A Love Letter to Lebron James and the 2014/2015 Cleveland Cavaliers

bron1Two summers ago, my pal Ryan and I briefly had a weekly sports talk radio show on a local AM station. Despite it running through the summer, I was able to take a lot of the focus off of the current baseball season and would try my damnedest to shift the conversation to things I loved. I was able to talk about Lebron, as the Heat were in the process of winning a title against the Spurs, I’d manage to squeeze in some Steelers snippets, and man would I reach as hard as I could to try and get some Cavs talk in there.

Sometimes it was easier than others. But I remember the pure joy and excitement after the Jarrett Jack and Andrew Bynum signings. As a Cavs fan, these kind of signings were what we needed. After three miserable seasons, we were finally getting quality free agents to choose Cleveland. There was also the Earl Clark signing. I didn’t get it, but they obviously saw something I missed, so I was into it. Pair all those up with the upcoming first pick in the draft, and this team can fight for the sixth seed in the playoffs. And once they’re in the playoffs, maybe they get hot and go on a run.

As for that first pick in the draft, we were live on draft night. That pick could have gone anywhere. I really loved Otto Porter, Victor Oladipo, or Ben McLemore. I thought any of those were the missing piece. Yet I would have understood going big and taking a chance on Alex Len or Nerlens Noel. There were so many picks it could be, and we’d get to be live on the air when that pick happened. I was beyond ready to welcome the missing piece that would help push Kyrie, Andy, TT, Jarrett Jack, Bynum, CJ Miles, Alonzo Gee and Dion towards the playoffs, where they would get hot and make a run.

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As we were anticipating the pick, I made a quip heading into the last commercial break before the pick was to come through saying “As long as we don’t do something like take Anthony Bennett first overall, we’ll be just fine.” Then, live on the the air, we reacted as the Cleveland Cavaliers selected, from UNLV, Anthony Bennett with the first overall pick in the NBA Draft.

I was speechless. All I could do was laugh. This moment summed up the three years since Lebron left. This was what the Cavs were. This is what the Cavs, perennial championship contenders just a few years ago, had become. It was always two steps forward, then a few steps back. But maybe I missed something. Maybe they saw something that everybody missed. They drafted Dion and TT in spots that most people laughed at, and I loved Dion and TT. They once picked JJ Hickson and got laughed at, and I loved JJ. Clearly I was missing something.

I’ve always been more on the optimistic side of being a sports fan. I always believe my teams can win. And I bought into it. I thought that Kyrie would blossom into a super star. I thought Jarrett Jack would help. I believed Bynum would take some pressure off Andy and allow TT and Bennett to develop. I loved the young backcourt pickups of Sergey Karasev and that undrafted Australian point guard who looked awesome in summer league. I liked that Earl Clark gave us some size and could play the 3 or the 4. This team could fight for the six seed, hell, possibly even the five. And once they’re in there, if everything falls into place, this team can make a run.

I truly believed that. Heading into the 2013/2014 NBA season, I thought the Cleveland Cavaliers had a chance. After an offseason that included signing Earl Clark, Andrew Bynum, and Jarrett Jack, and selecting Anthony Bennett first overall, I thought this was the year.

So imagine how I felt heading into the 2014/2015 season after an offseason that included the greatest player in the world coming home, the addition of an All Star power forward, and the locking up of our now legitimate superstar point guard.

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I always knew Lebron would come home. I always had a gut feeling he would end his career with the Cavs. I didn’t expect it to happen last summer. I thought he’d play out that last year on his contract in Miami and take another crack at it, then come home in time for Bronny to attend SVSM. But once he opted out of that final year with the Heat, I knew it was happening. Thinking back to how confident I was that he was coming home, I truly don’t know how I would have handled it if he went elsewhere. I knew in my heart he would be a Cav. Nothing else was a possibility for me.

Lebron leaving was rough. He had become my favorite player of all time, playing on my favorite team.

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I once worked with a girl whose boyfriend was obsessed with Lebron while he was still at SVSM. He would always go to their games, and I would go with him on occasion. Sure, I wasn’t super into high school basketball, but I thought it was cool how good this kid was. I remember how excited I was when the Cavs got the first pick the year he was coming out of high school. It all felt like fate. It was meant to happen. Perhaps it was rigged to happen, but I didn’t care. This was going to be something special.

The Decision ripped my heart out. I wasn’t angry. I didn’t hate him for it. I was sad. I was disappointed. He didn’t deserve my anger or my hate. He did everything right. He played out his contract and never seemed to look ahead. Perhaps The Decision wasn’t the best way to go about it, but nobody had done anything like that before. I don’t blame him for trying it. I think he immediately realized how poor of a choice it was. Not to mention the amount of money it raised for charity. If the worst thing you’ve done raises a lot of money for a good cause, you’re not a villain in my eyes.

It was hard sitting through an aging Antawn Jamison being the best player on the roster. It was tough seeing Omri Casspi being brought in and passed off as the answer at small forward. I hated seeing Mo Williams shipped off and discarded. Baron Davis is a badass though. Alonzo Gee, Jemario Moon, Anthony Parker. These were now the players that had to be my favorite Cavs. It was tough.

But, it all lead Kyrie, TT, and Dion. Andy had become more of a leader and taken on a bigger role. The team had become young and fun to watch, despite not being very good. They were growing together, developing.

Plus, I still loved Lebron. It was still great being able to see a kid from Akron, Ohio become the best in the world at something and win two titles. Sure, I wish they’d have been won with Cleveland, but it was still awesome being able to watch him win.

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Then the King came home.

Adding him to that roster was enough for me. This was a championship team in my eyes. Oh, you want to add Kevin Love as well? Go for it. Trim some fat off the roster and add some vets with winning pedigrees? Awesome! Be my guest.

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Sure, there’s chemistry, and a first year coach, and three superstars who now have to learn to play together and adapt to their new roles, and a young roster that needs to learn how to win. It’s going to take some time.

And it did. The season started off rough. The team wasn’t playing well, Lebron got hurt. Maybe this wasn’t the magical season it was supposed to be. Then the GM stepped in and worked his magic. They turned Dion, some scrubs, and some non-desirable draft picks into JR Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov.

Now the magic was back. JR Smith was forever my least favorite player in the league, but he was endearing once he was in the wine and gold. His antics were now awesome. I loved his game. He had quickly went from my least liked player in the league to one of my favorite players on my favorite team. I always loved Iman’s game. And Timo came in as a beast, far exceeding anybody’s expectation.

The magic was back. It took a detour, but now this team was special. And they played like it. Not to mention, this was one of the coolest teams ever.

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They steamrolled through the rest of the season. They plowed through the first round of the playoffs. There was no way they could beat Chicago in the second round after Love got hurt, but they did. They can’t compete with Atlanta, but they swept them.

This team was special. This team was far more magical than I even realized. There’s no way they don’t beat Golden State in the finals. Everything is working out. Everything is falling into place. This is the Cavs’ year.

This team reminded me of the 2005 Steelers. That season was magic, and by the time the playoffs came around, them losing wasn’t even a possibility in my mind. It was meant to be. I had that same feeling.

Going up 2-1 in the Finals didn’t make that feeling go away. I was convinced they’d win out and take it in 5. They lost game 4, no biggie. They’ll win in six. And so on.

Until it was over.

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The season didn’t end with a championship. But it was still magical. It was still one of the most fun seasons I’ve ever witnessed with any of the teams I love. I’ve lived through seeing my favorite teams with two Super Bowls, two National Championships, and three Stanley Cups. The Cavs winning this title, the way they would have won it, may have topped them all.

I’m not mad. I don’t even think disappointed is the right word. I’m disappointed the Cavs didn’t win, but not disappointed with the Cavs. I thank them for the season. It was a hell of a ride. They gave it everything they had. I couldn’t have asked for any more.

It’s going to be an interesting offseason, but I trust the Cavs will make it work. I doubt they’ll sign Jarrett Jack, Earl Clark, or Andrew Bynum, but I still have a pretty strong feeling about the 2015/16 NBA season.

I think the Cavs have a chance. I have a feeling this is their year.

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