Archive for the ‘Manifestos’ Category

Spursception

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Inception-DiCaprio-Murphy-on-plane

Almost immediately after the Spurs celebrated the conclusion of their ethereal basketball symphony I found myself between flights in Philly – a three hour layover of infinite possibilities.  I searched frantically for uninterrupted charging stations to calm my insatiable device hunger.  When the juice finally started flowing, I decided to write the most passive aggressive knock on LeBron James definitive eulogy for the “Big 3” era of pro basketball.  I shelved it long enough for the Cavs to sign Kyrie to the Pepsi MAX, LeBron to make peace with NEOhio, and the KLove #WojBomb to detonate.  So now what?

Well, Howard Bryant wrote a similar piece in ESPN The Magazine (although he arrived at a much different conclusion) and I have not the fortitude to polish a hot mess while reconciling the central claim with the current situation.

But I’m skeptical about the Cavs dedication to patience.  And what the Spurs did was instructive to every team in the NBA.  So I’m going to prune and pick from the autosaved “Document 1” that’s been open for months on my laptop and briefly describe what the Cavs should learn from all this.

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Nothing is “All for Naught.”

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

During the season highlights introduction to last night’s ALCS Wildcard Game between the Indians and the Rays, the voice-over narration caught my ear. It said something to the effect of: despite the great seasons of these teams, despite every every hit, every pitching masterpiece, every defensive gem, every walk-off home run, every injury comeback, every win streak, and every walk-off win, for these two teams, unless they win tonight, this past season was “all for naught.”  This zero sum gain mantra is a summation of everything wrong with attitudes towards sport in this post-modern world.

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We’re Back With Idiot Wonder

Sunday, September 23rd, 2012

I’m glad the sportswriting world has embraced hackery. Or rather, we’ve embraced that everyone is to various degrees a hack. The knowledge that informs this sounds self-evident when stated in plain terms: you can’t know sports. That’s a nonsensical concept, and the people that hold fast to that idea tend to be ex-jock troglodytes or else just gigantic morons. You can only know things about sports. Writers like Bill Barnwell, Chris Brown, and John Hollinger demonstrate this, but the numerous stat and video analysis geeks remind us constantly: they don’t have predictive powers, and though math is sometimes involved, their use of it doesn’t produce well-wrought urns of analysis. They conduct themselves like sportsologists—the pseudo-scientific nomenclature is deliberate—constructing from data various models of how the games they analyze work. They’re not experts; they don’t hold pretensions to authority. (And when the rare sabermetrician or video analyst does write as if atop a sports knowledge throne, it’s every bit as insufferable as when Blowhard Broadcaster X sidles up to a microphone to condescend to you about how to defend pick’n’roll.) For the most part, they’re just obsessive people trying to figure stuff out.

If you’re reading this, there’s a decent chance you’re an obsessive person trying to figure stuff out about the Cleveland Cavaliers. You and me both, friend. I have figured out nothing. I spent forty minutes this afternoon figuring out which Thai place I wanted to order lunch from, and my brain’s still half-melted from finally watching the Bachelor Pad finale last night. We’re talking about a basketball team that might start four players who have played a combined 111 games in the NBA. I don’t follow college basketball; I haven’t been hanging out with Tristan Thompson all summer; and the only things I know about star formation are from watching Carl Sagan’s Cosmos a few years ago, so it’s not even like I could make an apt analogy about the Cavs being in their “red dwarf” stage or whatever. Consider this video of a baby elephant learning to walk my cogent analysis of the forthcoming Cavaliers season. Ponder the metaphor. Or perhaps just point at the screen and squeal in delight.

But here’s the thing: I think this season will be fun. Not fun in the ecstatic sense, but fun like a watching a David Attenborough documentary while being punched repeatedly in the left shoulder by a five year-old. Fun like learning something while accumulating bruises.

I think this is the year the Cavs will start to make some sense. Not individual players per se, but the team as an entity. Two years after shoving the post-Lebron roster through a rice thresher, Chris Grant has assembled something that resembles a professional basketball team. Or at least the best college basketball team in the country. We’re finally going to see talent interact with talent. Kyrie Irving, already one of the twenty or thirty best players in the league, won’t seem so out of place. There are arguments to be made about how good the Cavs’ offseason acquisitions can be, but they’re already markedly better than Luke Harangody and Ryan Hollins. They have motor skills much more advanced than that of the average toddler and don’t handle the ball as if it were an irate lobster. They’re basketball players—they know how to make lay-ups and everything!—and Cavs fans will be treated to something like basketball.

Bad basketball, probably. It’s not like this team fills me with evangelical fervor. But it arouses my curiosity in a way last year’s team didn’t. (You really only needed to watch 30-odd games before you figured out Irving’s great, TT’s a project, Alonzo Gee’s an eighth man, and everyone else is varying degrees of not-good.) Dion Waiters moves through the lane like a bowling ball on a hoverboard, and Tyler Zeller is the Cavs’ first athletic seven-footer since before Brad Daugherty’s back lit up like a Lite-Brite board of pain. They were both asked after the draft how they fit into the team, and I remember being confused by the word “fit,” which implies there’s an existing structure into which one needs to position oneself. Rookies need to fit themselves into teams with mostly-solidified rosters like the Spurs and the Celtics. The Cavaliers exist in a pocket of collapsed space-time wherein Kyrie Irving stands solitary, dribbling a basketball through his legs with a look of unease on his face, and Tristan Thompson flickers like a hologram. Do whatever you want, rookies. You might not be good right away, but at least you’re corporeal. Fill the emptiness with reverse lay-ins and mid-range jumpers. No one’s going to stop you.

So bully to anyone calling themselves an expert, but they can’t possibly be right. This team is one shade lighter than absolute black, and I just want to stare at it for a while and let my tempestuousness simmer. I want to embrace not knowing stuff and write about the darkness and what might be inside it. Then I want to write about the nascent light that hopefully emerges and what it illuminates. That’s what we’ll be doing this season at Cavs: The Blog. (Yes, we’re back in full and rolling out preseason coverage all this week. Wake the children.) This is all to say we’d be pleased if you would join us. It’s probably best if we travel in packs. Things are about to get weird.

On a Future and the Desire of One

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

The Cavaliers are atrocious. There is little quibbling over this fact. It has been confirmed in a painful fashion since late November, when a 106-87 undressing courtesy of the Celtics sent the Cavs into a tailspin in which they lost 36 of their next 37, many by embarrassing margins. Though their play has since improved, one could argue that on paper, they should lose every single game they play. The worst aspect of suffering through a season so bleak is the monotony of watching this team three or four times a week. It’s like being trapped in isolation; one grows delusional and begins to follow these threads of delusion for the sheer want of something to do. Once Eyenga learns how to shoot, play defense, and hones those passing skills, he’s going to be unstoppable! Fans of every team do this to an extent, but happy forecasts are the vice of the miserable fan. This is because an abysmal team extinguishes the realistic chance of victory on a nightly basis. Like the death of a friend might cause one to imbibe, an unceasing string of double-digit losses will force fans to scout their young players’ games for burgeoning skills and scour the college ranks for a savior.

A hefty amount of Greek literature (at least the texts that have survived this long) discusses Eros, primordial god of sexual love and beauty. Because most of humankind strives for such things, there is a strong link between Eros and desire, to the point where the deity’s name and the term have grown together, like the intertwined roots of a timeworn tree. Fragment 130 from the poet Sappho characterizes Eros in stark terms: “Eros the melter of limbs (now again) stirs me– / sweetbitter unmanageable creature who steals in.” This is one of the most apt descriptions of the sensation. Desire is a phenomenon which infects us. It melts us and stirs us and while we might writhe uncomfortably throughout, when the experience ends, we wish it would not have ceased and immediately leave off in search of something that will perform the process on us again. It’s this thirst for desire’s turbulence that causes some of us to suffer from drug or gambling or sex addiction. For many more of us, it’s a large part of the reason we love sports.

As a passionate fan of most NBA teams, one’s chief desire is to watch their team win on a regular basis. As a fan of an elite NBA team, one’s desire is devoted not just to wins, but to the acquisition of a championship. As a fan of a cellar dweller like the Cavaliers, your desire is a source of confusion. You want J.J. Hickson’s jumpshot to improve. You want Christian Eyenga to play smarter on the defensive end. You want these things to not happen during the season because you want the team to lose, so they can draft the player you want—Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Kemba Walker—and you want that player to be terrific. This is weird because, as a fan, you have literally no control over any of these things. If you are desirous towards a man or woman you work with, you may be able to win their affection through intelligence or charm or humor. J.J. Hickson’s jumpshot will improve or not improve based on his talents and the amount of time he spends developing those talents; you are powerless to alter it one way or the other. We use “we” when we refer to our favorite teams, but, despairingly, that “we” indicates only the pain or joy we feel due to decisions and events we cannot influence.

It would be easy to feel panicked in this situation. And while desire encapsulates angst and worry, panic is distinctly unpleasant. So, you want something to assuage this panic and prove to you the things you cannot control are being performed by trustworthy individuals. A Celtics fan may experience cottonmouth in the final moments of a tight playoff matchup, but they do not panic. Paul Pierce has hit that pull-up jumper from the elbow before. Ray Allen knows how to come off a double screen and knock down a clutch three. If you leave Big Baby open, there’s a good chance he will make you pay. Familiarity breeds solace.

In 2011, there is no championship for the Cavaliers to win; there are no playoff games for which we need a 4th quarter assassin. We need a future before any of those things are possible. GM Chris Grant will be the architect of that future, and he has done little to encourage Cavs fans to place trust in him. This is through no fault of his own. He’s just the new guy; we will learn more of his strengths and weaknesses over the coming years. It’s difficult to know how much input he had on the Cavaliers’ front office decisions over the five years he spent working under Danny Ferry (Dan Gilbert, upon his promotion, characterized him as “instrumental in a lot of things we’ve done”), though he obviously acquired enough influence that the Cavaliers felt comfortable handing him the keys. Since he has become the face of the Cavs’ front office, the only major transaction he has made was, by consensus, “good”: a top 10 pick in exchange for a couple role players and the burden of a talented underachiever with a lousy contract.

One wonders whether this top 10 pick will be a starter or all-star; if he will be overwhelmed by the NBA and end up balling in Greece with an ancient Sasha Pavolovic; or if he will desert us at the peak of his powers. Because that’s all one can do: wonder and hope. Maybe write an overlong blog post. The only certainty for a Cavalier fan is that this team will be constructed without their consultation. If the Cavs draft the next Darko with the fifth pick, we are afforded remarkably useless tools of dissent: boos and profanity. Anger will grow in desire’s stead.

But hope is a mysterious power. Battered as Cavaliers fans are, one dreadful season cannot drain us of our hope. We have experienced the euphoria of serendipity too recently to forsake hope. Drunk with its fervor, I send a plea into the ether of cyberspace, perhaps into the ears of someone who can help: build us a future. Build us a young team with talent and promise for whom we can desire victory. Give us look out for us next year! Then develop those players and add energy guys and bench scorers and athletic defenders who nail open corner threes. Build us a team for whom we can desire a playoff run. Build us a team that pushes a better one to seven games. Build us a team that exceeds expectations. Then add a final piece. A late-round draft pick, a reclamation project, a veteran who sets screens and rebounds. Give us a team for whom we can desire a championship. A team that melts our limbs. A team down four with three minutes left in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Finals. Give us desire, and let it render us dizzy and furious and barely swimming in its spirit-rendering sap.

Cavaliers trade Mo Williams for Baron Davis

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

There are two ways to look at this. One is good, and one is less good.

The Good Way: The Cavs traded cap flexibility and Mo Williams for a lottery pick

The Cavaliers are terrible this year. They will likely be terrible next year as well. The only way the Cavs were going to be able to dig their way out of this hole was to give up their current assets for draft picks, and they did that. Mo Williams is a name, and his spot-up shooting ability makes him attractive to good teams. However, he was exposed this season. He cannot create his own shot consistently, his defense is porous, and he cannot get into the paint.

As bad as Baron Davis may/will be in Cleveland, he will not be significantly worse than Mo Williams was. He will cost the Cavaliers cap flexibility, but we don’t know what that will mean after the new CBA gets done. Also, Gilbert has shown that he is willing to spend money, copious amounts of money, on the team. A buyout or something similar may be in Baron’s future.

The bad news is that the Clippers only traded their pick because they believe, as most do, that this will be a very weak draft. Still, the draft is not an exact science, and it still represents the Cavs’ best chances to find the players that will bring them back to respectability. In order to save this franchise, the Cavs’ scouting staff is going to have to hit two home runs in a draft with few sure-fire prospects. No pressure, guys.

The Less Good Way: The Cavs just traded for Baron Davis

Ramon Sessions’ play at the point was essentially the only good thing the team had going for it. Now Ramon has just lost his starting spot to a low-efficiency chucker whose passing ability and savvy in transition play mean he only works on offense if he is surrounded by talented offensive players. He will not be surrounded by talented offensive players in Cleveland. Baron is still a fast-break virtuoso, but I don’t see that making up for all the quick-trigger threes he’ll almost certainly be firing in Cleveland.

Baron is a guy who doesn’t play well in bad situations, and situations don’t get much worse than the one in Cleveland. And he’ll be taking the starting job of the one guy who was playing his butt off every night (at least offensively) and making the Cavs look like a competent offensive unit. I have watched Baron Davis. I know Baron Davis. I named my first blog after Baron Davis. Based on the last decade or so of Baron Davis’ career, he is exactly the wrong guy to turn Cleveland around. And the Cavaliers now owe Baron Davis just under 42 million dollars over the next three years.

One more thing: The hypocrisy is ridiculous

I understand hating LeBron James. I respect hating LeBron James. I have mixed feelings about this team, at its highest levels, sending an official “screw LeBron James” message, and those feelings are even more mixed now. Yes, LeBron has an ego. Yes, LeBron made it about him rather than about Cleveland when he left. Yes, LeBron could have tried harder when the Cavs were getting blown out in game five. It’s fine to harbor resentment about those things, even though LeBron is the best player in the history of the franchise. I understand tearing down your LeBron posters and putting up posters of guys like Big Z.

What I don’t understand is how burning LeBron James jerseys and buying Baron Davis jerseys is anything other than cheering for laundry. Baron Davis has all the talent in the world, and he has made a CAREER out of putting his ego above the game and quitting on his teams. He shows up to camp out of shape. He launches threes and jogs back on defense instead of running the offense. He does everything he can to keep himself in the spotlight and the bare minimum to keep his teams competitive. And he shot 11-32 in the last two games of the Warriors/Jazz series.

And don’t get me started on Antawn Jamison, who plays offense like a 6-9 Nick Young and doesn’t play defense. You want to call LeBron a quitter? Antawn quits on defense EVERY FEW POSSESSIONS. OF EVERY GAME. And nobody says boo. And Jamison and Davis are now the faces of this new, post-LeBron, pure Cleveland franchise. Sure, the team might suck, but at least it has a moral code: “If you’re going to be selfish and not work that hard, that’s fine. Just don’t prove yourself to be really, really good at anything before you screw up, because then people are really going to hate you. Just be adequate. It’s alright to treat your girl bad, so long as she’s the one you came to the dance with.”

This is not my favorite basketball season of all time. But now the team has hope for the future. And Baron Davis. Until later, campers.

This is why the Cavaliers are terrible

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

I semi-accidentally triggered a “why are the Cavaliers THIS BAD?” discussion with my last post. In the comments, there was a lot of talk about how the Cavs’ epic futility has occurred because they built their team around LeBron, and the team is now hopelessly rudderless without him.

There is a grain of truth in that. The Cavaliers arranged their talent around LeBron, because that was the best/only option really available to them. However, that glosses over the fact that LeBron prevented the Cavaliers from accumulating talent. He did not do this by being evil or failing to commit long-term to Cleveland in order to convince Trevor Ariza to join the team. He did this by making the Cavaliers significantly better very fast, and very good for a number of years. This gave the Cavs fewer chances to add real talent through the draft, and the Cavaliers blew the chances they did have.

Think of team-building as a very basic mathematical concept. Trades are made when each team is getting something of theoretically equal value — therefore, a trade can only rearrange the overall talent level of a team to best suit its goals. Free-agency is nice, but big free-agency opportunities are few and far between — remember that Shaq is the only max free-agent signing to have won a championship with the team that signed him. (To date, that is. Yes, the Heat have a chance of joining the Lakers as the only team to craft a dynasty through free agency. And remember that they got Caron and Odom in the Shaq trade, traded Caron for Kwame, and flipped Kwame’s contract for Gasol — the initial capital all came from that Shaq coup.)

And as I’ve said before on this blog, teams that spend money in free agency are the ones that already have solid talent “cores” — teams are not good because they spend money. Teams spend money because they are good. The Cavs’ big post-LeBron acquisitions were Mo Williams, Shaq, and Antawn Jamison. They got those players for almost nothing, because the teams those three players played for did not feel they were worth paying the remaining value of their contracts. There are reasons for that.

On a fundamental level, the only real way to really and truly add talent is through the draft. This is a fairly basic concept. If you do not have good players or prospects, other teams will not trade you good players or prospects. If you do not have good players or prospects, it makes little sense to spend money on free agents. The only reliable way to acquire good players or prospects is through the draft.

Even a team like the Celtics, which was seemingly built on trades, relied on the draft. They drafted Paul Pierce, bought the draft rights to Rondo, traded a top-5 pick for Ray Allen, and traded Al Jefferson (considered an all-time steal at #14) for KG. With very, very, few exceptions, team-building always comes back to the draft. With that in mind, let’s take a look at who the Cavaliers have used their post-LeBron draft picks to acquire:

2003: Jason Kapono, pick #32 overall. Lost to Charlotte in the expansion draft.

2004: Luke Jackson, pick #10 overall. For more on that, read my full writeup.

2005: No picks. (Effectively) traded their 1st-round pick for Jiri Welsch (click here for more) and their 2nd-round pick for Anderson Varejao.

2006: Shannon Brown, pick #25 overall. Eventually traded away as a throw-in to the Ben Wallace trade. Daniel Gibson, pick #42 overall. With Andy out for the year, Boobie is the best player on the team. This was a great pick.

2007: THIS FIRST-ROUND PICK WAS ALSO TRADED FOR JIRI WELSCH.

2008: J.J. Hickson, #19 overall pick. That’s been a roller-coaster ride.

2009: Christian Eyenga, #30 overall pick. Starting to look like a rotation player, maybe. Team also got Danny Green, who they later cut.

2010: Pick traded for Antawn Jamison.

Note: if anyone has an easy way to keep track of where all the Cavs’ 2nd-round pick went, I’d appreciate it, because it’s hard to keep tabs on exactly what the Cavs spend their 2nd-rounders on. Also, I am aware that the Cavs still have the rights to Sasha Kaun.

I mean, yikes. Eyenga, Gibson, and Hickson are the only rotation players the Cavs have managed to draft post-LeBron, and Jamison is the only rotation player, current or former, that the Cavs managed to get for a traded pick. That’s a miserable showing for six years of drafting. Oh, and the Cavs took their big free-agency shot at Larry Hughes.

Again, part of this is because LeBron made the team too good to fast. The Thunder got to rebuild with four top-five picks in three years, starting with the Durant draft in 2007. If the Cavs had the #3 pick in 2005, they would’ve gotten Chris Paul or Deron Williams. In fact, lets’ do this exactly (no CP3 over Deron): The Thunder drafted Jeff Green #5 in 2007: if the Cavs had the #5 pick in the 2003 draft, LeBron and Wade would’ve been Cavaliers from day one. And Deron Williams would have joined them when they drafted him 3rd overall in 2005. (Shaun Livingston in 2004 would have been a tough break, but no cheating.) Think about that for a while. By not carrying his team to a respectable record for the first two years of his career, Durant prevented himself from having to make an uncomfortable exodus to greener pastures later on. He really has done everything right, hasn’t he?

If they’d sucked in 2004, they might have actually snagged Dwight Howard. Now that’s the kind of young core that would have kept LeBron here forever. Instead, their success forced them to have to look for a Kobe-like minor miracle in the late lottery or full-blown Ginobili miracle in the later picks, and those aren’t easy to come by.

Why do the Cavaliers suck? It’s not because they built around LeBron. It’s not because they didn’t build around LeBron. The Cavs acquired an asset who wouldn’t have fit around LeBron without having to give up significant talent this off-season. His name is Ramon Sessions. You have been basking in his glory. The Cavaliers suck because the draft is the best way to acquire significant assets, the Cavaliers acquired one significant asset through the draft in the last seven years (Boobie is maybe .5 of a significant asset — what teams would give up a #1 pick for him? Consider that the #15 draft pick is an average 1st-round pick), and that significant asset left last summer. That’s why this team is historically terrible. That’s the story here, folks. Nothing less, nothing more. Until next time.

We Are All Witnesses

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Witness Poster

We Are All Witnesses. We all know the slogan. We all know where we’ve seen it. We all know who it refers to. Do we know what it means?

Think about that slogan/saying/motto/mantra/whatever for a little bit. Think about what it makes the “we” in question, and think about what it does not make us. We are not LeBron James’ family. We are not LeBron James’ friends. We are not part-owners of LeBron James, nor do we hold shares of him. We are not LeBron James’ bosses or employees. We are not his defenders or his prosecutors. We are not his judge or jury. We Are All Witnesses. We have all watched.

Cleveland owned the Browns long before Art Modell bought them, took them, and moved them. Likewise, Cleveland owned the Cavaliers long before LeBron James joined the team. Cleveland will own the Cavaliers long after LeBron James leaves.

Cleveland does not own LeBron James. LeBron James was born in Akron. He was drafted by his hometown Cavaliers, who signed him to a contract. He played at a high enough level to make his contract a relative bargain. He then signed an extension with the Cavaliers. Again, he played at a high enough level to more than justify the money he was given by the Cavaliers.

LeBron does not owe the Cavaliers any more than he has given them. LeBron has never needed to pay off some cosmic debt to Cleveland. He’s done all he can to bring a title to the city, but it was never about anybody forcing LeBron to win a title for the Cavaliers. He tried to win Cleveland a title because he wanted to. Cavs fans just got to watch.

We are not LeBron James, and LeBron James is not us. On the court and off of it, LeBron has only allowed himself to appear tangentially human. On the floor, LeBron is the most blessed player the game has ever seen. Nobody has ever had his combination of size, speed, and explosiveness. He can see plays in a split second that most people couldn’t dream up given all the time in the world. He’s more skilled with his off hand than most forwards are with their dominant one. He can hit insane shots from anywhere on the court, and often makes them simply to prove he can.

He also refuses to make the concessions to fundamental basketball that so many people have demanded him to make. His shot selection is often baffling. He refuses to put himself in the post and use his combination of size and strength to dominate with a minimum of effort. He’s never developed a solid mid-range game, and he’s not even a lights-out free throw shooter. Sometimes, it’s like being the best isn’t good enough for LeBron; he needs to be the best while proving that his own way of doing things works better than all the ones that existed before it.

Off the court, LeBron is even less accessible than he is on it. He wants to be the richest athlete of all time, yet he surrounds himself with his high school buddies. He’s constantly cracking jokes and playing the buddy-buddy role with his teammates, but he keeps the general populace at arm’s length with a bizarre gumbo of warmed-over team-first mantras and a healthy dose of self aggrandizing-behavior. He wants to be Warren Buffet, but he wants to be a big kid as well. He wants to be One of The Guys, but he wants to hand-pick who gets to be One of The Guys.

He has refused all archetypes. He is not the intense workaholic whose desire to win dominates all other aspects of his personality. He is not the happy-go-lucky kid who just wants to play the game and have fun. He is not the suave businessman who controls everything in front of him. In trying to be all of those things, he has become none of them. He has become larger than life, but not in the way he wants to be. He is Alice after eating the cake, too big to fit through the door to the garden and too far down the rabbit hole to come back. And he might not even care.

Tonight, the eve of what was supposed to become LeBron’s big day, is instead the nadir of his career. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and all the hype and adoration that LeBron James inspired has come crashing down upon his ringless self. He is a King without a crown, and now he is being criticized for daring to take the throne. All LeBron did was play basketball very well and lap up every bit of praise lavished upon him for doing so. Whatever LeBron is other than a basketball player, we made him into. Now we have taken it upon us to punish LeBron for his hubris, and ourselves for trusting it. What the gods wish to destroy, they must first label as promising.

Tonight, LeBron is a man without a country. He hasn’t won the championship that would endear him to the fans who want a winner, and he hasn’t stayed humble or loyal enough to the fans who want their superstars to be paradigms of truth, justice, and the American way. He never brought his hometown team to the promised land, and he’ll never be truly worshiped there unless he does. If he leaves, he will go to a new team, a better team, in a bigger city. There, he will never be fully embraced, because he needed to take a shortcut to greatness. If he stays and does not win a championship, he will forever be seen as a player too weak-willed and weak-skilled to have ever truly been great. Even if he stays and does take the Cavs to a championship, he’s gone too far down the aforementioned rabbit hole to ever be the humble, team-first, hometown hero he wants Cleveland to see him as.

On Thursday, LeBron will have a new contract, and may someday get a championship ring. What he will never be is what he was once supposed to be; a player so great that he would unite all basketball fans under his banner, and achieve the kind of consensus greatness that Jordan once did.

He may unite great players under his banner, he may unite the mainstream media and his team’s fanbase under his banner, and he may unite the stat geeks under his banner, but he will never have the mob appeal to match his snob appeal. That ship has sailed, regardless of whether or not he stays in Cleveland.

This was supposed to be LeBron’s year. It was the seventh year of his career; Jordan won his first championship in his seventh year. It was his best individual season ever, both on the stat sheet and in terms of his evolving skills. He had more quality veteran players around him than he ever had before. His team was built to win a championship, not just impress in the regular season. With his contract coming up and a veteran team around him, it was do-or-die time, the time when the great ones are supposed to reveal what it is that makes them great.

If LeBron’s career was scripted, this would have been the year he finally won a championship. The Celtics’ defense didn’t care about any of that, and now the LeBron honeymoon is over. The first act of LeBron James’ career is over, and it ultimately turned out to be a tragic one. From a narrative standpoint, LeBron has tasted true, inexcusable, and lasting failure.

“A life, Jimmy, you know what that is? It’s what happens while you wait for moments that will never come.”

-Lester Freamon, The Wire

We are not LeBron. LeBron is not us. LeBron does not owe us anything. We do not own LeBron. What we do own is the moments that LeBron gave us over the last seven-plus years.

The moment that you turned on ESPN2, saw St. Vincent/St. Mary’s beat Oak Hill, saw LeBron find Romeo Travis with a behind-the-back feed, told any other 8th grader who would listen that this kid was for real, and thought maybe the Cavs might get this kid in the draft? You own that moment.

When the ping-pong balls went Cleveland’s way? We own that moment. When LeBron showed up in that white suit and there was suddenly hope in Cleveland? We own that moment. When LeBron started owning summer league and then got a near triple-double against the Kings in his NBA debut? That moment is ours as well.

How about when LeBron became a legit MVP candidate at 21 years old, then tiptoed the baseline to beat the Wizards in his first-ever playoff series? Yep, that moment is ours. 25 straight points to beat the Pistons in double overtime and take a rag-tag team to the finals? Nobody can take that away. Then there was LeBron in the 2008 playoffs, fighting to the bitter end in a seven-game series against the eventual champs.

Then there was the 2008-09 season, when LeBron somehow took his game to another level and emerged as a dominant force en route to his first MVP award. Even against the Magic, LeBron managed to keep Cleveland’s hopes alive by draining an off-balance, buzzer-beating three in game two. This season, LeBron raised his game and led the Cavs to a 61-game season despite some new acquisitions and a slew of injuries, and nearly every one of those games was a small masterpiece in its own right.

There were the bad moments as well. When the Cavs collapsed down the stretch in 04-05 and missed the playoffs. When the Cavs couldn’t quite finish off the Pistons in game six of the 2006 playoffs. When LeBron took a good portion of the 06-07 season wandering around the perimeter and only trying to take over the game when he felt like it. When LeBron looked like a completely over-matched 21-year old against the Spurs that same year. When LeBron came up just short in his duel with Paul Pierce in 2008. When LeBron couldn’t quite finish off his masterful game one performance against the Magic in 2009, and had that sloppy fourth quarter and overtime in game four of the same series. Then, of course, there was LeBron getting completely demoralized and overpowered by the Celtics’ defense this season, backing down from the challenge he was supposed to embrace.

Off the court, there were the times LeBron had one eye on the bright lights New York or New Jersey/Brooklyn. When it seemed like he wanted to be a global icon more than he wanted to be the best player ever. When he may have told Nike to destroy tapes of a college kid dunking on him. When he was out pimping some self-serving biography. When he acted like he was the one with the right to take Jordan’s number and wear Bill Russell’s. We own all of those moments the same way we own the good ones.

All of those are just the big moments. There was also the night-in, night-out pleasure (and pain) of watching LeBron play. Every time he would lull his defender to sleep with a slight hesitation dribble and explode to the basket. Every time he would shrug off a big man and convert an impossible and-1. Every time he made a jumper few other players would be able to get all the way to the rim. Every time he got the ball in the open court and you told your friends to shut up and watch what was about to happen. Every time he threaded the ball through a hole nobody but his teammate knew was there. Every time he snuck up behind an unsuspecting opponent who thought he had an easy transition layup. Every time the game was close in the last five minutes and you knew LeBron had it under control. There were thousands of those moments, and LeBron gave us every one of them.

(The bad little moments; every time LeBron got in in the post and hesitated to go at his defender, every heat-check, every missed free throw, every stutter-step 20-footer with time on the clock, every off-balance mid-range shot, every time he would dance 30 feet from the basket instead of running the offense.)

Last Saturday, me and a few friends of mine went on a hike. We were led to believe it would be a three-hour day hike, but we ended spending nearly all day climbing up a freaking mountain. It was miserable. At some point during the hike/climb, I realized that a goal-oriented view of hiking makes very little sense. Was the moment I was working for the moment I got to the top of the mountain, only to realize I was now going to have to scramble down this freaking thing? Was it the moment we got to the car, too exhausted to do anything but drive to the nearest gas station, buy a bunch of Gatorade, and drink it in silence? Was it when we got home and finally got to shower? Which one of those moments was supposed to make the whole miserable experience worthwhile? Was it when we could tell very unimpressed people that we climbed a relatively small peak?

The answer, of course, is none of them. If you don’t enjoy the process of hiking/climbing mountains, there is no way to justify the activity. Professional cyclists often talk about how the love of suffering itself is something all good cyclists must have on one level or another. More and more, I feel the same way about being a sports fan. If you’re waiting for that one game, one moment, one play, one championship, three championships, that will make all that suffering go away and let you feel nothing but warm inside when you think about your favorite players and teams, I suggest taking up quilting. To be a die-hard fan is to suffer. You just have to enjoy the little victories that you find while you’re suffering.

Maybe you believe that all the great things LeBron James did in the last seven years were just a dress rehearsal for the moments when he ultimately failed to deliver. Maybe you believe that all the good things you thought about LeBron over the years were revealed to be the products of deceit when LeBron started acting like a jackass who believed himself to be bigger than the game this summer. I suppose those are valid viewpoints. They do not happen to be my own.

For the first two years of his career, LeBron James was perhaps the most exciting prospect the game has ever known. For the next three years of his career, LeBron was an underaged MVP candidate who gave the Cavs a fighting chance at a championship. For the last two years, LeBron has been a dominant individual force who turned the Cavs into true championship contenders. For the last seven years, Cleveland basketball has been something to feel good about. When you think about it, that’s something.

If LeBron does decide to stay tomorrow, it will still never be the same as it was before; LeBron is no longer the golden child, and the Cavs won’t have the buzz around them that they once did. If he does leave, it will be one of the lowest moments in the history of one of the most tormented American sports cities. Either way, an era will officially end tomorrow.

The seven seasons that made up the (1st act of?) the LeBron Era in Cleveland ultimately ended in disappointment, failure, heartbreak, misery, doubt, bitterness, and plenty of suffering for everyone who lived and died with LeBron and the team he led. Personally, I wouldn’t trade those seven years of watching LeBron play for anything in the world.


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The Official Manifesto of Cavs: The Blog

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

Greetings world,

Welcome to Cavaliers: The Blog. It’s like the Cavaliers, except it’s words on the internet. My name is John Krolik. I’m sheriff of this here neck of the interwebs. My basic information is helpfully labeled in the top-right; for here, I love the Cavaliers, I write, and my email is johnkrolik@gmail.com.

In all seriousness, here are the goals for this here site, which I reserve the right not to meet:

-Recap every game possible (I have league pass, but I also have other responsibilities) in a comprehensive and enlightening manner-stuff you hopefully wouldn’t just get from reading an AP recap or a box score.

-More than just report pertinent news like injuries or trade rumors or struggles, but try and provide a perspective on them you won’t get anywhere else.

-Do our best to provide a subjective but fair spin on the team, somewhere in between major-network sterility (darn you, journalistic standards!), and knee-jerk reactionism (OMGGGGZ HOW COULD U NOT SAY THE CAVS AREN’T BETTER THAN THE JORDAN BULLS MAYBE U SHOULD STOP EAST COAST BIASING AND REALIZE THAT BOOBIE IS DA MAAAAAAN!)

(Sidebar: This is not to suggest that we do not believe Boobie is the man.)

-Give you off-day stories that make you laugh, see something differently, provide you with argument fodder for your friends, and more than anything are just fun to read. Brian (formerly of YAY! Sports NBA and currently of Brian’s Thoughts About Airplanes) is even going to be dropping in every now and then, so you know we’re going to have a great time.

-To provide a community that can make you feel like you’re just outside of the Q even if you’re thousands of miles away.

-To avoid using cliches, except when necessary, as it was with the last bullet point.

-To get a banner at some point in the future.

-To make AWESOME CUSTOM T-SHIRTS THAT ARE CAVALIER INSIDE JOKES.

If I saw a Girl Wearing This, I would Propose on the Spot.
If I saw a Girl Wearing This, I would Propose on the Spot.

I’ve spent some time as a journalist. Journalism is great. But for this project here, I’m putting on my creative writing hat to bring you stuff you won’t see anywhere else, but more than anything this blog is written by someone who loves this game, loves this team, and knows them both like the back of his hand. Hopefully that’ll allow me to tell you some new information, but most of all I want all of us to have a great time. Stick around-it’ll be worth your time.

Sincerely,

John Krolik

Founder and Grand Viceroy, Cavaliers: The Blog