I remember the Cleveland Cavaliers I saw during their opening night, when they erased a double-digit third quarter lead to defeat the Boston Celtics.
I admired them that night, a scrappy team which overcame its lack of legitimate NBA players by outworking its (far more talented) opponent. Byron Scott said he could only promise one thing, and that promise was that his team would play hard. For one night, against the Celtics, Scott’s team proved him a smart man. The team was Cleveland in a way Lebron James — though nearly a hometown boy — could never be, a blue-collar team with blue-collar aspirations in a blue-collar town.
But if you look now, the canvas represents an entirely different painting. Actually, it looks like someone took a baseball bat to the prior canvas, and the previously existing painting no longer exists. A 112-57 loss? After trailing 72-27? Yes, 72-27. In the NBA, with professional basketball players playing against other professional basketball players, a loss like that shouldn’t even be possible. Even if it’s the Cavs vs. the Lakers. Even if Anderson Varejao’s out for the season. Even if Lebron James wasn’t playing for the Cavaliers, but instead tweeting that karma’s a bitch. Even if Alonzo Gee, the most productive Cav yesterday, is so well-known that the Lakers’ PA announcer called him Anthony.
The name Anthony reminds me of St. Anthony, which reminds me of a prayer my aunt used to say when I was younger: “Dear St. Anthony, please come down. Something’s lost and can’t be found.” I’m not a religious person, not by any means — I didn’t even attend church on Christmas. But the Cavs’ heart has been lost, and it can’t be found. And if this St. Anthony character really has any powers, he’s probably the only one who could find it. Then again, the Cavs’ heart is not an easy find, not even for the Patron Saint of Lost Things. After eleven straight losses, and last night’s 55-point defeat (55 points!), finding Cleveland’s heart is like finding a bottle of perfume in a waste facility.
Antawn Jamison said the Cavs have hit rock bottom, which, if you listen to Eminem, occurs when this life makes you mad enough to kill. But in his song Rock Bottom, Eminem also said, “It’s cool to be the player, but it sucks to be the fan.” And that’s another aspect of the Cavs’ 11-game losing streak.
The Cavs can talk all they want about hitting rock bottom, and how upset they are with their performance. But the point is, they’re the ones who played that badly. Who barely even tried. They’re the ones who played 48 minutes of half-assed basketball, who have played like a bunch of mononucleosis patients for the past month or so, who were behind by 39 points at a time when Kobe Bryant had scored only one bucket. They’re the ones with a choice in the matter. They deserve all these losses, and the 55-point shellacking, and all the public shame that comes from it. But the fans don’t have a choice.
The fans don’t have a choice now, when their team looks like a high school team, and they didn’t have a choice when Lebron James bounced town. They could break all ties with the team, but that goes against everything being a fan’s about. Fans, true fans, stick with their teams when Marty Conlon receives substantial minutes, when a Ricky Davis trade actually seems like a decent thing, and even when Mark Blount starts at center. True fans stay by their team’s side even when Christian Eyenga’s the most interesting player, Ryan Hollins and Manny Harris both start, and Lebron James is somewhere across the country tweeting about how “It’s not good to wish bad on anybody. God sees everything.”
Many moons ago, on the night of October 27th, Cleveland’s head coach Byron Scott promised that his team would work hard. A lot has gone wrong since then — the season-ending Varejao injury and J.J. Hickson’s regression, to name just two — but Scott’s promise was never supposed to waver. In the wake of eleven straight losses and one of the most humiliating blowouts in NBA history, Scott’s team has proven him a liar.
It’s cool to be a player, but it sucks to be a fan. And sometimes, it just sucks to be associated with an organization on any level. Especially a sinking organization, one with little hope for the future and no heart in the present.