Day 5

I didn’t write anything for days three of four, so here we go on day five.

First, I have to confess that I have already cheated on being sports-free for 30 days. My ESPN boycott is still going strong, though. I haven’t visited ESPN.com or tuned into any of its networks. With the NBA draft only a few days away, I have been checking in on Cavs.com and the forums there to see what fans are saying about the draft. IF the Cavs trade #4 and #24 just to move up to #2, I will be very disappointed. I really hope that doesn’t happen. I like Bradley Beal, but I like MKG more. I think MKG will be there at #4 and I don’t think giving up #24 is worth it to take Beal instead. The rumors I do like are trading Andy and #24 to get another lottery pick.  I love Andy, but winning is a few years away. We could potentially get Drummond or Barnes in the lottery by trading Andy. I feel like that would be a better fit for the future than Andy.

Part of the reason I didn’t write anything the past couple of days is because I realized how uneventful the years after LeBron’s rookie season were until the decision. 2007 is an exception when the Cavs shockingly made the Finals and the Indians came so close to the World Series.

The Cavs making the Finals in 2007 truly was shocking. They got lucky with their playoff match-ups (Washington, New Jersey, Detroit) and LeBron played out of his mind in the Detroit series (Game 5, 48 points, the 29 of the team’s last 30 points) to win four straight games after being down 0-2. Winning that Detroit series was the most amazing thing to happen since the Indians made the World Series in 1995. I say ’95 and not ’97 because ’97 was almost expected of the Tribe, the ’95 Indians and the 2007 Cavs were doing something that had not been done in a long time (never for the Cavs) and it was thrilling.

Cavs fans went into the Finals knowing we were outmatched by the Spurs, but the Cavs had swept the season series with San Antonio 2-0. I would like to say we were cautiously optimistic, but after what we saw LeBron do in Game 5 against the Pistons and knowing we had beaten the Spurs twice in the regular season, I was convinced the Cavs could win the series.

Not only did the Cavs not win the series, they didn’t win a game. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 2007 Finals go down as one of the biggest mis-matches in Finals history. LeBron James’ skills had nothing against the Spurs teamwork and experience. However, the final two games of the series in Cleveland were close and we believed the experience of getting to the Finals would serve the team well for the coming seasons.

Perhaps the coolest thing about the 2007 Finals was that when the Cavs had their home games, the Indians were also playing at home right across the street. Everything was coming together for the Indians that summer, so downtown was overflowing with excitement those nights. I didn’t get to experience it because I was living in North Carolina that summer, but my friends would go to the Finals game and then across the street to watch the end of the Indians game at Jacobs Field.

The Indians won the Central Division that summer and ended up with the New York Yankees in the first round. It was a joy just to see the Indians in the playoffs again, and just like I convinced myself the Cavs could beat the Spurs, I had convinced myself the Indians had a good shot at putting away the Yankees.

The Indians didn’t disappoint my faith. They smoked the Yankees in Game 1, and Game 2 was a game for the ages. The Indians were being shut down offensively, but Fausto Carmona was pitching a gem to keep them in the game 1-0 in the eighth. Then the midges came (if you hate the Yankees and love seeing their fans in misery, just bring up the midges and Joba Chamberlain). Thanks in part to the pesky bugs, Joba lost his cool and his control allowing the Indians to tie the game without recording a hit (walk, wild pitch, sac bunt, wild pitch). The Indians finally pulled off the thrilling 2-1 victory when Travis Hafner hit a single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 11th.

The Indians went on to win the series 3-1 and were set to face the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. I was very excited and could taste the World Series. The Indians just handled the Yankees in five games, CC Sabathia was the CY Young winner, Fausto Carmona was untouchable, the bullpen was holding it down, the offense was scoring, heck even Jake Westbrook and Paul Byrd were pitching well. It seemed like the return of Kenny Lofton at the end of the season was an omen or the good luck charm that was going to bring Cleveland back to the World Series.

Game one was Sabathia vs. Beckett. It should have been a low scoring nail-biter, but Sabathia didn’t have his control and got rocked. The Tribe was quickly down 1 game to none. Carmona started game two and he had been absolute money for the Indians, so everyone was expecting game two to be a low scoring like game one was supposed to be. It turned out just the opposite. Cleveland won 13-6 thanks to a huge 7-run inning.

Now that the series was back to even anything could happen. The Indians went on to win the next two games to take a 3-1 series lead. History shows that a 3-1 lead is almost as good as having the series won and with Sabathia and Carmona set to pitch games five and six there was no way this series was even going to seven games. Sabathia’s playoff struggles continued in game five and the Indians lost 7-1. Then Schilling handled the Indians line-up and Carmona faltered in a 12-2 loss. The series that was in the bag was now down to game seven at Fenway Park. Game seven went down pretty similarly to games all of the other Indians’ losses in the series, 11-2.

The dream was over and the Indians blew a 3-1 series lead. What was even more frustrating for Indians fans than the fact that our CY Young went MIA in the ALCS was that the NL representative in the World Series was the Colorado Rockies who by many expert opinions had no business being there let alone in the playoffs (see blown call in 1 game playoff against the San Diego Padres for the Wild Card). I think every Cleveland sports fan felt like if the Indians could have gotten that last win against the Red Sox they would have taken the World Series as easily as Boston did in their four-game sweep of the Rockies.

Experiencing 2007 as a Cleveland sports fan you got to feel two really big kinds of sports embarrassment. First you got to be humiliated in a four-game sweep of the NBA Finals. Then you got to experience the frustration of blowing a 3-1 games series lead which NEVER happens.

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Day Two

Finally something had gone right. It was proof that God or some sports god or some other supernatural force didn’t hate Cleveland. If we were actually being tortured the Cavs would have wound up drafting Darko Milicic. The sun was shining on Cleveland sports fans.

What made the drafting of LeBron James so important for Cleveland was the fairytale destiny it was supposed to bring. The kid who grew up a stone’s throw from Cleveland and was dubbed “The Chosen One” in high school years before anyone knew he’d be a Cav was going to lead the city to its first championship in over 50 years. We had the next Michael Jordan. LeBron James was going to be the greatest player in the history of the NBA and he was going to be a legend. Not only for his great play, but because he was going to lift a flailing sports city to the top. As the campaign for him to stay in Cleveland after the 2010 season said LeBron was, “More than a player.”

LeBron lived up to every bit of the hype in his rookie season. He gave Cleveland a national sports identity. My brother and I were at LeBron’s first win as a Cavalier on November 8, 2003 against the Washington Wizards. I remember watching a kid only one year older than me have a difficult time finishing tough layups and making jumpers, but he still scored 17 points, and made some highlight plays. On top of that, he nearly recorded a triple double without you even noticing (he had 8 rebounds and 9 assists that night). It was obvious after the game that the 18-year old was already a good player and once he got some experience those tough finishes and jumpers would start to fall. The excitement was almost unbearable. No one could wait for him to grow up and bring a championship to Cleveland.

The team finished the 2003-04 season with a losing record, but they won twice as many games as they had in the previous season. Carlos Boozer established himself as a dominant power forward who, as beloved color man and Cavs legend in his own right Austin Carr would say, always brought his hard hat to work. It looked like LeBron and Boozer were the perfect combination for the Cavs to build around along with Veteran center, Big Z, Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

The optimism of the dynamic James/Boozer duo quickly turned to anger over the summer of 2004. Boozer’s rookie contract had a team option on if for a little less the $700,000 for the 2004-05 season. In order to reward the young star, the Cavs, and this point is disputed by Boozer, with an agreement from Boozer, chose not to pick up the bargain priced extension and make him a restricted free-agent so he could sign a new contract with the team for more money. Instead of signing a new contract with the Cavs, Boozer skipped town and signed with the Utah Jazz.

It was just the latest in a long line of disappointments for Cleveland sports fans. Instead of having a strong core of two future all-stars we were down to just LeBron. The 2004 draft didn’t provide much immediate excitement either. The Cavs drafted a shooter out of Oregon, Luke Jackson, who the Cavs hoped could be deadly on kick-out threes and traded for the rights to an obscure Brazilian, Anderson Varejao. Along with Andy came Drew Gooden who was going to fills Boozer’s role.

With the anticipation of seeing LeBron’s growth from his rookie year and the addition of Gooden to replace who everyone in Ohio saw as a traitor, Carlos Boozer, there was  still hope in Cleveland for the 2004-05 season.

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Day One

I am a Cleveland sports fan. I cannot stand LeBron James. The Miami Heat winning the NBA Finals is the root of this blog.

“30 Days Without Sports” is my way to fill the mornings that I used to spend watching Mike and Mike and First Take on ESPN. I cannot watch ESPN for at least a month because I (admittedly pathetically) know it is bad for my health to see any images of the Miami Heat hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy. I also know that anything that comes out of the MVP’s mouth will frustrate me to no end. I realize to many people it is “just sports” and “just a game,” but the truth is to me, and many of my friends, it is a lot more than that. I’m going to take at least the first few days of this blog getting into the psyche of a mid-20s Cleveland sports fan. Maybe it will help you understand our reaction to the decision and what we consider suffering in the world of sports since our birth, or maybe you will think we are even more crazy. Whatever you think, this is who we are.

Now that we got that out of the way, we can start. I grew up in a small town just south of Akron, OH called Uniontown (50 miles South of the heart of downtown Cleveland). My dad was a Cleveland Browns season ticket holder for the years leading up to my birth in 1986. I grew up watching the Indians, Browns and Cavs. I was told about the Browns’ painful history “The Fumble” and “The Drive.” I also read books about the great 1954 Cleveland Indians team and their historically great pitching staff, but the most famous image from the 1954 season is Willie mays making “The Catch” over his shoulder in a World Series where the Giants swept the Tribe. By the time I was in kindergarten, I was well aware that Indians last World Series championship was in 1948, that the Browns never made it to a Super Bowl, and that the Cavs, who had not been around for nearly as long as the other two franchises, didn’t have much in the sense of history besides Craig Ehlo being fist pumped into history by Michael Jordan.

Being a kid in an area with three major sports teams and the Indians AA affiliate, then they were the Canton-Akron Indians, wasn’t bad though. Despite the Indians being putrid, the Browns seeming to lose in the first round of the playoffs every season, and the NBA being just too tough with the Pistons and Bulls for the Cavs to be considered a real contender, I loved my teams. I loved Eric Metcalf and his ability to return punts for touchdowns, Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, and Carlos Baerga were my baseball heroes, and I loved watching Brad Dougherty and Mark Price along with Larry Nance and “Hot Rod” Williams.

My dad made sure I got to go to games at the old Municipal Stadium and the Richfield Coliseum. He wanted to make sure I was able to experience those venues before our teams moved into new digs in the Center of downtown. Of course, with the sparkling new venues for the Indians and Cavs we lost the Browns. Talk about confusing for a 9 year-old kid. The Browns were a staple in my life. A constant on Sundays during the fall and winter. We’d wake up, go to church, and then my dad would take me along to hang out with him and his friends at a sports bar to watch the games (once I was about 6 or 7 I got to go, he didn’t tote me around as a toddler). I didn’t know what life was going to be like without the Cleveland Browns. It seemed like the end was coming.

Luckily, as soon as the Browns were leaving, the Indians started winning games like it was the 50’s again. Along with the players I already loved (Lofton, Belle, Baerga), the players I grew up watching as Canton-Akron Indians like Manny Ramirez, Jim Thome, Sandy Alomar and Bartolo Colon where now with the big league team. My uncle had season tickets 10 rows behind the visitors dugout in Cleveland and I got to go to a few games a year with him and my dad. My dad was also a territory sales manager, so he would have tickets to take clients to games. Sometimes, when a client couldn’t go, my dad could take me instead. I was lucky to have a way to get into “The Jake” during the record-setting sell-out streak. I got to be there for walk-off wins, Kenny Lofton robbing home runs, and Albert Belle having monster games. It seemed like they won every time I got to see them in person.

I never got to go to a postseason game during those glory years. I watched every game I could from home though. I remember some Saturday afternoons we would be in church during playoff games and my dad would actually let me go out to the car to check the score on the radio during mass! The Indians playing so well was awesome to experience growing up. However, the heartache of World Series losses were also a big part of growing up a Cleveland sports fan. 1995 against the Braves wasn’t that bad for me as a nine-year old. They had Maddux and Glavine. They had been there before. I wasn’t used to my team even being in the championship. It was exciting to be able to stay up late and watch the World Series.

1997 was a different story. As an 11-year old, I was emotionally vested in this World Series. We had been there in 1995 and it was exciting. This year we were going to win. The team was more experienced this time. We didn’t have Kenny Lofton, but we got David Justice and Marquis Grissom for him in a trade and Jaret Wright was an untouchable rookie phenom who was a spark to the pitching staff. The way the loss went down made it even more unbearable. A blown-save, a ground ball between the second baseman’s legs, and a walk-off loss in the bottom of the 11th. I remember feeling sick and not wanting to go to school the next day. How was I supposed to focus all day on fourth grade school work when my heart had just been ripped out by Edgar Renteria? The Indians had lost two World Series in the past three years. They haven’t been back to the Fall Classic since then.

Since October 26, 1997, a lot has happened in Cleveland sports. We got the new Browns who have provided an equal amount of misery as they have football while we watched the “Old Browns,” better known as the Baltimore Ravens, win a Super Bowl. We lost Albert Belle, Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez to free-agency and traded away countless other stars before watching them walk away for more money elsewhere. (Note: I don’t hold a grudge against any of these athletes for going somewhere for more money. I put that 99% of that on management.) The Cavs made a bold move getting the electrifying Shawn Kemp, but when he showed up two tons overweight and underachieved the excitement of having a superstar dwindled quickly.

There wasn’t much to cheer about from 1997 until 2003 when the Cavs (with the help of the NBA’s lottery rigging system) won the number 1 pick in the draft and the ability to land the homegrown “Chosen One.”

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