Saturday, June 09, 2007

Don't Be Just Happy to Be Here

Surveying the responses to the Cavs' Game 1 loss to San Antonio, I sense a familiar reaction among many fans and members of the media. When it comes to the Finals, we are treating the Cavaliers like a youth tee-ball team in terms of expectations. A lot of fans can't believe the team has made it this far, and many of us are just enjoying the ride. Some people seem to have adopted the attitude that anything the Cavs get from here on out is gravy.

After 37 years of waiting, there's no reason why fans shouldn't enjoy the ride. It's great to be in the NBA Finals, and the Cavs have given us more joy in the last month than any other Cleveland team has given us in the last decade. The problem is, there are no guarantees the Cavs will ever find themselves in this position again. Yes, they look like a franchise on the rise, and yes, LeBron James and the Cavs only look like they'll get better-- but then again, so did the 1995 Indians.

That's what bothers me, because I had that same feeling about the 1995 Tribe when they made it to the World Series that a lot of people have about this year's Cavaliers. Surely, if ever there was a team that would contend for a decade, and have multiple rings to show for their trouble, the 1995 Indians were it. Yeah, the Braves beat them in the Series, but so what? Nobody ever clobbered a baseball the way those guys did, and once they solidified their pitching rotation, who was going to stop them?

Unfortunately, every year for the next six years, the answer was "somebody." The irony of the late 1990s Indians is that perhaps their two best teams were the 1996 team, which couldn't get past the Orioles, and the 2000 team, which couldn't overcome a slow start and ended up missing the postseason altogether. Meanwhile, the 1997 team, which was barely above average for most of the season, caught lightening in a bottle during the last month of the season and road a hot streak all the way to within one out of a World Series Championship.

But that was as close as they ever got. Yes, the Indians contended for years, and yes, it was great to watch a team loaded with future Hall of Famers play in front of packed houses year after year, and boy, did we ever have some great Octobers. Still, when the ride was over, the big prize still eluded them, and eluded us.

I think the relationship between teams and their cities is more complicated, and more of a two-way street, than a lot of people realize. Players draw energy from their fans, and I think that, to a certain extent, they internalize their fans' expectations. For example, look at the Browns' reactions to LeCharles Bentley's injury last year. That season was over before it began, and not just because of Bentley's injury, but because of how the organization reacted to it. Let's face it, they reacted like their fans did -- even going so far as to mutter under their breath about being cursed.

That's why I'm begging everybody to demand more from the Cavaliers. From what I saw in Game 1, the Cavs are acting a bit like a team that's just happy to find itself in the Finals. But from what I saw of their opponent, I think the Cavaliers have more than a puncher's chance to win this thing. There's no doubt that Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are great players, but the Spurs might even be more smug and complacent than the Pistons were before the Cavs knocked them off.

The Cavs have a chance to become NBA champions right now. Yes, they are decided underdogs, but it's taken them 37 years to get to this point, and this still may turn out to be the best chance they ever have. Don't let them off the hook!

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