A debacle that hits Cleveland’s heart and soul
by rick olivares
That might sound a little strange when he got on Cleveland’s main man last season for not taking the shot during crunch time. James shot back but took his advice. In fact, when he launched a game winner in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals he was already being celebrated as the most complete player on both ends of the court since another #23 was winning titles in the Windy City. But really… the Cavaliers should have been swept in "fo" straight to borrow Moses Malone’s playoff prediction.
As for Barkley… in 1993 he had a dream season. He was the star of the American Dream Team that won gold in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics that preceded the ’92-’93 NBA season. That summer too, he was traded from his first team, the Philadelphia 76ers, to the Phoenix Suns.
In his first visit to the America West Arena as a member of the Suns, General Manager Cotton Fitzsimmons bared the simple facts as he gave the Round Mound of Rebound a tour of the home arena. “You see those seats?" said the GM as he pointed to the cavern and its 16,000-plus seats that were periodically sold out. “You didn’t have a damn thing to do with that.”
Fitzsimmons panned up to the rafters that was devoid of any championship banners. “You see that? That – you can do something about.”
Barkley led Phoenix to a fantastic season where they were nicknamed a “team of destiny.” They finished with the league’s best record at 62-20 and #34 was feted the NBA’s Most Valuable Player Award for his efforts. Yet the Suns lost in six matches to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls including all three home games of the Finals.
As the Bulls celebrated on Phoenix’ floor, Barkley found Jordan and the two shared a quick embrace and some encouraging words. As the former Auburn Tiger left the court, he held his hand and looked at ring finger where only moments earlier, he was fighting for a championship ring.
James went through something similar – he won gold with the Redeem Team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and was the star of that team (along with Kobe Bryant). He led Cleveland to its best regular season finish at 66-16, slam dunked the media ballots for the MVP Award where he won 109 of a possible 121 first-place votes to unseat Bryant, and was poised to make his second Finals appearance of his young career.
But the Cavaliers’ journey ended in the Eastern Finals in six games against the Orlando Magic who they had so much difficulty all year long. In 10 matches this year between the two teams, Orlando won eight. Not even the Cavs’ homecourt superiority saved them as the Magic stole Game One and immediately put Cleveland on their heels.
For sure, James did not have the same cast as Barkley did in Phoenix, but for almost the entire season, they were the best.
And for one series, they were not.
With 7:11 left in the fourth quarter, Rashard Lewis buried a trifecta from the left corner pocket to put Orlando up by 19 points 94-75. Although Cleveland’s Anderson Varejao scored on a three-point play on the other end, Dwight Howard hit a pair of free throws – his 34th and 35th point of the match – amidst the chants of “MVP” that resounded throughout the Amway Arena.
The NBA season seems interminable at times with its 82-match regular grind. But when the second season kicks in, one wishes it was a little longer. because of one simple rule -- if you don't win, you go home.
After a scoreless second quarter in Game 6 that allowed Orlando to put up a lead it would not relinquish, James wished he had a little more time. Only the season had run out.
He left Amway without speaking to anyone or the media. Like Barkley before him, the ring finger was still empty. Like his heart. And for Cleveland another season of futility.
Orlando secured its second NBA Finals appearance (their first since 1996) with one of the most crushing upsets in NBA history and they did it with panache that will recall the Houston Rockets of 1995 when they knocked off three 50-win squads en route to their second Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Orlando beat Boston in seven games. Pundits can make a case that the erstwhile defending champs played a grueling first round with Chicago. Funny that didn’t stop them from stomping on the Los Angeles Lakers last year after going the distance twice in the Eastern playoffs. So here’s a counter argument – Orlando dusted off a Cleveland team that had plenty of rest after they swept the first two rounds of the East. So how crushing is this for Cleveland?
The 66-16 record – the best in team history means nothing. Just ask the 2001 Seattle Mariners, who like Barkley, can empathize.
The Mariners broke the New York Yankees’ league record of 114 wins in a single season by notching two more but sweet retribution was New York’s as they dispatched Seattle 4-1 in the American League Championship Series 4-1 to advance to their fourth straight World Series appearance.
And all of Ohio is once more in shock as déjà vu has set.
For years Michael Jordan terrorized Cleveland beginning with his shot over Craig Ehlo. Five years later, it all ended for that particular Cavs team when His Airness hit The Shot II over Gerald Wilkins for a 4-0 sweep. That sweep had resounding and long-term repercussions for that plenty good Cavs team (Mark Price, Larry Nance, Brad Daugherty, and John Williams) as they were soon dismantled and rebuilt. Current Cavs General Manager Danny Ferry should know that – he was a part of that team.
Now this damning defeat; something that will give James, head Coach Mike Brown, Ferry, and every one else associated with the team all summer to think about.
Not long after the regular season ended, the NBA organized a ceremony at the St Vincent-St. Mary High School where the Ohio kid got his brush with stardom. "Individual accolades come when team success happens," James said in his acceptance speech. "You look at those 14 guys over there, I got the award because of them. They put in the work."
James invited his teammates to the podium and presented each with an expensive camera as a token of his appreciation.
Over the course of the series with Orlando where the Magic’s three-point bombers and bench gave the Cavs all sorts of fits, James’ supporting cast disappeared.
No one’s going to be watching video or using that expensive camera for a while.
Note: I was devastated by the loss of Cleveland. It was this year where I started pulling for LeBron (but I am still a Chicago Bulls fan). It would have been fun to see him go up against Kobe Bryant in what would be a marquee Finals match.