2011 NBA Finals Makes "Heatles" Fans into "Witnesses"

John StebbinsCorrespondent IJune 13, 2011

TO: Fans of the Miami Heat

FROM: A fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers

I know how you feel.

It seemed so perfect. You got LeBron James. You thought you had the right supporting cast around him. Bring on the championships!

Weren’t we saying that from 2007-2010?

And, like those four seasons, we sat there scratching our heads, pounding tables in frustration, disappointed: “Man, it was supposed to be our year!” we grumbled.

Like you are right now.

So many people thought that simply because you got LBJ, it was a sure thing. You acted like it was just a matter of time. And the rest of the league dogged you for it. And you did your best to defend him—and the “eventuality” that his presence will bring the Larry O’Brien Trophy.

Yep. Sounds familiar.

Now, you’ve got to answer for that disappointment. Despite his talent, he’s not good enough in the clutch. You might need better talent around him.

Now, if anything, that sounds familiar.

Since your next draft pick seemingly can be used on a son of the Heatles, you’ll be studying the free-agent market closely. (Try acquiring Joakim Noah. He hates Cleveland. That’ll make it even more fun for us in Northeast Ohio.) You’ll all be trying to find that mysterious “final piece” to the championship puzzle. You’ll question the cast around him.

DeWayne Wade’s safe, but is anyone else? Zydrunas Ilgyauskus was ring hunting, and unfortunately, is surely expendable. Mike Miller? James Jones? Mario Chalmers? Udonis Haslem? Juwan Howard? Joel Anthony? Mike Bibby? Eddie House? Chris Bosh, even, who at times seemed to be the Ringo to the Lennon/McCartney pairing of Wade and James?

As a warning, I don’t know what was worse: The supposition of potential moves…or the second-guessing once they’re made. So what happens, be ready. Experience showed us that the scrutiny inherently goes up by a degree or two when you’ve got LeBron James on your roster.

Maybe your coach isn’t the right one. Yeah, we heard that one, too. While history has no option but to debate if Mike Brown’s system stifled LeBron, meanwhile, it’s ready to argue whether or not Erik Spolestra has the chops to coalesce his collection of individual talents. With Brown coaching Kobe now, it’s an interesting situation in the making.

Or, you might have seen what we secretly wanted to deny: Maybe the critics are right about him. On consecutive days, the Boston Bruins hockey team put as much on the scoreboard as James did the following night, after all. His underdeveloped skills like his movement without the ball or his postgame. His lackluster fourth quarters in Dallas. His leadership issues, too. Maybe he’s not as good as advertised, which means…maybe we were both ripped off.

This was James’ second final. In his first, the Cavs—with him as a definite Alpha Dog, got swept by the Spurs, a team with a solid, multi-player nucleus. In his second, as part of a multi-player nucleus, he gets beat by a team with a definite Alpha Dog…who stayed when conventional wisdom said he’d never win a ring there…because his owner was an embarrassment to the league…and will now be considered as one of the All-Time greats.

Salt in the wound if we ever saw it.

Following his decision (I’m not going to flatter it with capitalization or quote marks anymore) to play for the Heat, it wasn’t as much the player that was lost as much as it was the hype you were overindulging in since July. It’s what pro wrestling ironically calls, um…“heat.”

He had taken our “sure thing” and made it your “sure thing.” Did players collude? Well, Shaq did. He was going to help the King win that ring, remember?

And worse, while we just wanted to finally win a major sports title (and maybe another to compensate for not having any since 1964), you were counting not three…not 41,367. Much local debate revealed many here would’ve easily tolerated him leaving after winning one ring, while you are still expecting multiple rings. In the name of Wayne Huizenga and the most obliquely bought championship in sports history (also at Cleveland’s expense), that was salt in the wound, also.

That was probably the ethos of the resentment surrounding the formation of the “Heatles.” Sports are at their best when the games and championships are won on the field of play—and not in the boardroom* (or with the checkbook as it is in baseball). And no team seemed to be as big an affront to that philosophy as this year’s Heat.

It was almost as if we were subconsciously trying to warn you that it wasn’t a “sure thing.” Only you wouldn’t listen or consider the possibility. Just like we wouldn’t listen when he wore wine and gold. Miami is a far more glamorous city than Cleveland, you said. And it was hard to argue. Just like we painted the perfect picture of a “hometown” hero destined to end our epic championship drought. Also hard to argue.

And even if you win next year and the year after that, and that, and that, and that, the 2011 Finals will always remind you that it isn’t a sure thing. Like it turned out to never be during his tenure in Cleveland. If you get one or more titles, you can’t erase that “1” in the “L” column of the “Heatles” record in the finals. Something Jordan’s Bulls will forever hold over you—even with an 80-win regular season.

And now, the “haters” are all having their day, raining down on you for the brashness that having LeBron automatically meant rings and banners in the rafters. Some of us in Cleveland will be amongst the worst of it. But then again, some of you were the worst of the Cleveland-bashing that occurred since July, so many of us that aren’t participating will just stand idly by and look away. I’m sure you can figure out why.

This season was indirectly defined by our two fanbases being the focal points of divisive spewing spite at each other (Miami/supporters: You suck. We rule. Get over it. Cleveland/”haters”: You suck. Get over yourselves.) Now that we’ve both tasted a batch of LeBron James disappointment, it’s something that the rest of the league can hold over both our heads, which gives us something in common with only ourselves.

What hurt the most about James’ free agency was the widely-accepted notion that it was Cleveland that was holding him down. Even in 2009, it was common knowledge he had to go to a big, glamorous market in order to win—both on the court and in his personal business affairs. It wasn’t LeBron’s fault. Or Dan Gilbert’s. It was the city’s fault. Free agents didn’t want to come here. It’s not glamorous to a NBA superstar’s lifestyle. A lot of venom was spit at the city itself. Name one other city that received as much arrogant scorn as Cleveland did prior to his free agency, when it was a foregone conclusion that Cleveland was insufficient for him. After that, it was just needless piling on.

All during this season, we were treated like a charity case, worthy of only pity. Any attempt to maintain pride was scoffed at. We went from becoming the scrappy underdog that might’ve been blessed by Fate for once to the city that had failed and needed to be punished. We deserved that 26-game losing streak. We deserved that 55-point humiliation by the Lakers. With each humiliation, it was “My God, they really suck without LeBron!”

People relished in our humiliation. Many just assumed that is was the “supporting cast” that endured that season. Right. The Cavs were also without Big Z, Shaq, Delonte West, and with a new coach with a new system, even though it was more like the end of the bench once Antwan Jamison and Anderson Varrejao were lost for the season. Seriously? Has any fanbase ever deserved a lousy season after not winning a title?

So when Pat Riley “rescued” him from the scourge, you called Northeastern Ohio; it was as if he was free to finally win a title.

How’d that work out?

We dare you to blame Miami like we got blamed en masse for his previous futility. Say that there’s too much party atmosphere that spoiled him, kept him distracted with the star treatment we’re not cut out for. Say that it was too hot outside, that the warm winters distracted him. Or maybe it was that he wasn’t the biggest fish in the small pond that made him feel lost in the celebrity shuffle. Those who thought he should’ve been in a big market with bigger and brighter spotlights: Well? He got it.

If you think it’s too much to blame your own city, we fully understand. But now that you know how it feels, can you now understand how stupid it sounded when blame was shed to the city of Cleveland itself? You weren’t immune to what we suffered, as you are suffering it now too. He’s not in Cleveland anymore. He’s in Miami…and he still didn’t win a title. Proof positive it wasn’t Cleveland’s fault and all that scorn was ultimately uncalled for and inaccurate.

Now, if the Heat had beaten the Mavs, all that unnecessary and uncalled piling on would’ve been justified—and amplified. You think we really want to be on the receiving end of that? We know we’ve got a pain tolerance, but we’re not really masochists. Deep down, that’s what we were hoping against. And fortunately for us, the Heat didn’t win a title.

What you’re going through now is what we did for roughly four seasons. Even if you only have to feel it for only one, you’ll still remember how bitter that taste was. Chances are you’ll eventually feel that championship glory like we wish we could’ve, but that sweetness will always be tempered by 2011.

Now excuse us. We’ve got a draft to prepare for, while you’ve got a free-agent market and possible trades to study. While we’re hoping the draft can do for us what free agency did for you (yeah, we know…but we can still hope. Just like you hoped for a championship.), you know you can look forward to another season with immediate and legitimate title consideration.

Just like we did.

See ya (hopefully) in October!


*Another difference between James and Jordan. Jordan sneered when Jerry Reinsdorf said “organizations win championships,” while James blamed and credited organizations for his success and failures.


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