Starting about halfway through the 3rd quarter of last night's debacle against the Celtics in game 5 (a game which at this point does not need any more recapping), Cavalier nation has gone through a whirlwind of painful emotions. Frustration led to shock, which led to dejection, which has led to the current levels of outrage, much of it directed at Lebron James, Mike Brown, and anyone else that a finger can be pointed at. Most of us (myself included) can only base our anger at whoever on what we see on TV or at the Q, and right now, the most obvious choices are Lebron, whose body language and post-game comments certainly smell of someone who is generally unconcerned with the torture he's putting the city through, and Mike Brown, who has, until now, managed to get away with his apparent lack of ability to influence his teams attitude and effort.
After trying to look at this objectively (now that I'm done screaming, breaking things, and feeling generally terrible for myself and the city), it's difficult for me to assign blame solely to Lebron conduct throughout this playoff series. I think plenty has been said about this series being on Lebron and Lebron alone and although I tend to agree with that to some extent, some of the issues need a deeper analysis.
Even before that ping pong ball revealed that the Cavaliers would have the first overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft, the organization, the city, and the national media has been preparing for the day Lebron would lead Cleveland back to the promise land. From the days of shedding contracts and throwing away seasons to the introduction of the massive "Witness" mural across the street from the Q, everything about this organization has been focused on Lebron. Lebron has had a strong voice in everything from bringing in coaches and players to making stylistic adjustments on jerseys. Lebron has a hold on this franchise in a way that no other superstar athlete in any sport has, because in Cleveland, we are just so damn scared he's going to leave.
And here we are now, down game 3-2 to the Boston Celtics, after having been wiped off the floor at our home court two times in a row. Even though the series is far from over, it sure feels like it is, and the buck has to stop somewhere. But who is really to blame? Is it only Lebron? In our fury, we have become so focused on our blame at Lebron that we fail to look at the atmosphere that has created his sense of entitlement. He says that we are spoiled by his play; this might be true, but he is even more spoiled by the way we treat him: our unwavering loyalty, our absolute devotion to the team, and our complete apologetic attitude toward his sometimes negative behavior. He is spoiled by the organization that caters to all of his needs and desires. We have become like misguided parents who are suddenly shocked when their spoiled son or daughter fails to achieve the success we expected them to after spending years coddling him/her as they grew up. The same people that are proclaiming they don't care if he leaves are the same ones that allowed Lebron to continue on so long completely unaccountable for his actions. It was always someone else's fault that the team didn't accomplish the ultimate goal. And now he faces adversity, and this time, there doesn't seem to be anywhere for him to hide. He looks hesitant on offense, lackluster on defense, and indifferent on the bench. His teammates sense this and they are nervous. They throw up hesitant, off balance jumpers, look generally unfocused on defense, and bobble the good passes he does deliver. They don’t want it to be their fault anymore than Lebron doesn’t want to acknowledge that it’s his fault. Mike Brown? He really has no chance. He has never appeared to be a strong enough figurehead to enforce his will, but he's here because Lebron likes him (except when he doesn't). It's become a sick catch-22, and everyone, Lebron included, is paying the price.
At this point, the fans and even the Cleveland media no longer have any real impact on this series. We can scream at our TVs all we want and post nasty comments online, but Lebron has become completely isolated from criticism, because we’ve made him that way. If the Cavs want to come back, they need to really look at themselves in the mirror. What is this organization about? What is this team about? Do they want to please Lebron or do they want to win titles? When Lebron plays passively, someone else needs to get in his face. If Lebron won’t wake up, someone needs to wake him up. Maybe it needs to be Mike Brown. Maybe it needs to be Shaq, or better, Z, who Lebron seems to love and respect. Whoever it is, the fear of Lebron leaving can no longer dictate actions; it’s handicapped the entire organization long enough. There are people involved in this organization (Shaq, Mike Brown, Danny Ferry, etc.) who have won titles and thus should have the credibility to get in his face. But they don’t. Because the goal has never been to win a championship; the goal has been to please Lebron.
I don’t know the answer, and I don’t know if one off day in between games is long enough for the right attitude adjustments to be made. Perhaps the media storm of criticism has had just enough affect to wake Lebron up from his slumber. As a desperately loyal Cavaliers fan, I can only hope.