It might have been his last game; he played like it was his first game.
LeBron James was, as Bill Simmons put it, perplexingly and indefensibly awful last night. 15 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds betray how poorly he actually played, which was like it was his first playoff game ever and he was afraid of the moment. Perhaps the most telling sign of how bad he was: with time left in the fourth quarter, fans were walking out of what, let’s be honest, was most likely his last game in Cleveland this season and potentially (more so than ever) his last game as a Cleveland Cavalier.
After the game, LeBron had every right to be frustrated. Angry. Disappointed. Instead, after being asked about his game, he said, “Nah, I’m not disappointed. I’m never disappointed in my play. I feel like I could do more, but I’m not disappointed at all.”
No big deal. Easily the biggest game of the Cavs season in probably the most important season in the Cavs’ franchise, but hey, no big deal. He also added this gem:
I spoil a lot of people with my play. When you have a bad game here or there, you’ve had three bad games in a seven-year career, then it’s easy to point that out. So you got to be better.
I put a lot of pressure on myself to be out there and be the best player on the court, and when I’m not I feel bad for myself because I’m not going out there and doing the things I can do. But I don’t hang my head low or make any excuses about anything that may be going on, because that’s not the type of player or person I am.
A lot to digest here. First, it’s certainly been more than three bad games, but never on this stage and never because it seemed like he wasn’t even trying. Second, having a bad game is forgivable: everyone has bad nights. Putting in poor effort is never acceptable, and that’s what happened last night. (Back in 2007, the Indians had some bad nights in the playoffs, but I was never concerned with their effort like I am the Cavs’ or LeBron’s.)
(Sidenote: I’m currently watching a Rachel Nichols SportsCenter report about Cleveland’s “fragile state of mind” following that loss and anticipating a do-or-die game six. And game five was “no big deal.” Really?)
But the major implication here was that Cleveland fans are “spoiled”. Sure, I can see that. Here’s a franchise who’s never won a championship, whose intra-city sister franchises (the Indians and Browns) haven’t won since 1948 and 1964, respectively. But hey, LeBron’s been MVP twice in the last two years, right? The Cavs have put up 60-win seasons twice in the last two years, right? Isn’t that enough?
If you’re LeBron, all you have to say is “hey, I had a bad game”, or “hey, my elbow hurt”, or “someone switched my Nikes with REEBOKS!” Don’t blame the fans for expecting too much; don’t dismiss your poor play as no big deal.
Last year, the thing that got under my skin about this team is that there was this “One Goal” mantra where it always seemed like the players were thinking “which finger should I put my ring on? I know tradition is the ring finger, but I think it’d look sweet on my pinky” rather than “hey, Orlando’s making a lot of threes, maybe we should do something about — POINTER FINGER.” This year, the mantra is “All for One”, which I guess is supposed to mean that everyone on the team and in the city is working towards one goal. But what’s that goal really been: a championship or keeping LeBron happy?
If it ends up that the Cavs lose game 6, and LeBron leaves, it won’t just be another athlete in a long string of athletes to grow up in Cleveland, say how much they love it, become a superstar, and then promptly say “so long, Cleveland, it’s been real” before exiting. It’s kind of like how Packers fans must have felt last year when Favre signed with a division rival, only instead of leaving at the (what was supposed to be) the twilight of his career and completing his legacy, here’s a guy leaving in his prime after perhaps his worst game as a professional. It’s like if Obama was elected, then said “hahaha, I’m leaving for France, see you all on the flip.”
The best case scenario here is that LeBron and the Cavs win game 6 and 7, prolonging their existence in the playoffs, and making last night’s game just a minor blip on LeBron’s record. But let’s face it: after their showing last night, it’s an unlikely scenario.
On Sunday evening I sat in Starbucks for an hour an a half, finishing Now I Can Die In Peace, an excellent collection of columns by Bill Simmons chronicling the Boston Red Sox’ trials, tribulations and ultimate triumph (twice). The entire path of the book parallels the plot of the 1994 epic film The Shawshank Redemption. Simmons likens the Sox’s tragic and stunning defeat in 1986 to Dufresne being incarcerated, and eventually, after some ups and downs, the Sox found redemption in 2004, after winning the ALCS in cathartic fashion, coming back from their darkest hour against the Yankees to ultimately prevail.
I’m not a Red Sox fan. Far from it. But I understand the plight of the Red Sox fan pre-2004, since it’s what we as Indians fans are going through now. (And seriously, Simmons, you give us no respect in that book. It’s all “Cubs this”, “Cubs that”. Chicago has the White Sox, Bulls and Bears, all of whom have won a championship in the last twenty-five years.) The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948, and haven’t been in a World Series since Edgar Renteria’s soft line drive ticked off Charles Nagy’s glove and fell into center field at Dolphin Stadium.
You could argue that the 1997 Series was the darkest moment of the Indians franchise since Ray Chapman was killed by a pitch in 1920: two outs away from a win; a team that had two home run hitters who are currently in the top 20 all time; a team that will have at least 3 Hall of Famers before it’s all said and done. It was the ball rolling through Bill Buchner’s legs for the Indians.
While Simmons wrote the book about the Red Sox, he’s a Boston sports fan in general, and included the column he wrote after the Patriots upset the Rams the Super Bowl in 2002. His reasoning was that it was important for the Patriots to win the Super Bowl. Because a Boston team won a championship, the snakebitten Red Sox could finally win one.
Like the Sox before the Patriots, the Indians have made the playoffs since 1997, but haven’t had success even getting to the World Series.
Enter the 2010 Cleveland Cavaliers. Here’s a team that is competitive dominant because of one player, a player that may or may not be around next season. Fans are clamoring for a championship while LeBron is still in town, in case the unthinkable happens and he leaves for free agency.
I’m not a big Cavs fan. I’m not the biggest fan of LeBron, and I’m not a fan of the way the front office treated Ilgauskas this season, and I find going to a Cavs game to be a somewhat painful experience. But I’m a fan of Cleveland. And like every Clevelander, I’m rooting for them to win it all this year. But I’m subscribing to the “Simmons Trifectus” theory (as it shall henceforth be called) rooting for them so that the Indians (and *gasp* the Browns?) can possibly win one down the road.
Is all of this hocus? Maybe. But despite the Indians going 3-6 on the road trip ending tonight (on a bunt, no less), they’ve played decent ball, and with some breaks here and there, might start surprising people. If the Cavs win, and people are in a better mood for the summer, I think you’ll see people coming to the ballpark and maybe attempting to recreate that late-90s vibe. There’s no way that’s a bad thing. As a Tribe fan, and as a Clevelander, I’ll take whatever I can get.