Nothing left to lose

May 14, 2010

Here’s the irony: Cleveland sports fans actually expected to win a championship this season. Can you believe that one? We actually thought we were going to win it all. We convinced ourselves that 45 years of heartbreak were going away in another month. LeBron plus Shaq equals NBA title. It was going to finally be all ours. 

God must be enjoying a hearty laugh after this one. Probably his biggest laugh of all. 

Really, how could we have let ourselves fall into this trap? ESPN rolled out the Cleveland Sports Heartbreak Montage on cue tonight, with the announcers even apologizing for showing it. But there it was again, playing peekaboo, jumping out at us just when we thought it was going away for good. This has become such a cliche that it’s probably on file for all sports broadcasts, even Vancouver at Montreal hockey games. Its a misery cliche.

The Drive. The Fumble. The Shot. The Mesa. Now add The LeBromination to it.

What a disaster.

Judging from most people’s reactions it’s not just another sports season that’s been put to rest. No, Thursday night’s playoff elimination at the hands of the Celtics was a eulogy for the entire city of Cleveland.

And based on previous storylines, maybe they are right. Many say the Saints helped save New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, with this year’s Super Bowl victory putting the city back on its feet. The storylines for Michigan State’s basketball team’s run to the Final Four in Detroit two seasons ago was said to be cathartic for that city.

If sports can save a city, can they also kill it?

LeBron James means more to the health of his franchise than any other athlete. If he leaves the Cavs, they become a lottery team playing in front of less than 10,000 people per night. A perpetually kicked-in-the groin fanbase will turn its back on the team. Dan Gilbert will lose millions. The Cavs have always been the third wheel of Cleveland sports, relevent only for a few years in the late ’80s and early ’90s and again during LeBron’s career. Should he leave, it means the team loses the best player it will ever have. It will be years before the team recovers, if it would even be able.

The Indians have sunk to sad-sack levels. The Browns were on the verge of fan mutiny last season and look mo better for 2010. And now the Cavs have collapsed two straight years after posting the NBA’s best record.

Forty-five years of heartbreak boiled up with the Cavs’ loss to the Celtics. Forty-five years of anger rose up with the LeBromination. We were all witnesses once again to yet another Cleveland sports disaster.

And this one feels like a backbreaker.


Lack of fan support is a LeBromination

May 13, 2010

 

It’s the elbow, stupid.

It really is.

Ever since Tuesday night when LeBron James and company looked like the Star Wars crew at the end of The Empire Strikes Back – beaten, defeated, ready to give up – Cleveland’s best athlete has been taking a nationwide pounding. They’re calling him a quitter. They’re accusing him of throwing Game 5 against the Celtics. They’re saying he can’t wait to get out of town and join the Knicks.

Heck, we’re calling him those things right here in Cleveland. We should be ashamed. Ever since he received his first Cavaliers jersey, LeBron James has been nothing but positive toward the city of Cleveland. He’s carried us through some dark moments and given us our greatest hope for a title. And now in his darkest moment, when he’s trying to play through an injury that would probably sideline him for weeks if this were the middle of the season, Cleveland fans are abandoning him. Instead of supporting LeBron, we’re abandoning him.

LeBron is not quitting on the team or the city, folks. The answer is really quite simple. It’s the elbow.

Remember the 2008 AFC Championship game between the San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots? Chargers superstar running back LaDainian Tomlinson sat on the bench wearing a parka most of the game, his expression hidden by his tinted face mask. New England won the game. He was heavily criticized after he left the game, especially when it was revealed Charger quarterback Philip Rivers played with an ACL injury that required surgery and several months of rehab. Even though Tomlinson gave it a go at the beginning of the game, sitting on the bench away from his teammates has overtaken his legacy.

Now, LeBron is doing the opposite. He’s trying to avoid the LT2 legacy. LeBron is gutting it out and not making excuses. Instead of praise ala Willis Reed of the Knicks starting Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals with a torn leg muscle, our reaction has become a LeBromination. Because LeBron is masking his true feelings, we think he doesn’t care. It’s 180 degrees the other way.

We know this because LeBron has been telling us this for the last couple of weeks. It doesn’t exactly take a Doc Jensen dissection of Lost to figure out what’s keeping Cleveland from its championship hopes this time around. Yet no one’s reading between the lines.

It started after the series finale against the Bulls on April 27. LeBron gave us the first hint of what the future held with this postgame comment:

“It bothers me because I don’t know what it is. Hopefully it doesn’t continue to bother me. But I’m not concerned. Cleveland fans have nothing to worry about. They have no reason to panic. I don’t think it’s that serious.”

That quote was LeBron’s big mistake. He told Cleveland sports fans there was nothing to worry about, which would be like Greece’s president telling his country’s citizens that the current economic meltdown is like being 10 cents short for the pop machine. Tipoff is enough reason for a Cleveland sports fan to panic. LeBron’s elbow falling off? Worse than Terminal Tower toppling over and flattening The Q. Still, we believed him because we need something to believe in. False hope will do.

Reports quickly followed about an MRI that revealed no damage, and another that merely showed a strain. 

After the Cavs struggled against the Celtics in Game 1 of their playoff series, we heard this from LeBron regarding his elbow:

“Throughout the game it loosened up. I have a no-excuse policy. This team has a no-excuse policy. … We’re about coming out and competing against the Celtics.”

 There’s the money quote. LeBron is not denying there’s something wrong with his elbow. He’s implying there’s something seriously wrong with his elbow. And he’s saying it’s not an excuse for his performance. LeBron is old school. He knows the game’s history. He knows the great players don’t hide behind injuries. They tough it out. And that’s what he’s doing. If you’re healthy enough to play, you don’t use your health as an excuse.

It certainly can be a reason though.

After being whipped by the Celtics in Game 2, this was what LeBron said about his elbow:

 “I’m going to continue to try to be the player I am and not use this elbow as an excuse. I’d never use an injury as an excuse. It’s just two games. I understand the burden and the pain Cleveland fans have. I don’t feel pressure at all. I’m looking forward to Game 3.”

There it is again. The elbow is obviously a problem. But LeBron won’t use it as an excuse. He won’t even use it as a reason, even though it obviously is the reason why the Cavs are about to sink to the bottom of Lake Erie.

Then LeBron went out and whipped the Celtics from the start in Game 4. He scored 21 points in the first quarter and thoroughly demoralized the Boston crowd as the Cavs dealt Boston its worst home playoff loss in history, 124-95.

All that talk about the elbow? No big deal. It was probably just a little pain. LeBron wouldn’t let it stop him.

Until Game 5. After the convincing performance in Game 4, LeBron put up probably his worst performance in his biggest game. He looked disinterested. His jumpers were straighter than Fausto Carmona’s pitches. He heard the boos from the home crowd, all because his elbow doesn’t work right. All because he was trying to play through a devastating injury to bring the home fans what they so desperately want – a championship.

Now he’s being hammered from left to right like a soccer ball. What should be hailed as the most gutsy performance by the premier athlete in the NBA is being called a gutless try by a quitter. We should be praising the hometown man trying to bring the hometown fans what they desperately seek. Instead, we’re turning against LeBron because our previous relationships have ended so badly we can’t possibly believe he’s doing anything but quitting on us.

The quotes have become more obvious the last couple of days. The blog Fear The Sword claims that LeBron is playing with a torn elbow ligament that will take six to eight weeks to heal. A shot to numb the elbow helped him perform in Game 4, but that remedy is only available every 10 days, the blog claims. Then Plain Dealer Cavs beat writer Brian Windhorst tweeted this Wednesday:

LeBron also talked about elbow, hinting about plans, severity: “The elbow is an issue I’ll deal with in the offseason.”

So in ironic Cleveland fashion LeBron James has been accused of being a quitter at exactly the time he is giving his most to the team. At precisely the time LeBron is doing anything he can to help his hometown team to their precious championship people are claiming he is turning his back on us in order to head to the Knicks. At the exact moment that LeBron James needs his fans the most we are giving him the least support.

This truly is a turning point for Cleveland sports. It’s going to become the moment we as fans look back on with greatest shame.


There was always next year

May 12, 2010

 

There’s always next year, they say. They say it especially often in Cleveland, where usually there’s only next year. Our hopes go poof year after year, no matter the sport. Still, year after year battered and bloodied Cleveland sports fans get up, clean themselves off, and soldier on into the next season, the next sport, the next year.

There’s always next year, we say.

Until there isn’t. After Tuesday night, when the Cavs suffered their biggest home playoff loss in their most important game in franchise history, even next year looks like it’s been taken away from us.

The fallout from Tuesday night’s 120-88 at the hands of the Boston Celtics isn’t about a team with the best record in the league on the brink of being knocked out of the playoffs before the NBA Finals for the second straight season. It isn’t about the mystery of LeBron James’ poor performance and his subsequent indifference about it. It isn’t even about the last 45 years without a championship.

No, the fallout from The Debacle at The Q is all about next year. Or rather, the lack of it. It’s about the lack of hope. Because no matter what anyone might say, the reality is that the best player the Cleveland Cavaliers will ever have – heck, the best player that most people alive right now will ever see wearing “Cleveland” on his chest – might have played his last home game in his hometown. And if LeBron James leaves town he takes next year with him.

You could see it on Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s face during Game 5. He looked like he had just watched his house burn to the ground. The rest of us felt like we’d just watched our dog get run over. Even Jose Mesa was disappointed in the Cavs Tuesday night.

What next year will we be waiting on if LeBron leaves after a second-round collapse against the Celtics? The Browns’ next year, with 35-year-old Jake Delhomme at quarterback? The Indians’ next year, after trading Cy Young winners in back-to-back season? The Cavs’ next year, with a team that can hardly win with LeBron having a bad game, much less without him even on the court?

Losing to the Celtics in the second round of the playoffs would be a kick in the groin, but that’s all it would be if LeBron were with us for the long run. We’ve suffered those before. But if LeBron skips town with next year in his back pocket, well, that could be a death blow to the Cavs in Cleveland.

Wait til next year? We’ve been waiting for it, ever since 1964. There’s been heartbreak along the way, plenty of it. The Browns have been stopped on the goal line of the Super Bowl. The Indians were a grounder away from a World Series title. The Cavs have already made one NBA Finals with LeBron and a supporting cast made out of balsa wood. OK, none of them have won the ultimate prize. But we’ll give it another go. We’ll wait til next year.

Wallowing in Cleveland sports misery used to kind of be fun. We’re all in this together. We’ve accepted the defeats over and over, knowing we could pick ourselves up off the mat to stare down the next blow. Even though our teams have been bad over the years there’s always been something good to look forward to. The Indians and Browns have crashed and burned over the last couple years, but we still had LeBron. Before LeBron arrived we were still hopeful about the Indians while forgiving the Browns their missteps simply because they had returned. When the Browns left town the Indians distracted us with some of the best teams in baseball. Pre-Jacobs Field we had the Cavs of Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, Larry Nance, and Craig Ehlo. And before the Cavs caught our attention we had Bernie Kosar and the Browns making runs that were stopped a goal-line short of the Super Bowl.

We’ve always been miserable, but we’ve always been happy. There’s been bad times, sure, but they always came alongside good times. Our stories were like those of people who lived through The Great Depression and called it the good old days. There was always next year – always.

Not anymore. Not if the Celtics beat the Cavs and LeBron leaves. Not if LeBron becomes LeGone. If this ends badly Thursday night – and the Las Vegas bookmakers have made the Celtics one-point favorites – then it might just end, period, for a lot of Cleveland sports fans.


Are you richer than a Cleveland Indian?

May 5, 2010

 

Nineteen of the 25 players on the Indians active roster as of Wednesday make less than a million dollars. (And this most assuredly won’t change if Luis Valbuena is shipped out before the Tribe plays again.) Meanwhile, this guy you never heard of just made more than each of those 19 players by playing a baseball video game. He did it by pitching the first perfect game on 2K Sports’ Major League Baseball 2K game. No word on if he did it against the virtual Indians.


Perfect embarrassment

May 4, 2010

 

When Asdrubal Cabrera meekly grounded out to Blue Jays pitcher Brett Cecil to start the seventh inning Monday night – the 18th straight Indian to head right back to the dugout – who knew that the most embarrassing performance in downtown Cleveland Monday night would take place not quite 100 yards from the Progressive Field bleachers?

That’s what happened after the Boston Celtics opened a 25-point lead en route to a 104-86 victory over the “Hey, but we won 61 games this year, that’s got to count for something, right?” Cavaliers in Game 2 of the Eastern Conferernce semifinal playoff series at Quicken Loans Arena.

Not long after Grady Sizemore walked to ruin Cecil’s perfecto, and right about the same time Jhonny Peralta singled Sizemore home to make both the no-hitter and shutout disappear, the Celtics opened up a double-digit third-quarter lead against the Cavs. The home team never got closer than 10 the rest of the way, falling behind by as much as 25 with nine minutes to go.

Celtic point guard Rajon Rondo pitched his own version of a perfect game at the Q, dishing out a Boston-record 19 assists. So did washed-up forward Rasheed Wallace. He got up off the couch and turned in a nearly perfect shooting night, hitting 7-of-8 shots for 17 points in 18 minutes. In his first six playoff games this season, Wallace had scored just 21 points total. Yes, Cleveland fans, you still have to muster up the hate for Rasheed.

The Indians having a perfect game tossed against them, or a no-hitter, or even the combined two-hit, one-run effort Cecil and Kevin Gregg turned are expected outcomes in this season of 3½ runs per game.

But the Celtics shooting 47% on 3-pointers? Six Celtics scoring in double figures, including all five starters? Kendrick Perkins scoring 10 points and grabbing nine rebounds while missing just one shot against the Cavs’ big men? Mo Williams making just 1-of-9 shots? LeBron James playing as if he were more worried about lifting his right arm over his head than playing for an NBA title?

All perfectly atrocious.

A beer bottle thrown onto the court after Boston’s Paul Pierce rassled Williams to the ground will probably be the least amount of gripping Cleveland fans will do while waiting for Friday’s Game 3. There’s already caterwauling at Real Cavs Fans, a Brian Windhorst article advising fans to calm down (like that’s going to happen with nothing but the Indians between now and Friday to distract us), and a practice on an off day for the Cavs.

So enjoy the next couple of days, Cleveland fans. Maybe the Indians will get no-hit. Maybe a Browns player will get arrested. Maybe Cleveland will end up atop another list that no one likes to see.

Whatever comes between now and Friday’s Game 3, nothing will be more embarrassing than what happened in The Q Monday night.