The line sounded like the kind of incredibly corny merchandise-mover every PR whiz dreams of:
"In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned".
I remember actually snorting laughing at it. A local radio host read it aloud. He was nearly moved to tears. I rolled my eyes and took another sip of the only thing keeping me moving during the 20 hour a day media vigil that is running a social media account during LeBron's free agency: a massive can of Monster. Who knew though, how accidentally prophetic it would prove to be for myself, and for the Cavaliers.
Falling down the well
The most bizarre and enjoyable period of my sports watching life happened during the lowest point of my own life. A perfect intersection of events that cascaded and turned a nightmare into something beautiful. On March 1st of 2014 the Cavs were bad and somewhat hopeless. I was engaged with a house and 3 dogs. The night of the draft lottery, when the Cavs cashed in on ridiculous odds to win the #1 pick, I was single with one dog, living with my mother because the apartment I paid for would not be ready to move into for another 3 months. Crazy how fast things move in life.
If you aren't familiar with me, I manage our Twitter account. It's always shocking to me, given how much of a tire fire twitter usually is, that it's had such a massive impact on my life. This is a fact that if you were to point it out to me 3 years ago, I would mock you relentlessly for. Somehow though, in a den of harassment and hate, I found tangible and important value. That still sounds stupid to me, even though I know it's true. Twitter led me to this website, where, in my free time I would banter with our great comment section and post my terribly written thoughts in our fanpost section. (Really, you have no idea how much work goes into editing my posts until you read one of those fanposts. Our editors do so much heavy lifting with me.)
That led me to ask Conrad in passing for a gig, which I received. It led me to a team of writers that I love working with, hanging out with, and bantering with. This is one of the best collections of humans I have ever encountered, and one I am eternally grateful for. I get to fly to Vegas and hang out with amazing people and watch basketball. It's led me to several good friends I actually spend time with, including a few that I would imagine are much more important to me than I am to them. It sounds stupid, it IS stupid, but hey, the Cavs sometimes mirror that stupidity and we love them all the same.
The mask, and advanced plane tracking techniques
3. You soon learned that being funny builds a perfect, impenetrable wall around you -- a buffer that keeps anyone from getting too close and realizing how much you suck. The more you hate yourself, the stronger you need to make the barrier and the further you have to push people away. In other words, the better you have to be at comedy.
4. In your formative years, you wind up creating a second, false you -- a clown that can go out and represent you, outside the barrier. The clown is always joking, always "on," always drawing all of the attention in order to prevent anyone from poking away at the barrier and finding the real person behind it. The clown is the life of the party, the classroom joker, the guy up on stage -- as different from the "real" you as possible. Again, the goal is to create distance.
You do it because if people hate the clown, who cares? That's not the real you. So you're protected.
But the side effect is that if people love the clown ... well, you know the truth. You know how different it'd be if they met the real you.
- David Wong, Cracked.com on Robin Williams passing.
My first night managing our account was the NBA Draft. I don't remember a whole lot of it because, well, I was drunk. It was a bit of a theme. As RTs and complements on our now humorous and energetic approach to social media poured in, the reality behind the curtain couldn't have been more different. When I showed up to our draft party on that Thursday, I was maybe 48 hours out from waking up on the side of the road, passed out drunk in the middle of my drive home, an action I would repeat several more times. A few weeks before that, I held an Akron Police Service Glock in my hands and negotiated my own life. Shout out to my now paid student loan debt; not wanting to stick my mother with that, among other things, was a big motivator. You never really imagine how low the bottom can be for someone until you're there. Somewhere you never really think you'll be. Staring up the well trying to remember what the sky was like before.
Fast forward to July. I am existing -- barely -- on Netflix, terrible food, and my mothers baked goods. Living at home at 27 is pretty damn embarrassing [Editor's note: Speak for yourself], but when your mom knows you're hurting and overcompensates with cookies or muffins on an almost daily basis, it's not too bad. It's tough though, when someone calls you a hopeless single blogger living in your moms basement to only be able to hit back with "ACTUALLY SIR, IT'S A GUEST BEDROOM" (My old room became her workout room or something. I really had no claim to nice things back then).
So I get a call from a guy I know that used to hoop at Patterson Park with us. Swears, SWEARS, LeBron is coming back. He "knows someone who knows someone who heard". Whatever, dude. A few days later: Cupcake guy, Q-Tip, a comedian, and shirtless personal trainer were all sharing their "insider info" that this was happening. LeBron-athon had a pulse. It actually felt tangible. When he left for Miami, it was the same kind of bizarre sources that were telling us he was gone. An OSU booster tells a student who tells my former boss. Nothing is ever normal with LeBron. With so much media scrutiny, how could it be? The only option was to turn into the wave. Embrace the horror and insanity, and just let it wash over me. Treat every single rumor as something worth passing along, no matter how asinine. "LeBron will return to the Cavs if Dan Gilbert gets a My Little Pony lower back tattoo," sure, that can get a RT. Bring me more insanity. This process was life consuming. Up at 7AM for work. Up until 4AM tracking stories and rumors. Rinse, drink energy drink, repeat.
Nothing really takes the cake like the day we tracked the plane, though. I'm not 100% when it truly began, but I know when we really dove in. July 6th was a Sunday, the early part of which was spent incredibly sick (see: hung over). Joe Lull, then a local radio station personality, tweeted that Dan Gilbert was on his way to Miami. Gilbert tweeted that he was in his back yard. It was ON. There was no way (and we now know this, of course) that Gilbert addresses Lull's tweet if it isn't true. The things got crazy.
We literally stalked a damn plane. I looked up company registrations. I cross checked addresses. Literally anything I could to promote the conspiracy theory and avoid another day of staring at the ceiling of a small guest bedroom wondering how I ended up there. The plane was registered to one company that meant nothing. In poured twitter's "Well actually" crowd. The address of that company was the same as Dan's "Rock" family of companies. BAM, WE'RE ON BABY. By the end of the day, there was a rumor (out of Miami) that the plane flew former Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas to Miami to check on a shopping mall. A SHOPPING MALL.
Wait no, Zydrunas isnt building a mall. Turn the crazy back up.— FearTheSword (@FearTheSword) July 7, 2014
"Send Zydrunas to see if the archways in all of the common areas are high enough. Make sure the toilets have good leg room"— FearTheSword (@FearTheSword) July 7, 2014
What if LeBron does Riley like To Catch a Predator and Chris Hansen and the cameras come storming in to inform him LBJ is leaving— FearTheSword (@FearTheSword) July 9, 2014
(You can find other related tweets here, as well as some AWFUL takes on my part on trading Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love. I was on the fence but open to it, but boy was I dumb. Hey, I wasn't well anyway I guess.)
Folks inexplicably loved it. It's something I never really anticipated. Like, I'm not particularly clever or witty, but there they were, eating it up. We gained something like 7000 followers in 3 days. Compliments came pouring in:
One of the weirdest places I've ever been in my life is where some compliments from total strangers on twitter actually mattered, but I had to laugh at the situation. If they only knew, right? The only importance I could find in my life at the moment was people saying I made their day cracking jokes about free agency, so that's all I did. Naturally, when LeBron signed, I wasn't even aware. After so many hours of ensconcing myself in the story, I was in a meeting and unable to check my phone. I found out an hour after.
Parallel paths to the top
All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me... You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.
From the moment LeBron James arrived, things have been unsettled with the Cleveland Cavaliers. Some of that is his fault, most of that is not. That's how things go when you're the celestial body in the middle of a basketball team's media universe. Through 2 coaches, many players, and a mountain of frustration, the Cavaliers have finally found firm footing on their path to the future. It wasn't supposed to be that way. It wasn't supposed to take this long.
Even though they made the NBA Finals, there was a cloud over the Cavaliers. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving had potentially career altering injuries, and even though there was optimism with their play beforehand, and their outlook, there was no way to know. The season was messy. The coach was fired. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving struggled continually to find their footing on a consistent basis. LeBron subtweeted well ... EVERYONE on twitter. Goofball ideas like trading Kevin Love for Jae Crowder, or small role players being a better long term point guard option for the Cavs than Kyrie Irving popped up.
Even though they had all the tools, things just didn't seem to click. Even with a new coach, things felt better, but still off. Something about this dysfunction enamored me. Their two year struggle mirrored my own. All the way at the bottom. A few things that were really great but fatally flawed, and right back into turmoil. I was always a fan of the prior Cavs teams, but until recently I never really felt connected to them. Not like this. As I rode the inevitable healing of time to emotional stability and removed all of my debt, through a few chance events in just 3 weeks everything changed: A totaled car here, 2 career promotions there, and BAM -- Everything makes sense, and being broke and miserable is in the rear view mirror. The things holding me back might as well have never existed. The Cavs, against considerable odds, have done the same.
The beauty of the NBA playoffs is that they usually show you the true nature of its participants. The regular season is fun, but the length and scheduling makes it a whole lot easier for players to excel. When you're locked in a series with another team, that's when you really see what you have. Limited players are schemed into uselessness. Versatility rules the day. It's no accident when the same players struggle, and the same players shine repeatedly. In this clearer water, the Cavs have found themselves. The bench roles have been defined. The talent and versatility of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love has coalesced into a freight train rolling through anything in it's way.
Out of the cocoon of two years of adversity and discontent a monster was born. They may not beat the Warriors, potentially the NBA's greatest team. They may not beat the Thunder, a team tasked with dispatching two of the best teams the NBA has ever seen. The result though, isn't important. What's important is that they're here, and they're great, and the core players they've invested so much in finally look like they are on common ground. The summer fears of trading Kevin Love or Kyrie Irving for some high end role players from an over-achiever are gone, and the Cavs have a solid core to build around for the foreseeable future.
Peace, at last.
There is a line of thought that any sports season that ends without a title is wasted. You can root for your favorite team however you like, but that just isn't for me. There is so much beauty in the journey, even the awful parts. The hilarious but awkward David Blatt pressers. The LeBron tweets. The injuries. It's annoying, but it makes success that much sweeter. We've suffered through so many truly bad teams to get here, I'm not about to let a second of LeBron James' career go unappreciated.
Life isn't a whole lot different. Once you've hit the bottom, you really see how enjoyable even the most tedious things can be. Whether it's business, fun, or your personal life, shoot your shot. Maybe you miss but at least you can say you did it. Even wading through the dregs of social media can lead you to wonderful things, and impacts on others you didn't think were possible. The world isn't perfect, but it's out there for us, and even if in ultimately fruitless endeavors you can find something amazing along the way, you've come out ahead. Whatever happens with the Cavs, I'm just happy that they're here, and should be here for a long time. I'm happy to plan to do the same.
(note: If you're in trouble yourself, even if it's a temporary situation help is out there and waiting. Never doubt that so many people you aren't even aware of care about you. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1 (800) 273-8255)