Cavs left behind have disgraced Cleveland

BY foxsports • February 1, 2011

MIAMI — There's a tendency in the swirling world that is LeBron James' post-Decision basketball season to focus primarily on LeBron James.

Let's step back and look at this season from a brand new perspective: That of his former team.

In assessing the Heat's 117-90 victory over Cleveland on Monday night, I wrote we've moved past the post-Decision chapter that defined the start of this NBA season.

I should have added that the reason this could happen so quickly, and why the Cavaliers are such a letdown this year, is because they abdicated their duty to Cleveland on Dec. 2 as much as LeBron did this past summer.

Time to lay blame for the Cavaliers' troubles at the feet of other men just as deserving of Cleveland's scorn. Men like Antawn Jamison, his teammates and, first and foremost, Byron Scott.

Because any team that short on talent needs to find a higher purpose behind its play. The Cavaliers' should have been to stand for their city — to give form to that community's spirit.

But instead of fighting for the respect Cleveland craves, they put their energy into making friends with the person who disrespected them in the first place.

The American sporting zeitgeist of the moment may be that too many players no longer truly represent the cities for which they play.

Many fans believe the blood and sweat that athletes once shed to represent their city has been redirected, when blood and sweat happen at all, toward securing big contracts, famous friends and spots at the most important parties.

Many fans are sure the players live in such lofty ivory towers that they've forgotten the people they're supposed to be representing.

Free agency, sword-rattling agents, entourages, and the ridiculousness of all that cold, hard cash powering the American sporting scene has convinced too many of us that sporting heroes have been replaced by sporting mercenaries.

That it's rarely about honor and usually about the almighty dollar.

Remember what Larry Bird was to Boston? Ernie Banks to Chicago? What Derek Jeter still is to New York City?

That's too often been replaced by players with no love for their fans or their cities.

Players who, when push comes to shove, choose first, second and third anything but the city in which they play.

All of this was rammed home when the Cavaliers summoned none of their city's hope and hate — to say nothing of the blood, sweat and certainly the tears — in facing off against an enemy like LeBron for the first time in December.

Instead, on a night that changed both teams' trajectories, the Cavaliers treated LeBron like a buddy rather than the backstabbing traitor worthy only of their disdain.

In that way, on that night, the Cavaliers fully severed themselves from their city and their fans.

Cowardice. Clueless. Weakness. Stupidity. Selfishness. Call it whatever you want.

What happened that night was unworthy of Cleveland. That failure has followed that team every day since. It followed them right into Miami on Monday night.

The Cavs didn't even need to win on Dec. 2 or even two days ago. But they sure as hell needed to fight. To care. To be the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The weight of this second Cleveland betrayal falls to Scott.

Loaded in that December night was enough bulletin-board material to sustain a large army.

Yet this head coach didn't have the moxie, vision or guts to get 12 men to storm a court and stand up for its wounded city for 48 minutes.

And after that — after two months of the luxury of pondering that mistake and its consequences on the season — he let it happen again.

Forget The Decision. Focus on The Abdication.

Byron Scott did not have his players emotionally or mentally ready for the only game that mattered in Cleveland this year. The only one. Then he failed in the same way for the closest thing to a second chance he was going to get.

The Heat turned hate into a unifying ingredient. The Cavaliers shied from its power, its rawness and its ability to make them what LeBron chose not to be: Loyal.

Instead, in December, Jamison hugged LeBron at halfcourt before the game. And while the Cavs hugged and mugged with The Hated One, The Hated One put on a sick display of just what talents he'd taken to South Beach.

Where were the bodies slamming into him? The cheap shots? The fear and anger of that city burning through all 12 of Scott's players?

If Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan disapproved of LeBron teaming up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, think what they made of the Cavaliers that night.

That was the legacy that found its form in Monday night's lopsided Heat win. Since that December encounter, the Heat have turned around their season, salvaged Erik Spoelstra's job and put themselves in line for a title run.

The Cavaliers, who were 7-10 at the time of the first meeting, have since gone 1-30. Injuries have followed. Karma, indeed.

There's no doubt that in leaving and in how he left LeBron James did severe damage to the Cleveland Cavaliers and that city.

But make no doubt about this: The Cavaliers players — and the head coach who didn't stop them — inflicted just as much harm. Maybe more.

It's one thing for a traitor to head somewhere else. It's another for a load of them to stick around and force a fine city full of loyal fans to swallow their loathing in an effort to root for them.

I wouldn't want to be Jamison, J.J. Hickson, Mo Williams or any other Cav out on the town in Cleveland. No doubt there's enough scorn toward them to make their former teammate feel sorry for them.

That is, if LeBron still cared enough about the Cavs for it to cross his mind.

In lying down with hugs and kisses for The King, the Cavs gave LeBron that, too: A sense of closure that Cleveland may never share.

The Cavs let that guy walk into their house, banter with them as he humiliated their city and leave a changed player with a changed team.

When I say we've moved past The Decision, I mean it.

For Cleveland, moving past The Abdication may not happen until everyone associated with it has found homes with teams in cities they haven't let down so monumentally.

Start over. Clear the roster. Fire Scott.

It's time for that deserving city to have a team that represents the people of Cleveland.

Starting with a willingness to feel enough hatred toward LeBron James that next time they'll give him more than a game — they'll show him just how unpleasant it can be to face 12 men full of blood, sweat and tears reserved exclusively for him.

You can follow Bill Reiter on Twitter.


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