For the start of the NBA Finals, Instead of Texting has been lucky enough to host a couple of guest entries. Here’s the latest, from lifelong Cleveland sports fan Jeff Strowe.
So it has come to this. Of course it has.
As a Cleveland fan, you just knew that the nemesis would rise and make its presence known. Despite the trials and tribulations along the way, the posturing, the attempts at pushing their head coach aside, and the regular season setbacks, it is the truth that the Miami Heat, that stacked AAU-like band of brothers are in the NBA Finals. Having fairly simply dispatched of the Celtics and the Bulls, King James, D-Wade, and little cousin Bosh are on the big stage soaking up the fawning accolades that are coming hot and heavy from national pundits, primarily those in Bristol who at least can say that they were on the bandwagon from the beginning.
So, as the Finals tipped off last night and Dirk & Co. threw their arsenal at the “Heatles,” I took notice with deep disappointment that it could have and possibly should have been my Cavs in the Finals the past two seasons, with LeBron delivering on that long-sought-after championship he had promised Clevelanders back in ’06 after first tasting some playoff success. The fan part of me remains bitter, hoping that the Mavs rally behind their star and move quickly and fiercely towards a dismantling of the Heat, cementing Dirk’s and Kidd’s legacies and avenging their botched series in ’06. The other, more realistic part of me, though, watches with an air of inevitableness, waiting for James to hawk his way across the court and hit some key shots down the stretch, stifling Dallas’ momentum, delivering on a championship, hugging D-Wade and Darth Riley, and then smugly accepting his MVP trophy, reminding us again that he needed to go somewhere to play with players he could trust and “that wouldn’t hide when the lights got brightest.”
This admission has always been the toughest for me to handle. Sure, the Cavs weren’t filled with stars: Mo Williams and Anthony Parker are B-teamers at best, and of course Coach Brown fell in love with an aging Shaq at the expense of a more reliable Varejao and a more energetic Hickson, but I imagine his hand may have been a bit forced there. Stars aren’t coming to Cleveland, and no one else before Wade or Bosh came along ever expressed much public interest in playing with LeBron. He took no interest in recruiting others to town, and when the team brass offered potential trade options to LeBron, he shrugged his shoulders in indifference. Also, if his teammates were so “weak,” then why did he dance and preen with them throughout the season on the sidelines? Why did he bring them all to Akron to help accept his MVP trophy? If he wanted them to get better, why didn’t he push them in practice and demand more from them, ala Jordan and Bird?
LeBron willed that team to 66 and 61 regular season wins the past two seasons, but I guess the determination and drive we see in a lot of superstars is lacking in his case. Coming off a 29-point dismantling of the Celtics, they were sitting pretty, up 2-1 and backing them into a corner. Then, all hell broke loose, and we know the story. Three straight losses, a disinterested and passive Cavs team, Mike Brown fired, LeBron hosting recruitment parties in rented Cleveland offices with eager suitors and sycophants and then the debacle with Jim Gray. Off to Miami he goes and here he is proclaiming his trust and appreciation in his new compadres.
That’s all well and good, and I am past the point (well, almost) where I will berate LeBron and call him a coward for his actions. However, I’ve noticed something very striking about this year’s playoffs that people haven’t mentioned: he is basically doing it all on his own. Yes, Bosh has had some nifty games but I would venture to say opposing teams will live with that. Wade has been awful, and we all know the supporting cast is far inferior to that of even your average NBA bottom feeders. LeBron is motivated and is imposing his will on the opposition, which will make for interesting theater as he squares off against Dirk, a player doing the same on the other end of the bracket. However, why couldn’t he have done the same in Cleveland last year? He may say the elbow, others may say Delonte and Gloria. I say he was already checked out and was waiting on his buddies in Miami, a feeling shared by many of my fellow Cleveland fans.
We can live with Byner’s fumble, Tony Fernandez’s error, and the youthful Indians’ collapse against the Red Sox. We can appreciate Elway’s and Jordan’s greatness as they drive 98 yards and hit last-second jumpers over outstretched arms. However, in the long lines of Cleveland sports failures, mysteriously rolling over and shall I dare say … quitting … don’t fit into the narrative. For that, LeBron will always be a Cleveland villain.