Cleveland will remember crowding into the Q to watch games played at Golden State on the big screen, drinking beer or pop and eating wings in packed sports bars, filling the streets to celebrate a game seven victory, RJ Smith with his shirt off. I watched every finals game at my mom’s house. For most I left at halftime and watched the second half at home. Once or twice I fell asleep in the third quarter with the game on the radio. After we went down 0-2, my mom texted that we’d be home the next two games: “Go Cavs!” After we went down 1-3, I showed up at her house for our pregame chat and she said she had a good feeling about game five. I did, too.
LeBron came back and the Cavs won a title. My Cavs I shared with my mom and many others, people I chatted with about games, who chatted with others about games, a network of conversations that spread throughout the region and the rest of the country.
I remember World B. Free, who never missed a jump shot, in my little kid memory. My earliest basketball memories were watching Ohio State with my mom on channel 67 that came in all fuzzy. Brad Sellers wore 00 as a freshman. He led the team as a senior with Dennis Hopkins a year behind. When Sellers left, I figured we wouldn’t win a game. Then Dennis Hopkins led them deep into the tournament as a senior. I couldn’t believe it when we came out ahead of Georgetown early. Were we going to the final four, whatever the hell that was? No, we lost but I knew we’d had a hell of a season. My favorite player, for a while, was Kip Lomax. “Kip Lomax from the top of the key!” I used to say, shooting after practice back in my CYO league days. Before that was a three-pointer.
I posted this blog when LeBron came back to Cleveland:
I reread it, this morning, and nothing that happened changes my mind, but I did enjoy watching my Cavs win a championship, after all those great Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Hot Rod Williams teams came up just short. (Yes, just short. A few of those years we gave the Bulls their toughest competition.) I enjoyed it with my mom and with fellow fans. I’m not grateful to LeBron, though his performance was the most impactful among all the players. The Cavs are a team. He came back to the team. Every time LeBron was interviewed, practically, he commented about “his guys,” and my mom would pop halfway out of her chair, “They’re not ‘your guys,’ you’re part of a team!”
This is how I managed to get my Cavs back. I don’t have to have an opinion about individual players to enjoy watching my team and to enjoy rooting for them with my friends and family and random people like the woman who came into the store where I work the morning after the Cavs won and just wanted to chat sports. We want to admire people who we watch excel at sports but we’re asking for a big coincidence if we expect people put on that stage almost solely for their athletic performance to then also be people we admire. Which leaves us to luck or to forge goodness out of them. I noticed people praised LeBron for an interview when the Cavs were down 1-3 and some of the Warriors players made snide remarks. LeBron took the high road. We know because he said it three times during the interview. LeBron, it’s not still the high road when you say you’re taking it.
Anderson Verajao is a great example. A beloved player in Cleveland, traded away through no fault of his own, but we saw him in a different light as a Golden State Warrior. Still have to love his hustle, but he’s a flopper. He purposely entangles himself with opposing players and then when the opposing player moves to get free, Anderson launches himself across the court and looks up at the refs like he just got shoved for no reason. We might call it gamesmanship, if we felt a need to like him, but rooting against him he looked obnoxious.
I forgot how freshly annoyed I still was with Richard Sherman when I posted about LeBron returning. Sherman was the player who made a spectacular defensive play to send Seattle to the Superbowl they won a couple of years ago. He was aggressively defended by fans for the poor act of sportsmanship he displayed in a postgame interview, after the NFC championship game against San Francisco, that took attention away from his team and the city he played for to put it squarely on him, where he parlayed it into endorsement deals. Since, I’ve seen him turn to visiting fans and taunt them. Some of the fans had likely taunted him first, but they’re taunting an adult. A player taunting a stadium is taunting children. In those stands is an eight-year-old who loves his team and hasn’t developed ill feeling for the opposing team but feels a little kid desperation to win. And you’re taunting him. If you forget to think of it that way, use your millions of dollars as a reminder.
But he posts thank yous to his fans and Christmas pics of his family wishing everyone happy holidays, he does charity work for the city, so of course his fans excuse his behavior. LeBron buys bikes for kids at events, which is great. Although how generous is it when it’s also a necessary part of being a superstar and nabbing endorsement deals? An NBA star with no charitable contributions to show would risk getting dropped from deals with Nike, McDonald’s, whoever else, that net them far more than they give away.
LeBron’s not my favorite Cavs player. I like Kyrie. I always called Kyrie the leader of this year’s Cavs team and LeBron joined. Winning it all was more fun for me because while we couldn’t have done it without LeBron, we also couldn’t have done it without Kyrie. But really we couldn’t have done it without contributions from all the players and coaches and trainers and all the fans who showed up and gave them an advantage in their home games.
What I really learned by easing my way back into rooting for my Cavs is that the players are ephemeral magnets for our focus and attention that really belongs to the team. The players come and go but the team is what we put our love in. And what is the team? It’s not something owned by Dan Gilbert. It’s a transcendent entity that encompasses our discrete loves joined together, through our chats about games, our texts and facebook posts, the thousands of fans high-fiving each other in the streets of Cleveland after gave seven, the million-plus who gathered for the parade. The players made an appearance at the parade, but people didn’t go to that parade to catch a glimpse of the players. They went to have a parade in Northeast Ohio celebrating together a first major championship in fifty-plus years. The players were ephemeral catalysts for that joy transcendent of them, transcendent of the team. That’s why we call it team spirit. My team was me and my mom watching every game without ever giving up hope. And we did it!