We were told that there were “no friends on the basketball court;” for 48 minutes, it was “all about the [wine] jerseys.” And we have been told that this “young team” will continue to give fans all that they can, continuing to earn their support in a time when winning basketball may not come as easily.
In return, fans came out in droves. Premium-priced seats within Quicken Loans Arena were full with 25 minutes to go before tip-off. Waving towels, chanting unprintable names and making it about their team for the night. Unfortunately, save for a handful of choice moments in the 118-90 loss to the Miami Heat, the respect, passion and All For One mentality was not reciprocated on the faintest of levels.
Allowing LeBron James to score a season-high 38 points at home is one thing. While controllable to a small degree, the undermanned Cavaliers were tasked with defending the two-time MVP for four quarters of basketball. Having a starting lineup combine for nine field goals is also forgivable, one can chalk such up to (another) bad night. But when it came down to items well within their control, the Cavaliers fell way short of fan expectations in terms of respect, unity and a cohesiveness bound by city ties. Instead, several members of “our” Wine and Gold embraced their former teammate, allowing him to stand near his old bench and have friendly chats during timeouts, opting for jokes and ball-busting rather than defending what should have been theirs.
There was no “going for his neck,” as we were told would occur by Daniel Gibson earlier in the week. Sure, Gibson amassed a team-high 21 points on 6-of-14 shooting, but his intra-game embrace of Cleveland’s most abhorred basketball player did not speak highly of the mutual respect which fans had been told was rampant.
“The Cavaliers haven’t went anywhere,” Gibson said in his letter to fans this summer. “We just lost a piece…. Somethings we cant control, But the thing we can control is our passion and our love for city of Cleveland and state of OHIO. And that every single night we take that we floor We Will represent.”
It’s no secret that Gibson and James are friends as the two have talked several times this season. But what is said within phone calls or texts is not displayed in front of 20,000-plus fans, most of which were paying well into three figures for their seat. To use the Mo Williams analogy, Gibson danced with the ex-girlfriend on the night of his wedding.
Following the game, head coach Byron Scott would not say that he was embarrassed in the way his team played. He continues to call them “young,” despite the starting five being an average age of north of 28-years old – the eighth-oldest team in the NBA on a minute-weighted scale. He continues to tell the fans that it’s “very early in the season,” despite the calendar year is end coming in just four weeks. And he continues to say that a lot of the guys in the locker room “haven’t been on a stage” as big as the one which they played on Thursday night when in fact the team has several former All-Stars and nine players who were on the roster when the Cavaliers were in the midst of a championship run.
Team owner Dan Gilbert reportedly left the arena without saying much of anything to anyone, 30 minutes before the media session with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh would even kick off. There is no doubt that Gilbert - who arrived to a cavalcade of cheers – is trying all he can to avoid the wake-up call that was the Heat/Cavaliers game, hoping to keep his ground and ensure that his team does not have to go through the full rebuilding process. But there is also no doubt that this night hit him like a box full of six months of legal findings being thrust upon his head; its tough to ignore a team that is not on the same page in a basketball sense, but even tougher to do so with a team that is not on the same page with in terms of competitive respect.
“I really didn’t see [him by the bench],” Cavs coach Byron Scott said postgame. ”I’m not really worried about that,” Scott said. “That stuff is what he does most games.”
And therein lies the problem as Cavs fans wanted this to be a place where James could not get away with such behavior and a top-down embrace of an ideal was the only possible way such would be accomplished.
Scott would later say that James being over by the bench throughout the game did not bother him, something that does not speak well on the expectations he has of his team. And while Mo Williams would give James the cold shoulder, Anderson Varejao would rip his headband off, and assistant coach Jamahl Mosley would have not-so-kind words for the “self-proclaimed King,” the change in tone throughout Quicken Loans Arena over the course of the game was very telling as there was no team-wide ideal to be had.
By the end of the game, fans became aware that – at least on that night – they were on their own. The night was about them more than it was the New Expression of a team they adore. There was no cheering when Gibson was given a technical foul for jawing with Miami’s Eddie House. There was no unified response to James as he walked off of the court and into the waiting arms of TNT’s Craig Sager. The mortar that was holding together the fanbase of bricks had thinned on national television, leaving fans to wonder what it is they are cheering and giving unconditional support for every given night.
Thankfully, for the Cavaliers, they play seven of their next eight games on the road. Quicken Loans Arena can use a break following the two-game evisceration at the hands of the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. But even moreso, it allows this team to reevaluate what it is they are bringing to the the table in reciprocation to the 20,582 that were under the impression that this whole “process” would be a two-way street.
(Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)