Loyalty to an athletic team can come from a variety of sources. We follow the teams of our region, the teams of our parents, or peers. We jump on bandwagons to share in the good times; we cheer for Cinderellas because the narrative is seductive. We seek out dark horse candidates to feel the excitement of being ahead of the curve.
All this, and a million other reasons.
Given all this, I find myself reflective. Why do I follow this team; why do I care? For many people, the answer to this question is obvious: liking sports is normal, and following the home team is expected. Sport is tied in with family and friends, a sense of community, and deep-rooted traditions. Honestly, it'd be strange if they didn't follow the home team, at least nominally.
Being an academic who used to make a living in rock music, I'm surrounded by people who find any interest in sports somewhat odd. These affiliations are often forged in youth, and the conflicts between the quote-unquote "jocks" did little to endear their cultural totems to me and mine.
It's about Tribe; and I don't mean the Indians.
But I have always held a fascination with Basketball. I played other sports (1997 NACA national champion in soccer/real-football), but basketball's statistical resistance, and fluid geometry was always compelling to me. Plus, at 6'4, you can find a pick-up game even if you're out of shape, and meaningfully contribute just by raising your arms up.
So okay, Basketball. Great. Why the Cavs?
When I was a child, the Cavs were supposed to be good. Price, Nance, HOT ROD MUTHA FUGGIN' WILLIAMS - these teams were supposed to win championships.
But, you know, Jordan was doing a thing. Now in the interest of full disclosure, I loved Jordan. I was a kid in the 80's/90's - everything that I knew about life suggested that I should love Jordan and the Bulls. I was supposed to, and I did. I couldn't be mad at Mike for hitting a shot over Craig Ehlo - I wanted to be like him, right?
But after those teams, the Cavs were always pretty bad. I remember Terrell Brandon and Tyrone Hill. Z was always there; big, goofy, actually pretty good. Trayjon Langon was going to be great, and when he wasn't, well, whatever. It wasn't like anybody expected a team to seriously contend with Andre Miller as their best player.
There was no pressure. Every success was a pleasant surprise. And the failures? Well, what did you expect? We took it in stride. It was great; I could kick back and enjoy the game, without much in the way of disappointment.
There was joy.
I was a pretty big fan up until LeBron arrived. He was good - really, he was too good too soon for me. Don't get me wrong; there is a matchless delight in watching a savant at their craft: LeBron is a force of nature on the hardwood, and devoid of context, it is a thing of joy to behold. But with a transcendent talent come hightened expectations. As is only correct - when you have a once-in-a-generation talent on your team, it's reasonable to expect team success to follow.
But following the Cavaliers started to become stressful for me.
At the time, I brushed it off as hipster tendencies - the Cavs were mainstream now, but I liked them before they were cool? It was difficult to see at the time, but in retrospect, it seems much clearer now. The difference between being excited at success, and being upset at failure might seem like a small distinction, and perhaps it is.
But in this context, it was massive.
I started to worry. Get anxious. Larry Hughes' shot selection shifted from an endearingly frustrating phenomena to a critical failing of the team: we couldn't win like this (never mind that we were winning left and right) and you know, if we don't win championships, then that's a failure. LeBron will leave, 'cause you know, the team - and all of you who identify with the team in some way - just aren't good enough.
I don't know when it happened, but Cavs basketball stopped being fun for me. It wasn't about winning, it was about not losing. And I stopped enjoying it. I still followed the Cavs, but teams like the Hawks and Timberwolves became much more enticing to me. When LeBron left, I felt a little guilty. The city was furious: I was a little relieved.
Now I could enjoy the Cavs again.
And I love these Cavaliers. Kyrie is a Wizard, Tristan Thompson is Canadian Jesus, Beast Mode Dion is a genuine delight. I cheered for Luke Walton - and I genuinely miss him! LUKE FUCKING WALTON HAS A WARM SPOT IN MY HEART. This is a real thing.
This is the thing that I hope this fanbase can embody, and hold on to. The joy, the delight. The moments that come with seeing a young team figuring it out. Let's be honest: nobody expects the Cavs to win it all this year. There are a few tentatively positive projections, loaded with qualifying statements. IF Andy stays healthy and IF Bynum isn't a shadow of his former self and IF Dion can make the leap and IF IF IF then maybe a 4-6 seed is achievable?
I hope, dearly and truly, that we can take this season in stride as fans. To sit back, and enjoy the ride. Our team is pretty interesting! Sometimes they get blown out. Sometimes they surprise the hell out of us all, and look like world-beaters. I was looking forward to this season incredibly, but I've started to feel that negativity and doubt creep in. What if Bennett wasn't worth the #1? Does this mean that we won't be as good as we maybe should? Will Kyrie become a malcontent? Should we blow it all up?
And I find that I've talked myself into the New Orleans Pelicans. You know, they're young and interesting. No expectations. Watching them is fun, even when they're losing.
My friends, we have a special, beautiful little team. I don't want to miss the forest for the trees. I don't want to be cynical, anxious, and upset - that's not what I want my fan experience to be.
I want to enjoy the wins, not fear the losses. I want to delight in all things Cavaliers with what I've long considered the best community online. I want to type absurd things in capital letters.
I want to love these Cavs. So I'm going to focus on that. Maybe they win, maybe they lose. But CJ has been MasFresco-ing all over the place, and Tristan is a revelation, and I intend to enjoy this ride for all that it's worth.