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.