It all started with a phone call.
“Hey, if I can get you a Cavs ticket for Friday, would you come?”
It was one of my former students, offering me a chance to sit in the Quicken Loans Arena’s executive suites, eat free chicken wings and hobnob with some high-rolling political-type folks. This just another reminder of why it’s always smart to write your students good recommendations: They remember you.
I said various forms of “Hell yeah.”
I’ve never been to an NBA Finals game; I’ve never been to any professional sports finals. No Super Bowl, no World Cup, nothing, unless I count going to Wimbledon almost 20 years ago in some cheap, nosebleed tickets to see Serena and Venus win the doubles. I mostly wanted to go to the finals to see LeBron James’ last game as a Cavalier, because I knew he was going to lose and then leave Cleveland. A few other thoughts.
I already know how some of you are going to respond: “Lots of fans love LeBron James, etc., etc.” Yes, they do. But let me tell you something: I lived in Cleveland off and on for almost 12 years, coinciding with LeBron’s first dribble to likely his last. I’ve listened to local sports radio from Akron-Canton Airport to Quicken Loans Arena; I’ve looked at the Facebook comments of many of my former (mostly white) college students from Ohio. There has always been a nasty strain of racialized hatred toward LeBron.
Some of this is encouraged by Dan “Calvin Candie” Gilbert, the team owner; some of it is just Northeast Ohio itself. He’s never been truly beloved in this city the way he should have been, even before “the Decision.” The moment he turned out to be a black man of insight and agency, there was a loud outcry, overwhelming all the decent fans out there. Still, for them, LeBron gave them a decade of meaningful basketball and a ring. For all the rest: Good luck finding something to do in the flats next November.
This is not my first time sitting in executive suites for an NBA game. Heck, I rented out a suite for my birthday a couple of years ago. But when you’re going to watch your beloved team get their asses handed to them, the least you want to do is sit comfortably. From here we could see all the bandwagon Golden State fans. We could see former Cleveland Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar and his porn-star daughter. Plus, when they choke like they did tonight, you can still eat the wings in the suite. They taste as salty as most Cavs fans are right now, but at least they’re free.
We all know the NFL is full of a bunch of horrible racist owners who are more than happy to acquiesce to Donald Trump’s equally racist demands on America’s most popular sport. For that reason, hating on the NFL has almost become its own sport because they seem to find some way every couple of weeks or so to remind black American sports consumers that they don’t mean shit. The only thing more annoying than the NFL’s Daily Stormer-like public relations campaign is the way that the NBA has been rebranding itself as the “woke” sports alternative.
Sure, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver gives speeches, and yes, you get a couple of strong comments from coaches. None of that changes the fact that the NBA has the same business structure as the NFL—that is, exploiting black bodies while routinely denying black wealth from ownership. Y’all ain’t woke. You just have better PR. Now that the season is over, we don’t have to see any more spin.
This was not a great game by LeBron. He scored under 30 points and was lethargic on defense, and the team failed to score 100 points at home in a closeout game. But you know what? He’s still better than Kevin Durant, who just got the NBA Finals MVP by putting up a performance for the ages (unless you’re LeBron, in which case, KD’s MVP performance is called LeBron on every other Tuesday). The horrible hot takes after this game will keep me away from ESPN for weeks.
LeBron is still better than Kobe Bryant, and he never had the coaching, general manager or teammates of Michael Jordan. If Kobe had lost Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals because Ron Artest got a rebound and ran away from the basket, the Black Mamba would have committed murder on the court. This whole playoff season has been a reminder that LeBron is not only a basketball god but also has the patience of a fifth-grade youth-basketball coach teaching a bunch of Bad News Bears how to score, both on and off the court.
This finals game should be enough to remind any basketball fan just how great LeBron is. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ shot chart around the basket looked like pirate treasure map gone wrong. The only thing more useless around the basket in this game than Tristan Thompson would be a lid. And at least a lid would block shots. The only saving grace is that none of the next few weeks’ hot takes will last. In 10 years, all of the best sportswriters will be millennials, and none of them will remember anybody other than LeBron as the best player of all time and KD as the hired gun who traded off another team’s success.
When LeBron walked off the court with about 3 minutes and 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, I almost felt kind of sad. I’ve lived around this area for years, and we all knew it was the end of an era. He was downstairs hugging the security guards and the ushers, so you know that means he ain’t coming back. The decent fans, even the angry white guys still sporting Dellavedova jerseys, stopped screaming just long enough to give him a final clap. He probably couldn’t hear it over the bricks that his team kept putting up, but I hope for at least half a second, for one of the few times when he was in the city, he actually felt that his work was appreciated.