After a week of pulling for the formerly despised Boston Celtics to eliminate LeBron James and his Miami Heat from the NBA playoffs, Cleveland has now taken up for Carlos Boozer's team, the Chicago Bulls, to do the same.
It hardly matters that it's the same Carlos Boozer who infamously backed out of a handshake agreement with former Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund and skipped town for Utah once the Cavs, pursuant to the deal, let a contractual restriction on Boozer's free agency expire. The enemy of the guy in the No. 6 Heat jersey is our friend, no matter who or what else he might be. Really. One popular Cleveland sports website recently went so far as to invite a comparison between LeBron and Osama Bin Laden, apparently with a straight face.
Say what you will about an environment where it's OK to equate free agents with mass murderers, but make no mistake that it's been openly cultivated by Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. And why not? The mere suggestion that any kind of failure on the part of the Cavs front office could have had anything at all to do with LeBron's decision to leave for Miami has been effectively choked out from the start by Gilbert's comic sans rallying cry and the dichotomy that's resulted: "Real Clevelanders" and the heroic billionaire mortgagee on one side, and the traitor, the shamefully selfish cowardly quitter, LeBron, on the other. No room for any reality in between.
With the stage thusly set, it seems the only way "Real Cleveland" can come out on top here is if the Cavs make good on Gilbert's "personal guarantee" that his Cleveland franchise "will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former 'king' wins one." So here we are in our Boozer jerseys, living and dying with the more palatable traitor, and Chicago's Bulls.
Hand it to Gilbert for at least keeping us in the game. But for how long? In only the first year of the LeBron/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh run, Miami has already advanced to the NBA's final four without having to put up a fight. There's every reason to think that the three superstars will only become more comfortable playing together with time, and with each off-season comes a better chance for the Heat to surround the three with complementary players.
We saw LeBron collapse in a heap of exultation after beating the Celtics last week, the only player in league history to shed tears for advancing past the conference semifinals. We read the national reports about LeBron "coming to peace with himself" in a "sweet turnaround." If the Bulls do manage to keep the Heat from the title this season, aren't we only set up for a more nauseating "redemption" for LeBron and Co. next season, or the one after that?
We could set that question aside — along with related questions about the moral implications of actively rooting for career-ending injuries — if everyone could just agree that there's not really any such thing as redemption for an NBA team when two of the three best players in the league decide to play together, along with another one of the ten best. If the same thing happened at your pickup game at the Y, you would just call it an early night. An NBA title for the Heat this season versus having to wait a year or three could well be the most efficient path to such a consensus and the most efficient path to indifference — the true opposite of love.
That LeBron himself couldn't see the relative emptiness of his choice before he made it, and that nobody close to the situation could make him see it, is terribly sad. But it's really no less so if he wins the next one, two, three, or five NBA titles. The team that's stacked is the team that wins. Why get worked up about any intervening drama when it's just as well that there isn't any? Why get worked up about any of it at all?
Pattakos is a Northeast Ohio attorney and publisher of ClevelandFrowns.com.
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