The Cleveland Cavaliers are actually in the NBA Finals. I don't know about you, but this is still sinking in.
You see, I'm still getting used to the Cavs having LeBron James. Oh sure, I'm used to seeing him night after night, but I'm not sure I'll ever get used to the Cavs (or any Cleveland team for that matter) having a player with the star power or "Q Rating" of LeBron James. I'm used to LeBron but I'm not used to "a LeBron", if that makes sense.
For instance, watching Cavalier road games and seeing Cleveland Cavalier jerseys in the stands simply blows my mind. This doesn't happen. I'm not sure I could've ever imagined that happening. No Cleveland player is supposed to be on The Daily Show or talking with David Letterman. I think this is why we get upset when Simmons rips LBJ or when there's entire segments on Sports Center where they debate whether or not James is "clutch".
Cleveland fans (and myself) aren't used to this kind of national attention.
We're not used to being interesting and being popular. We're used to playing the "no respect" card and having good (even great) players who aren't superstars. We wear our failure as a badge of pride. You can't make fun of us, only we can make fun of us.
Our teams choke. Our losses get names. Our teams lose to superstars.
Things are changing.
Let me backtrack a bit.
Like it says on my bio at Swerbs, the Cavaliers have always been my team. Maybe it's because a Cavs-Rockets game was the first sporting event I ever attended (or remember going to), maybe it was because of Mark Price or maybe it was simply that they were actually good when I started paying attention ('91-92 season) but for whatever the reason the Cavs have always been Number 1 while every other Cleveland (and Ohio State) team has been tied for Number 2 (or moved into 2a at various times).
I took in as much Cavs basketball as I possibly could. I read Terry Pluto and the ABJ daily (and I didn't care for the PD. They didn't like the NBA as much as I did. I knew this even then). We never had cable growing up; if the Cavs weren't on channel 43, I was getting my Cavs basketball from Joe Tait. I remember sitting in front of the radio in my parents kitchen and excitedly turning on Joe Tait for the first game of the preseason.
But when the Cavs were good, no one cared. It was all about Michael Jordan (and in some ways it still is). Despite the Cavs winning 57 games and having some great players (if not exactly stars), I was one of the few kids at school to wear Cavs gear (and actually got shit for it). I could not understand how someone from Ohio could root for Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls- the enemy. Maybe it's because I've always had a fierce loyalty to my teams (and friends and hometown and state), I dunno, but I just couldn't wrap my head around it.
One winter a kid I knew (who's name escapes me now) and his buddy shoveled Brad Daugherty's driveway (Daugherty, and other various Cavalier players and coaches, lived in Hudson, which is about 10 minutes from the Richfield Coliseum). Daugherty invited him and his friend in for some hot chocolate and when the kid took off his jacket he was wearing a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt. This would've never happened to me (a few years later an aunt gave me a Bulls championship t-shirt for Christmas because I "liked basketball". I was a pissed off 12 year old- first of all, clothes!? But Chicago Bulls clothes?!).
Then the Cavs got injured and the team broke up. Mike Fratello came in and slowed things down. Cleveland fans started paying attention to the Tribe. But I bought the new uniforms with the new logo. I hoped that Terrell Brandon and Vitaly Potapenko could develop a two-man game. I wondered if the Hill-Mills-Phills combo could cause some trouble in the playoffs. And when Shawn Kemp showed up... God damn that was Christmas. Finally, a superstar in Cleveland. A dunker. Highlights! They made the playoffs with four rookies (Knight, Derek Anderson, Cedric Henderson and Zydrunas Ilgauskas) and Kemp. Things were looking up, the Cavs were back.
Then Kemp got fat. Z got hurt. Henderson was out of the league and John Paxson drafted Andre Miller and Trajan Langdon. Knight and Anderson (the backcourt of the future!) were shipped out of town. Chris Gatling. Lammond Murray. Ricky Davis. Darius Miles. Milt Palacio. Smush Parker. Dajuan Wagner. 17 wins.
Then LeBron James shows up and everything changes. The Cavs got a break (or a hand) in the lottery. They not only got a super(duper) star, but a hometown one at that.
During this time, I was living in Columbus and attending The Ohio State University. Of course my friends and I were watching LeBron and the Cavs. This isn't exactly surprising, if you hang out with me for sometime, eventually you're going to find yourself interested in basketball, so we followed James and co. (hell, my best friend downloaded the Milt Palacio desktop background from Cavs.com the previous season. Sure, he did it ironically, but still. The was at least one person out there with Milt as their background).
But I really had no idea how big the Cavs have gotten in Northeast Ohio.
Everyone is following this team. Kids, stoners, punks, little old ladies at supermarkets, people at work... fucking everybody is following the Cavaliers.
The Cavs have always been the redheaded stepchild of Cleveland sports. Cleveland will always be a Browns town. I was reminded of this on draft day. During the weeks leading up to the draft, you would've thought that the Browns were the only team in town. And day on draft? You'd never know that the Cavs had a playoff game later that night (you know, the level of competitiveness that the Browns are trying to reach- I'm not bitter).
And the Tribe? Well, a few years ago we sold out every game. But that sure changed hasn't it? The team we have now is good. Really really good. Good hitting, good pitching. This is a team that will be in the playoffs. But the attendance has been abysmal (though I haven't seen any figures for this yet).
Which is why I was dumbfounded by the crowd in the street the other night. That kind of crowd? That kind of outpouring of emotion? For the Cleveland Cavaliers? The team I was picked on for cheering for? The Cavs really have this city enthralled right now (even if it's taken the Plain Dealer awhile to catch on) and I love it. Is part of me cynically asking where these long suffering Cavs fans were for the last ten years (and where they'll be when LeBron leaves, via free agency or retirement)? Maybe. But right now I don't care.
Forgive me for getting too optimistic, but we could be entering a Golden Age of Cleveland sports. All three teams have bright futures- the Cavs are in the NBA fucking Finals, the Tribe leads the Central Division and the Browns just drafted their franchise quarterback AND left tackle.
Plus the franchises are full of stars. LeBron. Daniel Gibson (you don't think he's gonna be big? You watch). Brady Quinn. Kellen Winslow. Grady Sizemore. Travis Hafner. Casey Blake. Quite frankly, this is unprecedented.
Repeat after me: the Cavs are in the NBA Finals. We get to watch LeBron James. The Cavs are going to be the team that ABC slurps and other fans get sick of. This is going to be the start of something special.
We're going to have to stop our complaining. We have the stars. We have the teams. Our schitk won't work anymore. We can't be the cynical hard luck losers anymore.
Change is good.