It was the fourth quarter of a mid-week game in Cleveland. Fans that opted to brave the winter elements -- in the midst of one of the biggest nationwide storms of the season -- to make it down to Quicken Loans Arena were collectively on their feet. Their booming cheers were echoing throughout once-hallowed grounds as their team converted on clutch possessions; the roars growing louder as their opponent would be distracted or irritated just enough to force an errant shot or pass.
In past years, this random Wednesday night would typically provide the city of Cleveland with a relatively meaningless, mid-winter contest against an opponent whom they had bettered many times before. Such an evening would also feature 20,562 fans clad in their wine and gold apparel, all in their seats well before the national anthem permeates through the arena.
But on this night, there were roughly 10,000 fans -- though the Cavaliers would report a sold-out crowd based on ticket sales instead of warm bodies through the turnstiles -- and the game was far from meaningless. Caught in the middle of a losing streak of epic proportions, the city of Cleveland had a reason to join together and exude merriment: Their Cavaliers were not only competing at a high level, but they were winning. The team of their rooting interest were actually on the better end of a score, late in a basketball game.
If these events reek of patronization and sound condescending, perception may not be far off. This is a fan base that has seen their team lose by levels previously unfathomed; to have them be winning was not only exciting and long-awaited, but it was shocking. Strangers embracing one another with high-fives and raised glasses was a regular occurrence as recent as a season ago, but since July 8, 2010, a revolution of sorts has left an entire city in peril as well as the subject of ledes and headlines throughout the nation.
The unfortunate narrative is one in which the city of Cleveland is very familiar, but this time it appeared to be a bit more aphoristic than the let-downs of years past.
Gone are the montages rife with Michael Jordan jump shots and Earnest Byner botched touchdown runs. Replacing the days of old, Clevelanders now face lowlight reels of fourth-quarter meltdowns, injury lists the size of shopping-spree receipts and the very day where their former superstar sat in a director’s chair across from an abhorrently staged Jim Gray; that purple gingham-checked shirt still staining the memories of
millions. Naturally, all signs pointed to Dec. 2 -- when LeBron James and the Miami Heat visited Cleveland for the first time since the two-time MVP’s departure -- as the Cavaliers’ turning point.
But is the ultimate emptiness any different? The end result is still the name “Cleveland” being found on the losing side of the equation. Sure, the stage may not be as large on a mid-week game within the bitter winds of February, but the feeling should be the same, right?
Not in this town. Not where the national stage has been a fickle beast; where even the most-favorable of match-ups have led to disappointment time and time again. Dribbling out the clock, taking knees in the fourth quarter and nominal-run leads in the ninth inning are never a guarantee when the city of Cleveland is involved. Alas, the skin of those watching the ruinous repetition grows thicker with each additional year, each
Perhaps the independent variable is linked to expectations, or lack thereof -- the occurrence of the unthinkable scenario. Similar to how investors and economists alike become spurned by unexpected inflation, or -- for contextual purposes -- how Cleveland and the Cavaliers did not see LeBron James packing up his overpriced luggage and heading to South Beach to continue his occupation alongside friends.
What Cleveland is enduring at this point is not only unexpected, but the aforementioned revolution. As distinguished writer Clay Shirky states, within revolutions, old ideals get broken faster than the new ideals can be put in its place, and the magnitude of any given experiment is not apparent at the moment it appears. During times of chaos, short-term resolutions do not always resolve. Coupling this with the information age
and the constant reminder of inferiority, this hardwood hell becomes even more gut-wrenching.
The turnover throughout the Cavaliers’ franchise this past summer lends itself to several targets of blame. A new head coach in Byron Scott can be chastised; new general manager Chris Grant “obviously” did not make the moves necessary to keep his team afloat. But what happens when one romanticizes the years past and opts for misplaced rage based on ostensible occurrences, it leads to impulsive reaction in what is undoubtedly a paralyzing expanse.
The current direction of the Cavaliers remains elusive, and the storm of rhetorical questions remains abundant. But given that Cleveland has experienced setbacks sans portent in the past, the conflation of Cavalier fans has been able to remain a strong contingent who continue to carry on with dignity in hand, knowing that brighter days remain ahead. All it takes is one look at the record books to see that this basketball season has provided disappointment to heights previously unmatched. But if any town is going to refuse to run in place, it is Cleveland.
Cleveland lived through the trade of Rocky Colavito in 1960, only to fill Jacobs Field for 455 consecutive games; the release of Bernie Kosar in 1993 and the subsequent move to Baltimore has not stopped fans from supporting the Browns through the darkest of times. While nary a banner hangs in the rafters, the heartbeat of the town remains intact. Sure, they adored LeBron James, but said adoration did not extend beyond the love of Cleveland in and of itself. Would they trade in the back-to-back 60-win seasons despite how they would ultimately end? Doubtful. But knowing what they know now -- Cleveland is apparently different than Akron, after all -- the city of Cleveland will continue to cheer on whomever proudly dons the Wine and Gold, as one fan puts best, be they princes or paupers.
Several games have been added to the record books since that fateful Wednesday night, all of which have ended with Cleveland on the unfortunate side of the ledger. The assiduous assault on the fan psyche has not been for the weak-at-heart. The frothing puritanical mobs who are paid to remind the world just how “bad” things are near Lake Erie will continue on, aiming for asperity. As they say, winning sells tickets but losing
In the end, if any region will forge ahead despite melodious cadence of despair -- deflecting shrapnel and ultimately ignoring invective -- it is Cleveland. There will eventually be additional changes accompanied by cynical commentary; there will be more exposés penned as if they are system-warping revelations. But when it is all said and done, the fan base found in Cleveland will trek on, longing for the day when the entire city shuts down to soak in a championship parade, knowing that the losses endured in the past were merely a right of passage that brought them that much closer to one another.
The 2010-11 Cavaliers may be an ill-fated part of the record books for a long while, and the narrative of a losing culture will be cast upon the region from the outside. But the tight-knit band of like-minded fans who call Cleveland home will look back at this epoch one day and chalk it up as another notch in their collective belts. When that parade arrives, any losing streak -- regardless of magnitude or time period -- will ultimately prove inconsequential.
-- Scott Sargent writes for WaitingForNextYear.com, a site dedicated to Cleveland and Ohio State sports.