Chris Grantland

Cleveland, the Cavaliers and Soul.



“Our plan is to win.”-CG

The Andy Baskin Lebron blog from 2010

Can’t find this anymore just wanted to preserve it.

Baskin’s Blog: Reflections and revelations on covering LeBron James
Posted: 07/14/2010
Last Updated: 14 hours and 45 minutes ago

CLEVELAND - For six weeks, my nose has been buried in the LeBron James free agency story. I have looked at what it would mean to the city of Cleveland, let alone to how we were going to cover the story at Channel 5. It became an obsession of information. I wasn’t in the middle, but I was in the pipeline of information and misinformation.

The story began for me when LeBron James was a freshman at Akron St. Vincent St. Mary. I remember watching him play in his first state championship game. Interviewing him with a pack of other TV stations after the game, he was a soft spoken freshman. But, he was an amazing talent. I was watching the next Michael Jordan. I knew it.

Later, I watched the last live basketball game I would ever see with my brother, who passed away in 2005. My brother, father and brother-in-law went to the Canton Field House to see St. V’s play the Chones triplets and Orange High School. We marveled at a modern day Jordan in a “Hoosiers” style gym. I cherish that game because of who was with me. Ron Harper walked in with the largest purple sweat suit I have ever seen. Shaquille O’Neal was there. I was in the center of the universe, and I was with my family. It was a milestone night, especially knowing I witnessed this with my brother.

The high school journey took his team to games all over the country. They even played games on pay-per-view. We laughed when his mom bought a Hummer. Her income to purchase the car was questioned left and right. Then, a young defiant LeBron brought a remote control hummer and played with it on the court. We laughed with him as he made fun of the state for questioning his actions. Then, we watched him get suspended in high school when he took expensive free jerseys. I looked at the then OHSAA director Clair Muscaro like he was an out of touch old man. How could the state stop the greatest thing from Northeast Ohio? He told LeBron he couldn’t do something. How dare he stand up to “The Chosen One.”

One time in high school, LeBron showed up late for the Cleveland Sports Awards. My co-workers at FSN Ohio and I sat with him at the same table. His mother, Gloria, put hot sauce on his food like it was going out of style. He picked up his award. He didn’t say much. He won the amateur athlete of the year. It was the only year he actually showed up to pick up his award. In the following years, he would not return. I thought maybe he was just too big to attend the event. That’s the price we pay for having a local superstar.

During his senior year, ESPN decided to air his game against Oak Hill, Virginia. Before the game I thought, “this is wrong.” The hype, everything around this doesn’t feel right. But, I justified it all in my mind. I remembered wanting to watch when SportsChannel America broadcast Robert Smith at Euclid in the first nationally televised high school football game. So that made it okay.

When it came time for LeBron to go to college, Ohio State was one of his choices if he was going to play college ball. Like it was actually a something he wanted to do. I almost thought he was considering about not turning pro. Then OSU basketball coach Jim O’Brien told me that he called LeBron and told him a full scholarship was all his. James just had to say the word and a full ride was his. But, he wasn’t going to waste any recruiting time on LeBron. The funny thing is O’Brien knew that if he landed LeBron, the NCAA would drop the bomb on Ohio State for the recruiting violations that happened to LeBron while he was in high school. The NCAA and Ohio State fired O’Brien later in his career, but those infractions were child’s play compared to what James had coming to him if he attended Ohio State.

Then the Cavs pulled the magic lottery ball. I was at the ballpark that night, and the city erupted. All hail, “King James” is coming to our city. After LeBron was picked in the draft, the next day he was at the ballpark. The folks at Jacobs Field told me LeBron was quiet, but his guys were a pain. They said his group was more difficult than most celebrities that came to town. I said, “Well, he just got drafted. Cut him some slack. After all, he is LeBron James.”

Along the way, I traveled with the Cavs and LeBron for Fox Sports Net. For the first two years, I was always amazed. It looked like he had read a book on each city before we arrived — he was always well read to tell the good people of any city how much he knew about them and that each city was special. Watching city after city, I was blown away by the way he handled the cameras.

But something didn’t feel right. It seemed scripted like a WWE event. I watched from afar. When I did the postgame interviews for FSN, we would request LeBron and wouldn’t get him, even though NBA rules clearly stated the home TV broadcasting team got first choice of a player after the game. At the time, I still hosted the Indians postgame show and the Tribe still had some big stars. The Indians never turned down a postgame interview. I thought it was crazy. I think I talked to LeBron twice in the postgame show all season long. I thought it wasn’t right. But, I let it go because we were the cable TV home of the Cavs.

I watched as LeBron’s men moved in around the team. I watched our guys at FSN who were on the broadcasting team for years get bumped off the team flights because LeBron’s boys were flying on the team plane. I watched Head Coach Paul Silas — a guy I respected — get run out of town. While I thought he was a little too worried about little things, I knew he was not about to put up with anybody’s garbage. I think that’s what got him fired. How dare he tell LeBron what to do? Did he not buy in?

It got worse.

I was not a big fan of going to shoot around or practice because of all the waiting. A scheduled 1 p.m. interview session suddenly became a five-hour wait. When the Indians season started, I could not wait to jump back over and cover the Tribe on FSN. The Cavs were all about the show, and not about the game.

It proved to be true. When the powder started flying from LeBron’s hands, I thought to myself that he ripped that off from Jordan. As time grew, the dancing, the choreographed introductions, it just grew really old. It wasn’t right. This wasn’t about the game. This is a show. On the road with the Indians, I would get mad when fans started ripping the Tribe. Covering the Cavs, I used to listen to LeBron cry and whine to refs left and right. I was embarrassed. Fans would be yelling all by me. I couldn’t argue back. I knew they were right. Somebody told me Jordan used to talk to the refs all the time. So I thought, “super stars get to do that. I must not be used to covering a super star.”

I looked at the 10-story piece of art/billboard across the street from the “Q.” It said “We are all witnesses!” I thought, “This is crazy. This guy is not God.” This was wrong, but, I looked at the ratings on FSN. I knew people were watching, so I looked the other way.

In 2006, The Indians moved away from FSN. The thought of covering LeBron and “the show” was not as enjoyable to me. A shot to jump to another TV station and stick with the Tribe was enough to convince me to change jobs. I had a chance to leave. The timing was right.

Now, I was at a distance, back in the pack waiting for LeBron like everybody else. I had a chance to be more critical. I remember walking to desk after a Sports Sunday show. I said something critical of James. I looked at the nasty e-mails. They said, “How dare you say anything critical about LeBron? How can you say that? You know that stuff will make him want to leave town when he is a free agent.”

So I backed off. I was feeling like if I said something negative, maybe he was listening. Talk about ego. How dumb was I? I sliced my own thoughts to play the game.

Every move the Cavs made, LeBron knew and had some say. They did everything they could to get him to stay. Go back and look at previous blogs. When the Cavs picked up Antawn Jamison and then got Z back. I said, “Look at this team. They are the Yankees of basketball.” That’s LeBron’s favorite team. There is no way he is going to leave. I even looked past the fact that LeBron totally stiffed the Browns when they played the Cowboys. The Browns hooked him and his boys up with a suite and free everything. Did he say, “Thanks?” No. Browns staffers will tell you he was rude, calling out Browns fans. He wore Yankees hats to Indians games. He did not care about Indians and Browns fans. Looking back, that was the first sign he didn’t care about Cavs fans either. Yet, I looked the other way.

After I came to NewsChannel5, one of the first things LeBron said was, “I am a great leader!” It’s a running joke on the set now, and has been since he said it. It is the most egotistical thing I have ever heard. He has no championships. At the time, the only thing he led was St. V’s to 3 state titles. I never made a big deal out of it. I should have.

Then, look at this season. Often I watched and marveled at his play. I thought, “Wow! We are really spoiled by how good he is.” Those were the same words he would utter after game 5 against Boston. I thought, “it is okay for me to say it. Not him.” The game was the defeat in then Head Coach Mike Brown’s tenure. Brown said there was nothing wrong with LeBron’s elbow. The MRIs showed there was nothing wrong with LeBron’s elbow. LeBron said there was nothing wrong with his elbow. Guess what, there was nothing wrong with his elbow. But, because I noticed at practice he was holding his elbow a month before the playoffs, I said something to the Plain Dealer’s Brian Windhorst about it. He told me I was right. It was bothering him. I bought in again. It had to be the elbow that was causing all these problems.

During game three of the playoffs in Boston, I walked by Gloria James, said “Hello,” and I thought nothing of it. Little did I know, by the end of the week, rumors about her would hit an all time high. I just thought she had really grown up from the days

LeBron was at St. V’s when she would take the Wheaties Box and taunt other parents. But, I looked the other way.

By game five, and for the first time in LeBron’s career, he was called out by someone in the Cavs organization other than Paul Silas (and I believe Danny Ferry behind closed doors). Dan Gilbert thought he quit, and the fans booed him. He didn’t like it. We all feared that it would be fuel for his fire if LeBron wanted to leave. But, there was another game to be played. We felt LeBron wanted to win a championship. I thought it looked like he quit. I didn’t want to believe it.

It was ESPN Armageddon in Boston for game six. The world was going to end if the Cavs didn’t win. It didn’t after the loss. The locker room looked in a daze. I wondered how this had happened. My texts blew up about how LeBron threw his jersey after leaving the locker room. I waited for the LeBron to get to the podium. I watched, hoping he would give us a sign. He did. He said Cleveland wanted to win a championship. That was enough for me to blow off the rumors of New York, New Jersey, Chicago, the Clippers. He was staying.

We watched LeBron drag some of the world’s richest men to Cleveland to hold free agent meetings. They all came ready to roll, ready to make a pitch. Before this happened, Fox Sports’ Steven A. Smith told us he was going to Miami. We all laughed. We all thought he was just looking to get back on ESPN. We had seen misinformation about who the Cavs next head coach would be. ESPN had different reporters saying different teams. I would hear one thing and think it was a misdirection to another. I believed nobody. I thought LeBron was going to stay for the money.

Players often talk about being businessmen. It is a business. We all know it. LeBron was meeting with some of the most powerful men in the world. He showed up in sweat suits and shorts. That’s not what you wear to a business meeting. It’s what you wear to a game. Guess what? To LeBron James, who wears some very fine suits, this was all a game. A game that was over before anybody walked in the door. He knew where he was going. But, I thought because the Cavs had one of the last cracks. They were going to win.

Then came the real dog and pony show: ESPN’s “The Decision.” LeBron was going to announce what he was going to do. James is a man who understood Cleveland sports history and had talked about “The Drive”, “The Fumble” and “The Shot.” For LeBron James to go on the air and not pick Cleveland would mean that he was manufacturing his own place in sports misery. In fact, he even got to name it. The folks in New York bought in, when he said the announcement was in Greenwich, CT. People thought LeBron was going to the Knicks. But, once again, the man I watched, and a man who had wowed audiences around the country, made everyone believe they had a shot.

He picked Miami.

I just gave you all kinds of excuses for things LeBron did that I knew were not right. But, in the end, we should have listened to Stephen A. Smith. In an interview on ESPN 850 WKNR, he said he knew LeBron was going to Miami at least three weeks before anybody said it was true. Smith got it from LeBron’s inner circle, but, he didn’t work for ESPN. If he was right, the ratings would have been a flop. The “E” stands for entertainment, not ethics.

I do believe there are people at ESPN who knew Stephen A. Smith was right. Plus, there must have been an internal debate in Bristol about if the show was right. It just didn’t seem kosher that the station that was airing the event to have reporters or analyst pick different teams. On the outside, it looked like a big ratings ploy, which is questionable from a journalistic point of view, and brilliant from a ratings point of view. Not only will I never trust LeBron James, I will have trouble trusting ESPN again. But, one man on the network stood out: Skip Bayless. From day one he was a LeBron realist. He was right about LeBron. I just didn’t want to listen.

I used to laugh when WTAM’s Mike Trivisonno ripped LeBron. I thought he was only doing it for ratings. He said the things I was thinking. I give him credit for having the guts to go against the grain. I look back at all my excuses and Triv was dead on.

In the end, LeBron wrote his own place in Cleveland sports misery. I watched it happen before my very eyes for over a decade. The problem is that I was blinded by the fact that I want to see a championship in my lifetime. I was willing to bank my hopes on a 25-year-old who is the second best basketball player in the league. I can blame him for what he put Northeast Ohio through, but I blame myself for looking past things I knew in my heart weren’t right.

The Chris Grantland 5

The Chris Grantland 5  will fill you up completely with everything you need to know. Please note my invention of the double-hyphenated word located within.  I present it to you forthwith…

If You Have A Sould You Cheer For the Bandit  

 

1.  IT ALL STARTS WITH “GARBAGELAND” by Bryan Joiner, and it’s god damn great media criticism piece:  http://bryanjoiner.com/2011/08/17/garbageland/  Consider for a moment, the following analogy:

This “Hollywood” entity is trying to force Ryan Reynolds down our throats as a bona fide movie star, when in reality he’s way out of his league trying to headline a movie. Couldn’t one make the association with Simmons and ESPN? Isn’t ESPN trying to force Bill Simmons down our throats as a bona fide media star, when in fact he’s out of his league trying to do anything than write silly columns? Yes, he was the executive producer of 30 for 30, and deserves credit for that. But to get Rumsfeld on you, he knew what he didn’t know in filmmaking, and stepped out of the way. On Grantland, he thinks he actually knows what he’s doing. He did in one sense: he got smart people to write for him. He largely made them suck, through direction or presentation, and made his own work look terrible in the process. The emperor is naked, except for, yes, the mustache.

How is it possible that such a massive assemblage of writing talent as Grantland, with Chris Jones and Chuck Klosterman could turn out so annoying?  I mean, Joiner explains it.  

2.  FROM GARBAGELAND TO JIM THOME…   

Pete Beatty once wrote this line:

Are there any original ways to say that the Yankees always win and are obviously war criminals?

More recently, he wrote this thing about GREATEST HOME RUN HITTER IN CLEVELAND SPORTS HISTORY, Jim Thome, that you have to read.  http://pitchersandpoets.com/2011/05/18/jim-thome-takes-his-rips-by-pete-beatty/

It doesn’t address Thome’s refusal to waive his no trade clause in the summer 2002 - which speculatively cost the Indians unknown prospects (and possibly an even better mid-2000s revival) in a trade.  It also doesn’t completely address Thome’s “rip the jersey off my back” comment about how he would never leave Cleveland (although the title seems to make it implicit, clever) - made immediately before leaving for more money (WHAT WAS YOUR SOUL WORTH JIM JAM?! 1 YEAR, $20 MILLION???? ALTHOUGH IT IS TRUE, I REFUSE TO BELIEVE IT.). 

It is, however, a loving portrayal of the lumbering throwback (who probably never considers the value of his soul) which is ultimately about us, Clevelanders, of course.  

POSSIBLY RELATED AXIOMS:

1. At this point it is we, the Clevelanders, who are the central figure in every important literary work about our heroes (or former heroes).

2. Cheering for the Yankees is like cheering for Smokey to catch The Bandit.

Beatty invokes Saved By The Bell AND Bruce Springsteen to explain our relationship with Jim Jam. This guy has a mind like the one I think I want to have. Read this, then read more Pete Beatty and follow him on Twitter @nocoastoffense. Here, I’ll make it easy: https://twitter.com/#!/nocoastoffense

3.  I DONATED MONEY?  Before I explain, let me posit the nonsequitor question - why must I grow old??  Why can’t I spend my summers drinking seemingly limitless cans of pre-Classic old Coke and shooting endless non-Price-like free throws on the blacktop driveway???

So… The Classical - like a good version of the aforementioned Garbageland, it’s an amalgamation of All Star Writing talent like Cleveland’s own Pete Beatty, supported by donors like myself instead of by douchebags at ESPN.  Fuel your anger at ESPN and donate a buck or two to the website we’ll all be reading: 

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/101341727/the-classical 

Maybe you’ll get a free chip clip out of it.  That’s good stuff because it prevents your chips from getting soggy or stale.

4.  AND FINALLY, THE TOPIC OF UTMOST CONCERN, THE CAVS…. AND LENNY WILKENS Demetri Inembolidis is one of my favorite and one of the smartest people to follow on Twitter @demeatloaf for discussion about the Cavs.  He occasionally writes for the iconic www.igohardnow.com a website which is currently in the throws of offseason/lockout basketball book and movie reviews.

The Greek God of Cavaliers Knowledge also just wrote a piece about the Cavs for this website www.theclevelandfan.com “Something is Missing from the Rafters” that specifically addresses the question, Why is it that Lenny Wilkens - the most important head coach in Cavaliers history and also the first star player the team ever had - does not have his number retired by the Cavs?  

Now I’m not sure I’m a fan of the Nate Thurmond argument (once you let Thurmond in, a number of questionably deserving people get in), but I don’t really think it’s necessary to make that argument to arrive at the ultimate point which is: The retirement of Lenny Wilkens jersey by the Cavaliers is not only clearly merited, but also a campaign that is well overdue, and it’s a compelling argument which culminates in the following somewhat shocking assesment:

It is unfortunate when man whose career as a player and a coach is as decorated as Lenny Wilkens’ is not immortalized by having his number retired by a single franchise.

Here’s the really long link, but I encourage you to not only read the link, but also the article:  http://www.theclevelandfan.com/cleveland-cavaliers/4-cavs-archive/8484-something-is-missing-in-the-rafters

5.  THEORIES ABOUT THE LOCKOUT AND HOW TO FIX THE LEAGUE.  There’s this thing by Tom Ziller where he makes 95 points about the lockout and the league that you need to at least read and know in order to intelligently discuss the situation.  Modeled after Luther’s 95 Theses - you can poke holes in some of his points, but not without acknowledgement of the fact - if he put this massive thing together, he probably knows more than you.  He definitely cares more than you.

Some of these Theses will disappoint you because of how wrong some of the assumptions upon which you have based your opinions are.  Even so, this is going to take you a few minutes to get though, so start reading soon and take your time to digest this thing:  http://www.sbnation.com/nba/2011/8/15/2363784/nba-lockout-2011-95-theses

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That’s your ChrisGrantland 5.  Still working on some huge things here.  I wanted to give you a preview of it, but I don’t want to ruin it for you, so I’m not going to.  

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BONUS

6.  FAST BREAK - ME ON THE INTERNET RADIO Also, NOTE I’m doing Cleveland Sports Forums Radio “Fast Break” every other Tuesday with Sam Drew from www.deardangilbert.com and Brendan Bowers from  www.stepienrules.com, so check that out too:

http://www.clevelandsportsforums.com/forums/threads/17582-CSF-Radio-LIVE-BROADCAST-THREAD-quot-Fast-Break!-quot-8-9-2011-7pm-10pm

The half of the first show that I was on was podcasted, and it is PURE GOLD, I promise you.  Check it out right here: http://mixlr.com/csfradio1/fast-break YOU WILL NOT REGRET THE TIME YOU SPEND LISTENING TO THIS.  IT WILL IMPROVE YOUR LIFE.

LIED TO A BLIND MAN. CERTAIN TO BURN IN HELL. THE CONDEMNATION OF CARLOS BOOZER.

This is the letter to Cavaliers fans that was formerly posted on cavs.com regarding the circumstances under which Boozer left the Cavs franchise in 2004.  

It was written by then Cavaliers owner Gordon Gund and posted on the team’s website - just a few dashes of URL from where Dan Gilbert would put his post-The Decision letter to the people of Cleveland.

In summary, Boozer met with the then majority owner of the Cavaliers, Gordon Gund who is and was completely blind, and lied to him, claiming that if the Cavaliers did not exercise an option to keep him with the team, that he would immediately sign a long term contract to stay a Cavalier.  When Gund, who wanted to keep Boozer to be a part of the franchise for the long haul, agreed and did not exercise the option on Boozer’s contract, Boozer bolted and decided to immediately become a member of the Utah Jazz.

Carlos Boozer, a despicable human being, will rot in hell.  It will be the part of hell that is reserved for those who lie to the face of blind people for economic advantage.  Probably near Ken Lay.  Boozer didn’t lie to feed a drug addiction, or for money he desperately needed to feed his family.

He lied because the millions he was going to be paid by Gund weren’t enough.  He wanted more millions.  And he would lie to a blind man’s face to get those extra millions.

And with that, the words of Gordon Gund:

A Letter from Gordon Gund Regarding Carlos Boozer


July 14th, 2004 

To: Cavaliers Fans
From: Gordon Gund 

I know last week’s developments with respect to Carlos Boozer are a source of extreme disappointment for you. I want to assure you that I feel exactly the same way. Like you, I believed in Carlos. 

Several days have now gone by. This has helped me to gain perspective. I hope this letter will do the same for you. 

First, Jim Paxson has taken a tremendous amount of criticism in the media for what happened. As the team owner, I made the decision not to pick up the option on Carlos’ contract. Any criticism should be directed to me, not to Jim Paxson. I want to be very clear that any fault is mine. 

Up until late last week when the trust was broken, I believed in Carlos Boozer, the player, and Carlos Boozer, the person. That is why I tried to do what he said he wanted. We tried to do right by him, by the team and by you in trusting in his repeated insistence that if we showed him respect, he would show respect to us. 

Carlos and his agent first approached us in December of 2003, stating his desire for financial security as well as his desire to remain in Cleveland and be a key part of the future of this franchise. He and his agent made it very clear that if we respected them, and provided the security he was looking to gain, he would respect us. Given his record on the court, with the franchise, and in the community, we had every reason to believe his commitment. 

Over the course of several months, we had multiple meetings that involved Carlos, his wife and his agent. In our most recent meeting on June 30, Jim Paxson and I told Carlos we had two options. He could play this year on his existing contract and test the market for free agency next year, or we could elect not to exercise the option if we had the understanding with him that as soon as legally possible he would negotiate a contract with us for the maximum we could pay him under league rules. 

I told him that as we could not have an agreement at that time given the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, we would have to trust one another’s intentions. I said I define trust as his intention to stay in Cleveland and enter into a long term contract with us as soon as possible under the league rules. In that meeting, we were clear with him that he could make more money in the open market a year from now than we could pay him by redoing his contract this year. I told him he needed to understand that and we did not want him to later think we had taken advantage of him. Jim told him, “There are at least seven teams that have cap space right now who will want to pay you more than we can now. We don’t want to lose you. Why would we not pick up the option?” Carlos said “Because we’d like long term security and we want to stay in Cleveland.” Carlos went on to say that he was happy to be a Cavalier and never indicated any concern with his role on the team or his relationship with Coach Silas. 

Carlos, his wife and his agent – all of whom were in that room — knew what our maximum ability would be to pay him. Both Carlos and his wife responded that they wanted financial security now and therefore were anxious to pursue the second option of entering into a long term contract with us as soon as possible and that they would live with any consequences from this decision. 

Carlos’ agent then said he wanted to go to another room to talk with his client and his wife alone which they did. When they returned, his agent said he had again explained everything to them so that they understood everything involved and said that their thinking had not changed. 

Jim Paxson then told him, “We’d like to begin, as soon as permissible, to negotiate an agreement that we can sign on July 14th.” Carlos responded, “That’s exactly what I want. I want to get this done as quickly as we can.” 

Over time Carlos had told Jim and me repeatedly, “If you show respect for me, I will show respect for you.” So, in the June 30 meeting, I reminded him of that and said, “We are all counting on what you said in earlier meetings and again today.” He responded, “That’s right and you can trust me on that.” I asked if we could all trust each other? Carlos, his wife and agent each responded “Yes.” At that point, believing so strongly in Carlos, I said we would not pick up his option. Our intent, as soon as we could do so, was to re-do his contract. The quotes you saw in the media July 1 about his desire to remain here were entirely consistent with what he told us. 

In the final analysis, I decided to trust Carlos and show him the respect he asked for. He did not show that trust and respect in return. That’s what happened. I wanted you to hear it directly from me. The decision was mine and I take full responsibility. 

We currently have no intention of matching Utah’s offer to Carlos. In order to match it, and within the restrictions of the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement, we would need to make player personnel moves of such a magnitude that it would have significant negative impact on our team moving forward. We are continuing to look at every possible option that will allow us to improve our team and continue to build on the tremendous momentum we have experienced in recent years. More than ever, we are committed to bringing a championship to this city. Thank you for your continued support of the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Gordon Gund 


See you in hell, Carlos Boozer.

The Chris Grantland 5

1.  GETTING PUNCHED I’m reluctant to say the name of the website he wrote it for, but Chris Jones from Esquire provided a perfect description of what it’s like to take a real body shot in this piece about body shot knockouts:

 I’ve taken a five-finger death punch like that, and let me tell you how it feels: A punch like that causes all sorts of strange satellite pain, express-delivered by your scrambled, panicking nervous system. You can feel a punch like that in the arches of your feet, in your balls, in your back, in your eyes. A punch like that somehow leaves you gasping for air and feeling as though you’re full of air all at once.

  http://goo.gl/VA33I 

2.  CAVS INTERVIEWS Brendan Bowers (@StepienRules on Twitter) is on fire.  First a killer interview with JJ Hickson at SLAM online, where Hickson said, among other things: “I loved the fans in Cleveland to the bottom of my heart.”    http://goo.gl/UAjJf   Then this interview with Manny Harris: http://bit.ly/oHmgug

AUDIO: ONCE AGAIN, THE MANNY HARRIS RAP BY RUNNA LC:  http://www.hotnewhiphop.com/en/play/s/acc7d3f-223581/

3.  UNIONIZE Unfortunately, Bowers will probably have time to interview every employee who works at Quicken Loans Arena by the time the lockout is over.  I agree with NBA Players Union Executive Director Billy Hunter that the NBA owners, who I, as a small market fan am actively cheering for, are “trying to do the same thing here that they did in the case of the NHL”.  I disagree with Billy Hunter to the extent that he believes that this is a bad thing.  But at least we’re on the same page that the lockout will take all season.

While I admire the zeal with which Hunter represents his players, I also disagree with Hunter when he compares the NBA players union to any other labor union.  As a sucker for Bruce Springsteen’s “The River” Double LP and the indisputable sex appeal of Sally Field standing on a table wielding a handwritten “UNION” sign, I was also digging Jason Lloyd interviewing union steelworkers about the sports labor “labor unions”: http://bit.ly/qfxFyX  Shoutout to the Youngstown State labor studies professor who gave that slick “apples and oranges” quote. 

4.  STUFF I DID THIS SUMMER Dear Dan Gilbert Q/A with a solid body shot at Danny Ferry’s Italian career.   http://www.deardangilbert.com/otc/20110.html

Also still waiting on the NEW Podcavs episode with our interview with Scott Sargent from www.waitingfornextyear.com, which I promise is good stuff and includes a discussion about my awesome medallion.  I think Alex is too busy doing the right thing and enjoying his summer to update.

5.  WHAT’S NEXT Working on two new things for Chris Grantland including something from a new Chris Grantland writer.  

Finally, I can’t not mention this after hearing about Hideki Irabu.  For the rest of us left behind:  Every day is another chance to turn your summer and your time left into something important. Even in the intensity of the worst suffering there is a path somewhere before us to claim or reclaim that glory.  RIP   

The Summer Is A Sliver of Forever

It’s the summertime.  Anything is possible.  Except the notion that NBA teams lost $400 million dollars last season.  That’s not possible.  It’s just bullshit. 

Of course, the reality is that these numbers are so tortured, presumably by accountants directed to manufacture losses for tax purposes, that it’s totally impossible for anyone to understand them enough to interpret them fairly. 

Unfortunately, and you can hate it all you want, but the owners are probably right.  This system sucks a dongasauras.  The consolidation of players into artificial dynasties sucks.  The disincentive for players to play in all but 6 or 7 markets sucks.   The lack of an incentive to own or invest anything into the teams outside those markets for any purpose other than capitalizing on the few times a year when one of the league’s superteams comes to town, sucks.

Player leverage doesn’t exist.  There’s nothing players can do about it - other than not play.  If the Players go overseas to work for contracts at 20% or less of the value of their NBA contracts, they devalue their own work.  You could almost see the NBA owners follow the players overseas and buy those teams at 20% or less of the value of their NBA teams, then sell the television rights in Europe and the US and bankroll cash money.

All this is compounded by the fact that the most talented player in the league, the filth of Akron and face of the league, is also widely viewed as the most unpopular figure in sports.  Nor does it benefit the players collectively that he earned this distinction by engaging in behavior so generally unfavorable that an overreaction will seem to many NBA fans to be completely reasonable.  Or at a minimum inoffensive.  Just slightly less obnoxious than the Player Union’s inevitable public relations counteroffensive – an obnoxiously false comparison to the working class unions that built the small market towns that it and its players don’t care about.

It won’t happen, but if the Players Union was honest, they’d be begging some someone to defuse that public resentment: No proposed trade in the NBA coming out of this lockout will make more sense than Orlando and Miami exchanging Lebron James for Dwight Howard.  If you saw even a sliver of the 2008 USA Olympic team, you know that Dwight Howard was the engine that drove that team.  Every game started with Coach K sending the ball down to Howard in the post.  No one in international basketball can stop him and no one in the NBA will either.  Howard and Wade team up for championships with Bosh. 

Maybe Wade spends the summer wondering if the Heat are still hated if Lebron and all the noise that comes with him is gone and replaced by Dwight Howard’s slapstick and physical domination.  Nothing coming out of this lockout would bring more closure in a year than the undoing of “The Decision” in a move based truly on basketball.

How will it all end?  Does a hard cap on salaries that completely prevents players from forming superteams without serious and unthinkable financial pain fix this situation long term?  Does a franchise tag that prevents the league’s best players from ever reaching free agency preserve the small markets by forcing players to stay put in what are often horrible situations?  Every small market is cheering for the billionaires to defeat the millionaires.  And there would be no lockout unless something was going to change.

But no matter how it ends, or what change comes, for now it’s summertime.  And while the cells in our skin and our brains all disintegrating like Derek Jeter’s ability to hit a baseball, we can wait to age until the end of the summer. 

Through the static of competitive greed, there’s this 19 year old from Jersey down in North Carolina.  Just finished his first year at Duke.  The release on his shot is so sweet it causes diabetes.  Not one goddamn millimeter of wasted movement. 

Ball moves out of his hands like he’s got fingers made of springs.    He moves through traffic like a guy selling flowers on a city street while cars fly by.  Even when you watch, you feel the impossibility of his handles and the basketball that seems to gravitate toward him when it must.

He’s waiting the other side of a labor agreement.  Kyrie Irving, the number one overall pick in the NBA Draft.  19 years old.   When the summer’s over, we’ll all be and feel older, and he’ll still be 19, full of youth and energy – poised to wear the word “Cleveland” on his chest. 

And for now, you’re satisfied.  It’s the summer and anything is possible.  There’s another month and a half left, it’s warm outside and you’re standing on an unfinished wood deck, a stick in your hand, swinging at freshly empty cans of beer still dripping with cold condensation.

You grip it in your hand.  It’s a closeout game in the 8th inning down by one.  It’s the 2-0 count against that prick Mariano Rivera, against economic inequality, against every asshole in the universe wearing pinstripes, against high gas prices and homophobia, against corporate welfare and third world politics, against the Hough Riots, against racism, against the housing collapse and the foreclosures, against torture and pollution and starvation and against Elway and Jordan and The Decision and LRMR and the rest of the sludge that came down the river from Akron threatening to burn a city to the ground.  

And all that’s left is the fire in our hearts and Sandy Alomar on the right side of the plate.  That red wooden bat perched high in the air over his right shoulder clutched in his fists. 

The red wooden bat bobbing slightly in the air begs you:  Imagine a peak that can last the entire summer. 

A 30 game hitting streak.   A donger over that high wall in left field in the All Star game.  Realized potential.  And now this. Two balls, no strikes. 

Two pitches in against a pitcher with one unhittable pitch to offer.  It’s that cutter full of thunder and impossible spin.  It’s going to break late and just bite the outside of the strike zone it will never punch though.  It is and will always be up and out into the end of the summer, until it meets that wall in right field and that scramble of hands trying to touch forever.

http://www.retrosheet.org/boxesetc/1997/B10050CLE1997.htm

The Chris Grantland 5 

1.  Kendon at basketball/pop culture website IGOHARDNOW.com wrote this week about overcoming suicidal ideation and playing basketball:

"This post is for remembering that even in our darkest moments when we don’t see any hope, we could just be one summer or one season away from some of the greatest moments in our lives."

Beautiful, beautiful stuff.  It’ll change your summer.  Read the whole piece here: http://t.co/PDU4zl6 

2.  I’m recording another podcast tonight with Sam from www.deardangilbert.com.  He’s got a great series going on over there with writers from different Cleveland websites discussing the future of media coverage of sports.  Brendan Bowers from the Cavs blog, www.StepienRules.com wrote today:

What I do strongly believe, however, is that there is no city that collectively demonstrates how traditional and non-traditional media can best co-exist and complement each other in the coverage of sports than Cleveland currently does.”

As usual, Bowers is right.  Read the whole piece here:  http://www.deardangilbert.com/otc/20105.html  

3.  Part II of Episode 33 of the Cavs podcast Alex and I do, PodCavs, came out.  No interviews on this one, just bitching about the Cavs draft and how we hoped for and wanted more.   Download at http://t.co/K5JbgMG  

Part III of the Draft Episode should be COMING SOON, with an interview of Scott Sargent of the Cleveland sports blog www.waitingfornextyear.com where we speculate on where and if, as a result of the draft Cavs forward JJ Hickson would be traded.  We pose the question: “Tristan Thompson or Lonnie Chisenhall, who will have a better career?”  

4.    Huge thanks to Pastor Rick, also from Waiting for Next Year, for including the first post of Chris Grantland in the While We’re Waiting, “Best of The Web” this week:  http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/2011/07/while-were-waiting-paying-joe-thomas-replacing-carmona-and-missing-rookie-ball/     

5.  Last, the next Chris Grantland blog is in progress.  And believe me, I know I owe you something uplifting.  Who the hell starts off a new blog with a “Requiem”??  For now, read that IGHN piece by Kendon.  Here’s the link again:  http://t.co/PDU4zl6 

BONUS

6.  The Cavs put a D-League Team in Canton this week.   I love this move.   The smart teams will maximize resources and start using the D-League as a legitimate tool to make the parent organizations better.  I also love that Chris Grant isn’t on vacation.          

 

Requiem: The Hickson Trade.

JJ Hickson is made of electricity.  In his arms and legs and muscles and tendons and ligaments.  He pisses athleticism.  And every morning when JJ Hickson sits on the throne, he risks exploding his balls with pure electric energy.

JJ Hickson can leap out of a building. With four feet of open space, JJ Hickson can make an opponent eat a basketball. 

Hickson offered an emasculating rejection of the Sprite Slam Dunk Champion and noted Kia spokesperson: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBIvYh2f65E&feature=related). Also notable, for your consideration, born in September 1988, Hickson is only 6 months older than said Kia pitchman.

But like the Kia pitchman, anyone who felt the electricity that JJ Hickson was radiating in those moments when he grasped at his potential, felt also that something special was happening.  And beyond that, perhaps this development should not have been as surprising as it was made out to be. Approximately one year prior, Dwight Howard, the last true center in the NBA himself, observed a shadow of JJ Hickson’s potential (which apparently went unnoticed by the game announcers.  After Hickson’s remarkable, some would say incredible, defensive play, the first words from Marv Albert were the name of a Hickson Cavalier teammate):  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-C4S64AJhY&NR=1) .

Just 19 years old on June 26, 2008 when he was drafted by the Cavaliers, for three years Hickson struggled with consistency and focus.  He was criticized for a low “basketball IQ”, for a poor work ethic, and for an inability to understand the game he was employed from age 19 to play.  And Hickson age 19-22 suffered from an unfair measurement against the accomplishments of one specific other 19 year old basketball player, impossible expectations which he could not meet.  

By 2010 those caricatures of a lazy, slow-witted 22 year old, lost on offense because of willful petulance, stalled in his improvement by a lack of self awareness, seemed weighted down in the worst of racial prejudices.  Punished for his failure to emerge from the collegiate womb of North Carolina State fully formed as a basketball prodigy, any formation of Hickson was credited to opportunities generated by defensive attention demanded by his then All Star small forward teammate.  Later, his rebounding prowess was credited to the opportunity to build counting stats created by the absence of injured starting center Anderson Varejao. 

But development happened.  Those who saw him for what he could do, for what he could be, found gratification February 11, 2011 against Blake Griffin and the Clippers.  A single handed end to a historic 26 game losing streak.  An offensive and defensive freakshow.   Yet one week earlier saw the second quarter of a February 2nd game against the playoff upstart Memphis Grizzlys, when Hickson literally took over, controlling every aspect of action for a quarter of an NBA game, playing at a level unseen by a player wearing a Cavalier uniform in the time since Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals. Panic inducing, uncontrollable Hickson electricity.  The verge of something rare finally coming to fruition.  

Traded hours before an NBA lockout June 30, 2011, and just days after the 2011 NBA draft, Hickson remains just months older than freshly drafted college players. 

To the Cavaliers and General Manager Chris Grant, the avoidance a painful financial decision in 2012, as Hickson arrives at Restricted Free Agency, which could leave the team with no return on what would be a four year investment.  To Dan Gilbert and Chris Grant, some certainty concerning Hickson’s situation, given the fragile state of the 2011-2012 season - by way of the NBA owners’ lockout of players. The elimination of any concern that a hard line taken in labor negotiations would result in the complete loss of an “asset” as valuable as JJ Hickson should the lockout eliminate the entire season.  To head coach Byron Scott, relief from the pressure of focus on Hickson and his coaching of Hickson.  To the Cavaliers, a new and credible starting small forward, and the promise of a draft pick, albeit a pick so laden with restrictions that it may not come until 2017.  To Chris Grant, the opportunity to develop the offensive challenged 19 year old power forward and fourth overall pick in the NBA draft, Tristan Thompson. 

To Hickson, his new teammates and new fans, opportunities unaffected directly by perceptions of him in his youth through the microscopic focus on his failures and myopic view of his successes in Cleveland.  To Hickson’s new team, the young Sacramento Kings, who just months ago seemed to be on the precipice of relocation, a low risk gamble with a high potential payoff should Hickson’s imminent 2012 free agency spark his desire to work to bring even more to his play in the long off season of the lockout. 

And to Cleveland, the city where I was born, a city so starved for return to its once lived glory and so damaged by the malnutrition of false hope and failed heroes, yet another void left to be filled.  Hickson leaves a town that gave him chances and was rewarded with his sparks and shadows, but not his light.