, but I don't think there will ever be another player that is able to do what he does on a basketball court. I was also always optimistic that he would be here for his entire career. My optimism, admittedly, has been misguided at times. Until the very seconds before the Chosen One announced to the world that he was leaving, I still believed with all of my heart that he would stay. I wanted so badly for it to be true that I simply ignored the writing on the walls. It was a blow like nothing I have ever experienced in my life as a sports fan, but despite all of that I was still quietly hoping Lebron would play well throughout the 2012 playoffs....
Surprised? I would venture to say that is probably not the most common or popular stance from Clevelanders. For years I defended LBJ against the critics who first said they he wasn't a good shooter, than they said he wasn't a great defender, than he wasn't a so called "clutch" player. The list was endless of people who made a living analyzing Lebron's game, and trying to find any semblance of a weakness. Never before in my lifetime has a superstar been under the microscope like he has been. God forbid someone actually become a better player than Michael Jordan. So yes, he left Cleveland, but how could I then so hypocritically flip to the other side and criticize him for the exact same things I so passionately argued against? That answer is simple, I couldn't. It drove me crazy to hear the same people who cheered him on with every fiber of their being now calling LBJ "LeBum" or "LeChoke". What a complete joke. The fact of the matter is Lebron can shoot, he can pass, he can rebound, he is (and always has been) a clutch player, he is the best defender in the NBA, and he is probably the most unselfish superstar I have ever seen in any sport. He did all of that here, and he just continued to do those same things in Miami. He has improved every year since he became a pro. Undeniably.
I can't stand the Miami Heat. I hate the Oklahoma City Thunder. I had absolutely no vested interest in who won this NBA title, because the Cavaliers were not competing for it. It was a lose lose situation as it always is if my team is not competing in the championship. However, the notion that Clevelanders were adopting the opposing teams playing Lebron in the finals just to spite him made me sick to my stomach. Not because they were cheering against him specifically, but because they were actually passionately supporting another team. I was shocked to walk into bars and hear roars from the patrons as if they were watching the Wine and Gold playing for the Larry O'Brien trophy. The "Mavaliers" and "OKCLE" slogans in my eyes are a complete embarrassment. I will never understand how any self respecting Cleveland fan could put on a shirt in OKC colors and with those stupid tag lines. I can wrap my head around rooting against Lebron, but not for another team altogether. I am still mad at Lebron for the way he left, and at the NBA for allowing "The Team-Up" to happen. In my mind, however, he did what many others would have done. He went to play with two of his friends who just happened to be two of the best players in the NBA, and did it legitimately under the NBA rules, (which by the way have since been changed to prevent this). Unfortunately he broke the hearts of his hometown, in which I will never fully forgive him for, but I blame the NBA just as much for creating a system where this was possible.
I suppose none of that is really the point. The point is that despite everything, during these playoffs I found myself hoping that Lebron's jump shots would go in, and that his passes would be finished by his teammates. I honestly tried not to but it became sickening to hear the constant misplaced criticism. I was so unwaveringly certain that Lebron could and can do anything that he wants on a basketball court. Selfishly I wanted him to prove to the world what I had always thought about him. It was only a matter of time before he won an NBA title, and now he has. Unfortunately it had to be in Miami when I am equally as certain he could have done it here. He is a freak of nature and I'm fortunate to have watched one of the best of all time play for my team for seven amazing years. Of course I wish it would have been more, but it wasn't. That ship has sailed.
I have one more thought before my "move on" statement because there is something else that has driven me crazy. All of the people that have just been sitting and waiting to send a message to Dan Gilbert. It just seems sad that for two years there are people that just couldn't wait to send him a tweet saying, "Hey Dan, how did winning a title before Lebron work out?" Dan Gilbert sent a message to the world in an impassioned moment showing how much he cared about the Cavaliers and the city of Cleveland. None of us can even begin to comprehend what he was going through as that moment. DG was the principle owner of a franchise that he had invested millions of his own dollars to try and bring this city what it wants most in this world. At that moment that goal took an enormous step backward, and it happened in a unimaginable way. Was it worth it? What satisfaction did it give you to throw something back in his face that he said under unbelievable personal and professional adversity? The amazing part is that many of these people were from Cleveland! What the hell?!? As if we wouldn't all be screwed if people recorded the things we said under similar circumstances and threw them back in our faces. Anyway Dan, I've said it before, but I'll say it again. I am very proud to work for a man that is as invested and passionate about downtown Cleveland as many who were born here. I am even more excited to have someone in our city that is not afraid to lay it all on the line and who wears his heart on his sleeve. All in the interest of helping this amazing city reach its potential. Thank you.
The reality is Lebron is a champion and there is nothing any of us can to do to change that. He had one of the greatest sustained playoff performances in history from round one through the NBA Finals. He carried yet another team on his back. My hope for Clevelanders is that they can see what the best part is of all that has transpired. IT DOESN'T FREAKING MATTER. There is absolutely not one thing about any of this that has any relevance whatsoever to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Lebron plays for the Miami Heat now. Until we play them in the playoffs it has absolutely no significance to us as Cavalier fans. There are so many amazing things happening right here, right now in our city and I'm not just talking about our sports teams. Why in the world would we continue to expend so much energy hating when there is so much to be excited for here. We are going to win a championship. We are and it will be very soon. I am not asking anyone to stop hating LBJ, as everyone is entitled to feel and react however they would like. I'm also realistic and I know that people will continue to go out of there way to criticize him. All I am asking is to reinvest some of that energy into the incredible things happening right in front of your eyes. And to be prepared to one day ask yourself a question. With all of the hatred, all of the bashing, if Lebron does in fact decide to come back to Cleveland one day, will you love him as you once did?
Because if he does play for this team again it will mean not one, not two, not three..........