Without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs somehow won game three of the NBA Finals last June and were just two wins away from an NBA title. As I walked down Detroit Ave. in Lakewood after that game three win, I could feel the electricity. Cavs fans in their wine and gold were everywhere, car horns echoed through the air, and for a fleeting moment, people believed the Cavs were actually going to win the damn thing. At one point on my walk, and I don’t know how this happened, an absolute stranger and I embraced each other and jumped up and down in a celebratory hug that lasted at least thirty seconds.
We all know the Cavs were unable to get those last two wins to finish off the Warriors, but for a couple of days, we were all on top of the world. Seeing the Warriors win the next three games of that series and celebrate on the floor of The Q and then watching them rip off 73 wins to set an NBA record this season has not been a whole lot of fun, but how quickly we have forgotten the dark days between LeBron’s decision to leave in 2010 and his return in 2014. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Christian Eyenga, Samardo Samuels, and Omri Casspi, but they didn’t help the Cavs win many ball games. So, last year’s playoff run, which was the team’s first since 2010, was as much fun as I have had as a sports fan in a long while, and I can’t wait to do it all over again this spring.
But with this excitement, comes a bit of dread. Regardless of how the Cavs play this postseason, we are all going to be bombarded with negativity throughout the playoffs. At some point, some stooge from sports talk radio is going to rip on Kyrie for something really stupid (Oh wait, this happened before game one of the first round). Somebody at the bar you’re watching a game at is going to say that trading Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love was a mistake. A co-worker will repeat something they heard someone else say about Tyronn Lue being too inexperienced to lead the team, even though they couldn’t pick the Cavs coach out of a lineup. Your brother-in-law will proclaim there is no way the Cavs will win a championship, as if picking the field over an individual team, especially when he will not be held accountable in any way, is a gutsy call that deserves your respect and admiration. At the first sign of trouble, Stephen A. Smith will chime in and remind everyone that LeBron could leave in free agency this summer.
These people bum me the hell out. Don’t be one of these people. Avoid these people.
Criticism is fair, and I am not calling for everyone to ignore the Cavs flaws, but being negative just to be contrarian or to troll people is just annoying and is way too prevalent. Instead of expecting the worst, being overly-critical, and sweating an eventual matchup with the Warriors or the Spurs in The Finals, enjoy the ride. If the Cavs don’t win a championship, I’ll be disappointed, but I’m still going to have a hell of a lot of fun watching LeBron and company’s run this spring regardless of the final outcome.
If staying optimistic and being happy with just coming close to a title sounds like a loser-mentality, remember, I am not a player and neither are you. We can develop all sorts of superstitions and spend our hard-earned cash on tickets to support the team, but we have no real impact on the game. The Cavs falling short of an NBA title is in no way a reflection of our worth, so relax. If acting as if you are smarter than the Cavs coaching staff, which you are not, or claiming that you would handle high-stress situations better than the players, which you wouldn’t, makes you feel better about yourself, watch the games at home, avoid posting on social media, and don’t share your “hot takes” with your co-workers. We don’t want or need your negativity.
Remember all of this when things are going against the Cavs this postseason, which will happen at some point. Last year in the Bulls series, Derrick Rose put Chicago up 2-1 with a game-winning shot in game three that took the air out of a lot of fans. I was in New Orleans for game four of that series, and the bar my buddy and I chose to go to for the game was pretty much empty besides for us and two separate groups of Chicago fans that somehow happened to be in town and somehow decided to watch the game at the same place as we had. Things never got heated between us and the Chicagoans. In fact, we all agreed that Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau should’ve been using bench player Tony Snell more. But, with the game tight in the final minutes and a Bulls win meaning they’d be up 3-1 in the series, things did eventually get a little tense. Even though the Bulls fans at no point said anything especially inflammatory about the Cavs or anything directed at me or my buddy, I began to get annoyed with them, and went from thinking they were solid dudes to wishing they’d shut the hell up.
Then, it happened. The Cavs had the ball in a tied game with 1.5 seconds to go, and that’s when LeBron did what LeBron does: he changed the play so he got the ball and knocked down the game winner. In a role reversal, we erupted while the Bulls fans had their hearts ripped out. For once in my life, being a Clevelander paid off. Instead of being the subject of mockery or pity, I was able to puff my chest out and go over to the Bulls fans and insincerely wish them luck in game five and feign interest in the NHL and say I was pulling for the Blackhawks.
After last year’s run to The Finals, many feel it’s championship or bust for the Cavs this year. The sixteen wins the Cavs need to win a championship will not come easily, but I’m still hopeful that I’ll be able to buy one of those NBA champions shirts with caricatures of all the players featuring the Cavs roster. That said, win or lose, this team is special. Remember, we are not that far removed from a time when we hoped Andrew Bynum and Dion Waiters would turn this franchise around, so enjoy every step of this journey because there will be plenty of moments that will make you gleefully hug a stranger or puff your chest out along the way if you’re not too busy complaining that Kyrie is a ballhog.