Why do we care so much about owners in Cleveland? That was the question posed in a Twitter discussion involving yours truly earlier this week 1 , and it got me thinking. Do Clevelanders put too much of the onus on the guy writing the checks? Is this mindset different in other cities? Are Dan Gilbert, Larry Dolan, and, now, Jimmy Haslam III the three most important people in the city of Cleveland when it comes to our sports hopes and dreams as fans? Let’s discuss.
First, I believe we focus on owners so much because of the things we’ve seen as Cleveland fans. All three teams have changed ownership in the last 13 years. The NBA has a rule named after one of our former owners to protect an organization from itself. Our former NFL owner moved our beloved Browns to Baltimore in the ultimate cloak and dagger move. Two of the owners had their names on venues in the Gateway complex in the mid-90′s. This font will forever be associated with our current Cavaliers owner. Yes, we’ve seen a little bit of everything from Cleveland owners over the years.
The ownership talk of recent days combined with the contention window talk from yesterday got me thinking about just how much influence owners indirectly have on our fan behavior. I’ll turn 24 next week, and in my time as a fan I’ve seen ONE Browns playoff game. In that same time as a fan, I’ve seen seven different Indians ventures into the postseason and just as many or more from the Cavaliers 2
It also had me reflecting on the pre-teen and early teenage Tribe fans right now. They’ve seen exactly ONE playoff appearances from the Indians. Victor Martinez, Grady Sizemore, C.C. Sabathia, and Jhonny Peralta are to them as Kelly Holcomb, Dennis Northcutt, William Green, Dwayne Rudd, and Anthony Henry were for me in that lone playoff appearance in 2002. A snapshot in time for more seasoned sports fans but the only one in our respective albums. Along those same lines, for these young Tribe fans, Lofton, Vizquel, Baerga, Belle, Thome, Ramirez, Alomar, and Nagy are as far off in the history books as Kosar, Mack, Slaughter, Minnifield, Dixon, and Newsome are for me. With the Tribe’s mid-90′s run, being a youngster, I wasn’t able to fully understand the magnitude of how great those teams were and how unprecedented their run of success was for folks my dad’s age. He was there to communicate that to me, but it didn’t fully sink in until several years later. With the Browns, there’s this great history for which I have to rely on artifacts to try and relate it.
Then, it got me thinking about the Cavaliers. Will the future Cavaliers fans currently in diapers or kindergarten grow up without their own special era? Will LeBron James and those battles with the Pistons, Boston’s Big Three, and the Dwight Howard-led Magic be told to them second hand to relay success just as those Browns games of years past are now? Or will Dan Gilbert be able to deliver on his promise and put some configuration of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tyler Zeller, Tristan Thompson, and other to-be-determined pieces into another legitimate title contender and/or winner?
It’s everything Dan Gilbert’s tried to do since taking over in 2005. Upgrade practice facilities, improve in-game entertainment, and make financial commitments to support a winning team. More than that though, it’s establishing a way of doing things, hiring the right people to carry out a vision and definite way of doing things, and showing that you’re in it for the long haul while not being too involved in the daily operations. Gilbert is far from perfect. But, I don’t understand how so many don’t feel that he is one of the greatest assets the Cavaliers have. His financial backing 3 netted them Kyrie Irving. He has put his trust in Chris Grant who has diligently been on an assets-gathering safari for draft picks and young players. His front office has hired a high-profile head coach in Byron Scott. They’re attempting to learn from the mistakes of the past 4
That’s the task that Jimmy Haslam has staring him down – learning from the incalculable number of mistakes this team has made since 1999. He’s got a starved fan base of a franchise for which he just paid $1 billion. Fans in recent years have seen a revolving door of coaches, team presidents, general managers, quarterbacks, and so on. If he does somehow pull it off, he’ll usher in a renaissance of Browns pride. 5
It’s also the task that the Dolans have been undergoing for 12 years now with limited success. The Dolans make us feel bad like we’re the kids asking to have nice things when the family income just isn’t there. Fans come off as the ungrateful children who have a roof over their head 6 and food 7 on the table. As I said yesterday, it’s unfair because the Dolans have to deal with economic disadvantages that the Browns and Cavaliers do not, but it shouldn’t prevent us from questioning their tactics and demanding better.
I think that’s why we care so much about the owners. We want the late 80′s Browns, the mid-90′s Tribe, and the LeBron-era Cavs. We want them all with a different twist. If each of those eras was a DVD box set, it would be the alternate ending on the DVD menu. We want a title, we want a parade, we want that unprecedented euphoria. These titans of industry seem like larger than life figures sometimes when you think about how much power and wealth they wield. We want the success of Cablevision, Quicken Loans, and now Pilot/Flying J to emanate into the respective franchises.
Hopefully, going forward, I’ll be able to see a Browns product on the field that we all can take pride in watching. If that happenes, the artifacts for me will come to life. The NFL Championships pre-Super Bowl, the original Dawg Pound, the Kardiac kids won’t feel as much like precious relics of a forgotten era.
(Photos: Tony Dejak/AP, Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer, and Steelers.com)
- H/T @Nominataur [back]
- It’s tough to pinpoint the number of appearances I actually saw from the Fratello era. I do vividly remember the Z-Kemp squad losing to Reggie Miller, Rik Smits, and the Pacers in 1998. [back]
- Along with luck [back]
- Neglecting the draft, putting annual band-aids on a roster that probably needed a bigger overhaul. You know, the stuff that many of our great Cavalier writers on this site have discussed many times. [back]
- Sure, he may do it in Pilot Stadium with his players wearing some altered version of our current uniform, but that’s besides the point. [back]
- Even though it leaks. [back]
- Even if it’s off-brand, bland tasting, and there isn’t enough of it. [back]