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Unified Zine: Cavs Fans Didn't Disappear with LeBron; They Just Got Weirder 

Alonzo Gee. Samardo Samuels. Ramon Sessions. Luke Harangody. Jamario Moon.

This was life after July 8, 2010.

And for even the most die-hard Cavaliers fan, it was darkness. Sure, there was Dan Gilbert's proclamation of winning before The Traitor and Mo Williams and Baron Davis, but those who bleed wine and gold did more bleeding than they would have liked following LeBron's departure for South Beach, and it came with every nick of a missed layup and blowout loss and epic, record-setting losing streak.

Which isn't to say Cavs fandom died. It just transformed, evolved, got smarter. It had to, after all, when gleeful dissection of an Eastern Conference powerhouse gave way to earnest discussion of whether Manny Harris was simply bad or really bad and how we could still love him. And, wow, isn't he bad?

It might have been harder for Cavs fans to rally together, to stave off the down years and enjoy basketball, no matter the brand or quality on the floor, had LeBron left before the advent of sports blogs and Twitter, the virtual meeting ground for fans to share their qualms and tears and jokes — and, oh, were there jokes with the new Cavs bunch.

CavsTwitter was and is great, some of the smartest bunch of folks you could ever hope to watch a game or a stodgy, corporate-speak Chris Grant press conference with. And these weren't the batch calling out folks who no longer traipsed down to the Q to watch a Tuesday-night shellacking at the hands of the Wizards or tuned into The Voice instead of Fox Sports as bandwagoners. Everyone understood there was a cost-benefit analysis at the heart of the situation — the Cavs, after all, were awful. The die hards just wished it were better and more folks took as much pleasure as they did in the meantime.

But, to finally arrive at the weirdness: The most glorious example of Cavs fans circling the wagons, the finest talisman of Cleveland faith and hope and fandom, was not found on the Internet, though it was born of it.

It was the Cavs Zine, made by one dude with his own money, taped together and printed out and photocopied like all good zines should be, and launched at the lowest of low points: the season after LeBron.

"I wasn't a blogger, I just had a Twitter account," says Jack Sanders, Cavs Zine founder and lawyer by trade. "I was around in the late 1980s and early '90s making zines, which are usually music centric."

In his mid-30s at the time, Sanders looked at that list of of names — Gee, Samuels, Sessions, Harangody, Moon — and didn't flinch. And he loved J.J. Hickson, which isn't something any reasonable person should admit but nevertheless was a weird driving force for the offline Cavs celebration.

"I was hooked on Hickson," Sanders says while muffling a laugh. "In the U.S., there are not many sports zines. There's one about the Red Sox, but I'm not really aware of other ones. English soccer teams usually have zines and a lot of those are really old. So what we decided to do is really unique. It's so bizarre.

"And it wasn't just about the team," he says. "It was about Cleveland. I wanted to write about Cleveland and I knew all these sports bloggers and people on Twitter and I had a lot I wanted to say about Cleveland, so I just kind of did it."

Cavs Zine 1 was taped and pieced together and Sanders printed about 150 copies, which he notes is actually a lot for a zine, and gave them out for free to anyone who supplied costs for shipping and handling, as he's always done since then, to contributors and friends. It quickly gained a following, as much as anything with 150 copies can, and the contributors list grew to include writers like Martin Rickman, who writes for Sports Illustrated, and Scott Raab, who writes for Esquire and penned The Whore of Akron.

"I ended up having so much content that I couldn't write for myself in there," he says. "And it was bizarre. We were dissecting these marginal NBA players. Samardo Samuels was the best player on the team for a few games."

Cavs Zine 2 was even weirder than the first. The cover, designed by Mike Brenkus, who has designed every cover since then (and this week's cover of Scene), brought in hip-hop references and old rap album covers like ODB and De La Soul. Printing went up to 300 copies. And issue 2 included a flexy vinyl record of Michael Stanley's '80s Cavs masterpiece "Tonight's the Night."

"Hard working town, hard working team," says Sanders. "It was a little more than $1.50 for each flexy vinyl, which I paid for. I sent Michael Stanley so many emails before he finally responded and gave me permission to do it."

In the following years, pals became contributors and contributors became assistants. Alex Raffalli, who was following the Cavs from Corsica in the Mediterranean Sea, moved to Cleveland and began helping out. And then LeBron announced he was returning and Sanders aimed for something bigger. Cavs Zine launched a Kickstarter asking for $5,000 to help print 5,000 copies of issue 5, which would be ready shortly after opening day. They raised $7,5000.

"It's incredible," says Sanders. "It shows the community and how much so many people like being Cavs fans."

Issue 5, it should be noted, also comes with a 3-D printed Cavs Zine championship ring, which will have to do until next summer.

"It seems like after LeBron left the Cavs games were still well attended," says Sanders. "Of course, that first year, season ticket holders had to re-up before The Decision, but it's not like they bottomed out in attendance since then. There was always an element of fans who were just there for LeBron, and they didn't come back, but for the most part, it was a big, tight community."

And plenty do dissect, as Sanders puts it, both then and now, in the most zine fashion ever. There were pieces about Cleveland building a statue for Zydrunas Ilguaskas and the city of Cleveland falling into worshipping despair and crumbling upon itself. There was fan fiction about Dion Waiters. There was a piece about Delonte West killing zombies. (Yup, that all makes sense.)

This year, there's plenty more where that came from, including a Chris Grant vision quest to the desert centered around Anthony Bennett. (For a taste of the zine in full, see page 22 for all the Kevin Love puns you could ever need.)

"It's progressively gotten more complicated," says Sanders. "Like, we're getting better at it, and we have professional writers writing for it, and I feel like there's a responsibility to keep it at a super high quality. I just tell everyone to be as out there as they want to be, because I really want the end result to be a collection of creative pieces that pushes the limits of what basketball writing can be."

Find Sanders on Twitter at @WayneEmbrysKids if you want one, and look for Cavs Zine 5 in person in limited supplies at The Loop in Tremont, Jukebox Bar in Ohio City, and Mullarkey's in Willoughby soon.

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