Showing posts with label LeBron James. Show all posts
Showing posts with label LeBron James. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cleveland shares values — and a CHAMPIONSHIP!


The RTA bus would pick me up on Turney Road, then go down Broadway though urban decline and eventually reach Public Square. I would get off, wait a bit and take another bus over the Detroit-Superior Bridge and be dropped off walking distance from St. Ignatius High School.

I didn't think much about it at the time, but going through downtown Cleveland to the near West Side for high school shaped a lot of who I am. I learned some street smarts, how to talk with people asking for spare change and how various types of workers go about their days.

Floods of memories and emotions continue to come my way as I bask in the Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA Championship.

I am not sure people outside of Cleveland understand our feelings. They may be baffled. A big reason for this is the unparalleled civic pride we have for our city. We Clevelanders have always been connected through our punishing winters, negative press from the outside world and a sense of community that continues to get stronger.

In all fairness, I have seen a lot of civic pride from New Yorkers and Chicagoans. It is legitimate, but it's not as close-knit as ours in Cleveland. Two major-league baseball teams in one city? Those cities are just huge.

Cleveland is smaller, but still a metropolis. We're all big fish there. If you're still in Cleveland, you've looked around the world and have realized that you'll take the lack of traffic, accessibility, low home prices and lifelong friendships over what you might find in other cities.

We have been brought up with Cleveland, and it is in our blood. We all have stories like this, and here's mine in a nutshell:

My grandparents were brought up in Slavic Village. My mom's parents lived there during their whole lives. My dad's parents soon moved to a bordering suburb — Garfield Heights.

My dad avoided the Vietnam draft by going to law school and supported himself and his young family by working at Kroger's. When he become an attorney, his law office was on Public Square for more than 30 years.
Two of my uncles were in advertising in Cleveland. My Uncle Bob climbed the ranks through another Cleveland landmark — Higbee's, which is now the Cleveland Jack Casino. As a youngster, I found myself downtown all of the time in the natural center of Northeast Ohio.

The city's economy bloomed when it was a steel and iron town, and because of that, the city always has had a blue-collar mentality and sensibility. Or as LeBron correctly put it when he returned to Cleveland, "In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have."

LeBron matured and grew and showed that Cleveland is worth returning to. He gets it.

Of course, the lead of what happened is that our championship-starved city stopped a ridiculously long drought without a title. So, of course, we are going bonkers because of that.
But we're also going bonkers because of our civic pride and how united we are as a city. I sense that outsiders look at Cleveland in one of three ways:

1) Bewilderment. They just don't get our excitement and never will.
2) Apathy. They don't care. They have lives where they don't truly have the passion and caring for anything, let alone their sports teams. These people will continue to sleepwalk through their lives.
3) Unspoken Envy. Yep. Outsiders probably won't admit it, but this championship strangely — and probably unjustly — validates our community. It validates Cleveland on a national scale. It validates our values. This is not a place that we leave and forget. This is us, and we are happy for that. Who would not want this?

I have lived outside of Cleveland for 21 years now — three years in New York City, and 18 in Los Angeles. A long time ago, I realized that Cleveland will always be my home.

With the exception of my daughters, fiancee and a couple stragglers here and there, I have not developed the depth of relationships that I did during my formative years in Cleveland. A team attitude, a common understanding, inherent trust —values that I used to take for granted aren't as readily available as they are in my hometown.

Our championship is bigger than basketball. It's also about our shared values. We get that. We are united. We are Cleveland.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Cleveland's sports mythology: A shaky Jenga tower

Father's Day.

Our championship may come on Father's Day.

I could think of no more appropriate day for Cleveland to end its 52-year drought of a championship in any major sport.

I think of all of the time spent with my dad — glued to the TV, at the games and discussing our teams. I think of my Grandpa Stevens and his love of sports — perhaps only surpassed by my Grandma Stevens' love of the Tribe. We have put lifetimes into this.

As I ponder the many possibilities that may unfold tomorrow, I conclude this: It's a win-win situation.

If the Cavs win their third straight game against the mighty Golden State Warriors, they will have an NBA championship! If they lose, then another huge piece of Cleveland sports pain will be added to our sports mythology Jenga. At this point, some championships will have been so ridiculously close that there is value in that.

But at this point, the mythology of Cleveland sports pain is a tall, shaky Jenga tower that is bound to fall. Time can topple the tower. Our fans' devotion to these teams should help topple the tower. Heck, LeBron James may do it tomorrow!

Of course, we must put all of this in perspective. This is professional sports we're talking about. Does it matter in the big scheme of life?

My answer: Heck, yeah, it matters!

This does not solve world hunger, reverse global warming, end terrorism or give an education to Donald Trump on foreign policy. But pro sports does bring people together, create conversations and, in the case of the NBA, put on display the world's best athletes.

Cleveland's last championship came in 1964, before the Super Bowl existed, when my mom attended the game at age 15 with my Uncle Steve. She still has the ticket stub:
Part of me wants to be there like my mom was. But I will not be flying to Golden State to be there when it might happen tomorrow. That idea crossed my mind. I will not be flying back to Cleveland. That crossed my mind, too.

I will be celebrating Father's Day with my daughters, fiancee and Game 7 of the NBA Finals. My father will be with me in spirit. My grandparents will be with me in spirit. My extended family will be with me via text, phone and FaceTime. Whatever happens, happens.

The Jenga tower of Cleveland sports pain is bound to topple.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Cleveland and life ... Pain, hope, love, grief (repeat)

A peculiar thing happens whenever somebody asks Dina and me where we're from. Dina says she's from Los Angeles. I say one of two things: 1) I'm from Cleveland, or 2) I'm from Cleveland, but I've been in L.A. for 18 years.

Once you're from Cleveland, you're always from Cleveland.

We all know the Cavs' playoff run will soon end in heartache. Of course, that is extremely pessimistic. But as Cleveland sports fans, we're conditioned to that type of thinking.

Could this be the time we crack through and have our first championship in my lifetime? Oh, Jesus, I hope so. But is it realistic to think it will happen? Not based on my sports experiences, but so what? I will be loving every minute of these NBA Finals.

Earlier this month, ESPN ran a documentary called "Believeland," which chronicled the sports pain of my beloved city. It was spot-on about the heartbreak that has created the painful sports culture and mythology of Cleveland.

Being an actual optimist in life, I must say that "Believeland" also brought back positive memories of Cleveland sports. It's just too darn bad that none of the incredible teams we've assembled have sealed the deal and won a championship.

See, many people not from Cleveland cannot fathom the love — love, love, love — we have for these teams. These teams are like an extra friend always there for us at family gatherings, after work, in the car on the radio, everywhere. The city of Cleveland is evolving and thriving in many ways, but for some stretches of time, all we had were our sports teams, a depressed economy and miserable weather.

I don't think any team, perhaps in any sport, can get closer to a championship than the 1997 Cleveland Indians. They lost in 11 innings in Game 7 of the World Series after leading with one out in the bottom of the ninth.

When manager Mike Hargrove was asked how long it took him to recover from that crushing defeat, he said, "I'll let you know when it happens."

A quote came out during "Believeland" about this and similar losses: "What did you expect? We are who we are. Star-crossed. Cursed. Ill-fated. We always end the year in tears."

Personally and literally, the Tribe's loss in 1997 in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series was the only Cleveland sporting event that ended in tears for me. I was living in Brooklyn. I was 24. The loss was cruel.
Of course, we can look at Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Art Modell's immoral and ridiculous move of the Browns or LeBron's move to South Beach as other sources of pain.

Or we can look at the lengthy inadequacy of the Indians in the 1970s and '80s as pain, or the continued incompetence of the Browns for the past 20 years, but come on, how didn't one of our behemoth Tribe teams of the '90s not win it all?

Plus, to lose it to the freakin' Florida Marlins? In their fifth year of just being a team? Well, life sure ain't fair, and Cleveland sports is about as fair as Cleveland weather (It snowed on May 15 this year!).

But now, we turn our sights to the Cavs/Warriors rematch. This time, these current Cavs have one year of experience with this grand stage. It would be nice to finally exorcise the demons of 52 years and give the Cleveland the championship it deserves — yes, deserves!
However, here we go again. The Warriors set the record for most wins in the regular season, and they got a guy who's most likely proven to be the best shooter to ever walk the planet. Add to that the fact that the Warriors recovered from a 3-1 deficit to oust the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. And, egads, it's obvious that the Cavs are not playing the freaking Marlins.

First, the awesome Cavs teams of the '80s run into Michael Jordan. Now, this?

I am opting to believe again. I'm joining my Northeast Ohio brethren believing this could be it. This could be the one. The script could finally change.

Believeland. All In.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

Flip's on list of all-time kindest NBA guys

When I heard about the death of Flip Saunders this week, a chill passed through my body.

Aww, man, Flip was da man, a real class act, one of the kindest men I ran across during my seven years writing about the NBA from 2001 to 2008.

Flip and I weren't especially close. But I would talk with him whenever his Timberwolves were in L.A. In 2003, when the Wolves played the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, my assignment was to write about the Wolves, and I enjoyed dealing with Flip.

It is sad, and a shock, that Flip passed away at 60 after being diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma just four months earlier. Life is fleeting, my friend. Don't forget about that. Right?

The thing I liked about Flip is that he did not treat me according to my role — "NBA reporter." Instead, he treated me like a mere human being, and I appreciated that.

Perhaps I simply relate to Flip's values, and maybe I just got along with him because of our mutual hometown of Cleveland. Whatever the reason, he was definitely among the kindest men I dealt with on the NBA beat.

That previous statement got me thinking. Am I glorifying Flip, just because of his death? Was he really one of the best guys I ran across?

The answer is "yes." In fact, I will create a list of my favorite NBA personnel that treated me well. Yes, it may be odd to rank human beings, but I'm doing it anyway.

To make things fair, I did not allow anyone connected to the Clippers to be on this list because I developed many relationships there during my seven years on the Clipper beat. Because I was on the Clipper beat and based in L.A., the list is top heavy with people connected to Western Conference teams, but, so be it, this is based on my experience.

The top 10 kindest gentlemen I ran across covering the NBA from 2001 to 2008:

10. George Karl. A kind, interesting guy. He edged out a slew of guys for this final spot, including Hubie Brown. The one thing I like about both Hubie and George Karl is their eloquence with explaining the details of basketball. Both have superb NBA minds, and both put their knowledge into effective and exciting words.

9. Yao Ming. Injuries did in the big man, but he was one heck of a storyline for a while. During part of my stint with the NBA, a lot of media followed him. He was always accommodating, and I had a mutual friend with his translator. Maybe that helped me like him, too.

8. Shaquille O'Neal. Shaq definitely could be moody with the Lakers, but I'll never forget the time I asked him about what Thanksgiving meant to him. He gave me a sincere, thoughtful response, and it was obvious he has a genuine heart.
7. Flip Saunders. 

6. LeBron James. Yes. Seriously. During his rookie season, I sat down with him for about a half hour, and I learned how he somehow preferred the Cowboys, Yankees and Bulls to my beloved Cleveland teams. He was very accommodating and open. I imagine lone time with him like that has been impossible since that rookie season.

5. Chris Webber. The Lakers had many duels with the Kings, and so I frequently ran across him. He was thoughtful all the time, as was his teammate Vlade Divac. The two set the tone for the Kings having one of the tightest, friendliest locker rooms I've ever seen.

4. Mark Cuban. He's considered either a "media darling" or "media whore," depending on who's talking. But the reasons why are these: He has interesting things to say. He says those in an interesting way. He is legit. Insightful. Entertaining. Good dude. Worth all of the hype.

3. Eric Musselman. We both spent formative years in Brecksville, a suburb of Cleveland, and that helped break the ice on a memorable interview I had with him. I found him to be extremely creative and thoughtful, and he actually hand wrote a thank you note for a story I did on him. He could easily be No. 1 on the list, but I moved him down because hist time was short-lived in the NBA as a head coach for the Warriors and Kings.
I notice that a lot is connected on this list because Eric Musselman's dad, Bill Musselman, coached Flip in college at the University of Minnesota. Another connection to Bill Musselman is that my mom used to play bridge with his wife.

But if you want even more connections to me, the Musselman family and my Stevens family. Eric is now coaching Nevada, Reno, where my cousin, Len Stevens, coached from 1987-1993.

2. Steve Kerr. When Kerr was ending his career with the San Antonio Spurs and hardly played, I was first shocked that reporters huddled around him when he wasn't in the team's rotation. Why? I quickly realized how insightful and well-spoken he was about basketball. I'm impressed that he has parlayed his verbal skills into being one of the top coaches in the league with the Warriors.

1. Gregg Popovich. On a random Saturday in the fall, no media was around Staples Center, and I interviewed "Pop" for 30 minutes. I asked him anything, and everything, I could think of. He obliged with sincere answers with depth. I'll never forget that.

Pop was accommodating and kind. He gave me a glimpse into leadership and understanding at an elite level. He was inspiring. Could I ever play basketball like Tim Duncan? ... No. Could I ever understand human beings as much as Pop. .... Maybe.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Cavs need executive power — fast

I hope I'm wrong, but there is a good chance Cleveland will end up hating LeBron again.

Of course, we Clevelanders are happy he attempted to right his wrong of leaving Cleveland by coming back. But the current Cleveland Cavaliers have lost six consecutive games and have stumbled to a disappointing 19-20 record. They aren't even close to having a championship team. They have to make a major move.

By "major move," many might assume they need to make a trade or acquire more players that fulfill important roles — namely defense. That all might help. But, no, no, what Cavs owner Dan Gilbert must do is hire a championship-caliber executive to give the Cavs organization a chance at competing with other organizations.

The Cavs' general manager is a relatively obscure guy named David Griffin. He spent 17 years with the Phoenix Suns in various roles before coming to the Cavs. No offense to Griffin, but he certainly has no championship experience. He wasn't an NBA player and started his career in media relations.

The Cavs' coach is David Blatt, who is in his first year coaching in the NBA. Blatt does receive some criticism, but really, Blatt is not the Cavs' problem. The Cavs' problem is this: The people in their front office do not match the talent on the court, and there is no way the Cavs can win without proper personnel in place.

Let's repeat that key line in all caps for effect: THE PEOPLE IN THEIR FRONT OFFICE DO NOT MATCH THE TALENT ON THE COURT, AND THERE IS NO WAY THE CAVS CAN WIN WITHOUT PROPER PERSONNEL IN PLACE.

Unfairly for LeBron James, he is being forced into a role that is wrong for a player. He has to be the sole member of the organization for leadership on all levels. The Cavs need an obvious leader in the front office who has authority over LeBron, and they're not even close to having that.

In Miami, coach Erik Spoelstra had a similar role as Blatt. They're both "players' coaches" and understand their role as NBA coaches, which needs finesse because it typically is subservient to players. In their case, it sure is.
But what Miami had, and has, that Cleveland doesn't is Pat Riley. The buck stopped with Riley, who obviously had authority over LeBron. Right now, nobody in the Cavs' organization has authority over LeBron, and that recipe simply won't work for a championship.

If you look back at NBA championship teams since 1980, all of them either had a coach or executive that is a Hall of Famer in their respective job, or is debatable to be a Hall of Famer. Riley was with Miami and the Lakers. Gregg Popovich is a stalwart in San Antonio, and, of course, Phil Jackson accounts for 11 championships in that time period. The list continues after them.

The New York Knicks appear to fully understand the necessity of having an elite front-office person as they gave Jackson a five-year, $60 million contract in March. The problem with the 5-35 Knicks, though, is that their roster does not have potential to be a championship team, no matter what kind of Zen magic Jackson can pull.

With LeBron and Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, the Cavs definitely have the makings of a championship roster. But until they also have a championship executive, it simply will not happen.

Do I have any bright ideas on whom to get? Not really. They can maybe try to get Don Nelson out of mothballs. Or they can try to poach an elite executive from a current team. Good luck with that!

I'm just hoping Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is taking this gaping hole in the front office seriously and makes a move before April that addresses this. If not, the Cavs' championship hopes will be gone —and so will LeBron.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

James gang: LeBron plans to stay with Cavs

LeBron James will be re-signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers in July, according to one of his closest confidants. This is no joke and is sort of a scoop by the Snooze Button Generation.

As a sportswriter, I often had scoops, and sometimes, they ran in the paper. Other times, they did not run because I received information that was "off the record." This stuff about LeBron is off-the-record information from a friend of the confidant, which sounds sketchy but is true in this instance. And, hey, this is a blog, not a newspaper, so this info. here is appropriate.

LeBron's July plan is coming from Maverick Carter, who is LeBron's close friend (pictured above with the King and below with the King and Coach K). Carter also is the CEO of LeBron's marketing company and was mentioned in a Plain Dealer article a few weeks ago by Brian Windhorst, arguably the best NBA writer in the business.

Carter and I have a mutual friend, who was told THERE IS NO SCENARIO IN WHICH LEBRON WILL LEAVE THE CAVS. Apparently, those close to LeBron say similar things.Even with that information, I still have some skepticism that LeBron might bolt to the Knicks. But this fact is true: LeBron's entourage in Cleveland believes he is staying.

If you happen to not follow pro basketball, by the way, this question of whether LeBron will stay in Cleveland is a source of much debate, and there are websites, including this one, devoted to the issue.

As a Cleveland sports fan, I hope this information holds up, but ultimately, the decision comes down to one person only - LeBron. Heck, he could bring his close personal friends to New York, but right now, those pals think he's staying put.