I almost felt bad for Cleveland fans. The fans at last night’s game had their hearts torn out this summer, on national TV, by the one man (Lebron James, obviously) who was supposed to end the city’s streak of bad luck. Not only that, but the season-ticket holders were forced to renew their tickets last season, before they knew whether James would return. So the fans at last night’s game might not have even wanted tickets to the J.J. Hickson era. It was no wonder the arena had a strange vibe at the game’s beginning.
Have you ever been to a funeral before, when someone giving a eulogy makes a joke? What follows is an uneasy laugh, an almost forced laugh. People want to celebrate a life at funerals, but they are also grieving a death. People at a funeral need laughs and need joy, but laughing isn’t easy. That awkward funeral laugh was the Cleveland crowd to begin last night’s game. They wanted to celebrate a new season, but they were still mourning the loss of a (once) loved one. Their cheers were forced. They seemingly only rooted for their team because it was expected. Remember, a portion of the crowd probably resented even having tickets. They renewed their tickets still hoping Lebron’s return. Instead, they get to pay for J.J. Hickson and Anderson Varejao. That’s a fierce drop, clearly.
But something happened as the Cavs erased last night’s 11-point deficit and climbed ahead. The crowd started to go crazy. The fans weren’t rooting for Lebron or any other stars, but you know what? The Cavs were giving a game effort. They were sharing the ball. And they were beating a Celtics team that Lebron himself couldn’t the night before. The crowd rallied around its new team, the PA announcer stopped being the only voice heard, and before long the funeral aura was gone. By the time confetti was released from the rafters after the Cavs’ win, the crowd had fully embraced its new team.
Cavaliers fans still haven’t fully accepted Lebron’s departure. I’m not sure they ever will. But in their mourning period, they’re desperately searching for something else to make them happy. It’s like a rebound relationship. Maybe the new girl in your life isn’t ideal, but having her beats having nothing to take your mind off your ex. You don’t need a perfect rebound girl, but you need someone, anyone, to bring you a little happiness. Yet maybe this year’s Cavs are better than that.
Maybe this year’s Cavs are the perfect team for Cleveland to embrace. They don’t have any stars and very few egos. No Cav this year is important enough to depart Cleveland and leave a big crater in the city’s fabric. It’s safe to love them, and they’re a lot more “Cleveland-ish” than Lebron is. Lebron was the home-grown boy (well, he was from Akron and later said he grew up hating Cleveland — but still), yet he never fit the city’s blueprint. Cleveland is a blue-collar town, a scrappy town, a town filled with Average Joes who take a lunch pail to work, while Lebron was a prima donna who has eaten from a silver spoon since his high school years. When you look back, Lebron stood for very few qualities Cleveland does. He was an amazing basketball player, but he was never Cleveland-ish.
If last night was any indication, this year’s Cavs team is. Byron Scott started the night he could only make one promise: his team would always play hard. Then his squad backed up Scott’s words, outhustling and outworking a more talented Boston team. Scott later said the crowd appreciated this year’s Cavs team more than last.
“I feel like they’re more behind us than at any point last year in the sense that it feels like this is the true fans. It’s the people who have come up in Cleveland and have gone through it. They’re Cavs fans for life, and in spite of what everybody’s saying outside of Cleveland, they believe in us.”
Maybe they don’t believe in the Cavs yet. Maybe this year will be more pain than reward for Cavs fans. But they need something, anything, to give them hope and reinstill their belief in Cleveland basketball. They’re on the rebound from a breakup they’d love to forget.