Is it possible for the Cavaliers to actually gain fans this season?
Courtside at Quicken Loans Arena is often a who’s who among local Clevelanders, but many of those still heading down to The Q for games have been sitting in those seats for the past seven years. One new addition this year is Browns cornerback Joe Haden who not only taking in several games this season but has been one of the team’s biggest supporters, often clad in Cavaliers gear while cheering on the Wine and Gold. If you’re ever on the lookout, Haden is the one with the “Gator Boy” pendant that can be seen from Loudville.
As if adding fans in a 12-win season was not shocking enough, the best part of Haden’s story as a Cavalier fan is that the up-and-coming defensive back had never been to an NBA game prior to being selected seventh overall in the 2010 NFL Draft.
“I didn’t get to catch any of the games when LeBron [James] was here,” Haden tells WFNY in a recent one-on-one conversation. “He’s a really good player – I really would have liked to see him play here.”
Though Haden would not go as far as to support LeBron James’ off-court Decisions, the 21-year-old defensive back considers the two-time MVP to be an “athletic beast,” one who he watched during his time in high school with St. Vincent-St. Mary all the way through his time with the Cavs. But as the mere mention of James’ name can turn a Clevelander’s mouth sour, the discussion quickly changed directions as the soon-to-be second-year cornerback knows just how much sports mean to his new hometown.
The image above is from the Cavaliers’ recent victory over the New York Knicks, a game that had an entire arena of fans on their feet for much of the fourth quarter. The recent addition of Carmelo Anthony would have certainly been a reason for anyone to attend, but Haden says that he was planning on going to the Friday evening game to support the Wine and Gold well before New York’s well-publicized trade with the Denver Nuggets.
Haden had never been to Cleveland and knew very little about the city on the lake prior to being drafted by the Browns. What he witnessed when he got here blew him away; the passion, the support, and – most importantly -the barking.
“I knew about the Browns fans as I watched TV since they have the Dawg Pound and the barking, going crazy,” said Haden about the 70,000-plus that trudge on through perennial sub-par seasons. “The fans have so much love and passion and they want a win so bad that you want to give it to them.”
As a rookie, Haden started out as a nickelback in Rob Ryan’s 3-4 defense, but was ultimately forced to take on a starting role after his teammate Eric Wright sustained an injury in Week 11. He would go on to finish the season with 64 tackles, six interceptions – the first Browns player since 1968 to intercept a pass in four straight games – and one forced fumble. But when it was all said and done, his team would go on to finish 5-11 for the second straight season much to the dismay of Browns faithful.
Which is why Haden, regardless of the final score on a Sunday afternoon, continues to make appearances throughout the city of Cleveland. Whether it is sitting front row at a Cavaliers game, signing autographs during a Lake Erie Monsters game or merely making an appearance at a local establishment, the former Florida Gator understands just how much he and his peers impact the day-to-day lives of those that come out to see him.
“I want to make sure that I can get my face out there as much as possible and show the fans that I appreciate them,” said Cleveland’s new No. 23. “We have amazing fans that come out. And just for them to show the support, the least I can do is give autographs or hold events for the fans who watch Cleveland sports. As much as I can give back, I try.”
While being close to Eric (“E”) Wright and Sheldon Brown, Haden’s partner in crime has been none other then fellow defensive back TJ Ward who Joe credits with helping him get through the rookie roller coaster. He describes TJ being drafted by the Browns as “a blessing,” something many fans would agree with. The two players have been seen together more often than not. Whether at a game (Ward is high-fiving fans in the image above) or enjoying a postgame steak with their respective families at XO steak house, the two players continue to give the city of Cleveland hope for the future.
Though it has only been one season, Haden has shown all of the qualities that truly make him a Clevelander – it is no secret that the fans in this town love players who they can relate to. While a resident of Maryland, Haden has a condominium in downtown Cleveland. He also enjoys going to local Cleveland restarants and bars, enjoys watching sporting events outside of the NFL and – perhaps most importantly – has a work ethic that emulates that of this blue-collar town.
Despite the issues currently surrounding the labor (dis)agreement, Haden reiterates that he just wants to play football even if it required the much-discussed 18 game schedule, calling the NFL “the best thing going.”
“Yeah, its your job, you’re getting paid, so you’re going to play hard,” says Haden. “But the fans, they do it for the love of the game, the love of the city. Our fans recognize how hard youre playing, but if you come up short, as long as they know that you play your heart out, they appreciate that.”
That they do, Joe. That they do.