I was in the fourth grade when my family left Cleveland. Two weeks before we moved, my dad and I went to one last Browns game. They lost because Randy Gradishar caught a pass that bounced up off Brian Sipe's chest (Sipe was flattened and the pass was blocked) and ran it 93 yards for a touchdown. And I almost choked to death on a hot dog. It was a pretty good sign that I was in for a life of misery.
A week or so ago, when someone mentioned that the Cavs had a shot at breaking the 1995-96 Vancouver Grizzlies' and '97-98 Denver Nuggets' record for the longest single-season losing streak in NBA history, my initial reaction was one that I'm sure many Cleveland fans had:
Such is the life of a Cleveland fan in 2011. Even trying to revel in disappointments is somehow disappointing.
But now that the Cavs made it to 24 losses in a row, they've eradicated the distinction between the losing streaks. From a strictly basketball point of view, the fact that the Cavs of 2011 have equaled -- and, with a loss to Dallas on Monday, will surpass -- the futility of the Cavs of the Ted Stepien era is amazing. The 1981-82 team, which lost its last 19 games to start the 24-game drought, was a mess. Four coaches ran out 23 different players, only one of whom -- James Edwards -- started more than 43 games.
The team was owned by Stepien, who traded away so many draft picks (including picks used to select James Worthy, Derek Harper and Detlef Schrempf) for dreck that the league passed a rule forbidding teams from getting rid of first-round picks in consecutive seasons. After he ran the team into the ground, Stepien -- who once suggested a rule that each team would be required to fill at least half of its roster with white players -- threatened to move the team to Toronto. That set about a bizarre chain of events in which boxing promoter Don King offered to buy the team to keep it in his hometown. That's how bad Stepien was: He somehow made Don King a knight in shining armor. (Eventually the team was sold to the Gund brothers, who turned the franchise around.)
These Cavs, though, aren't
As for the front office, sure, owner Dan Gilbert came off as a bit of what psychiatric professionals may call "a nutjob" with his anti-LeBron screed, but he's always been liberal with the purse strings, so it's hard for fans to find much fault with him. Likewise, it's tough to blame Danny Ferry, the team's former GM and the man who, unfortunately, put most of this team together. Ferry was always in an odd spot. He wasn't trying to collect talent. He had plenty of that in James. Instead, he had to build a roster that meshed with James. With James in tow, Ferry could afford to go get a shooting guard (Anthony Parker) who couldn't shoot, because he was long and could play some perimeter D, and that's what the team was lacking in its playoff loss to the Magic the year before. In effect, Ferry's job was always to gild the lily. Then the lily tossed away every ounce of goodwill he built up in the universe just so he could kick a city in the teeth on national TV.
Which brings us to LeBron. The easiest thing to do is blame him for this mess, but somehow that doesn't seem right. He left. It was his prerogative. It's no more reasonable to blame him for the woes of a team he's not on than it is to blame Laurence Olivier for how bad "Plan Nine From Outer Space" was.
So there you have it: Can't blame the players. Can't blame the owner. Can't blame LeBron. Somehow, that's fitting. Being deprived of a championship for 46 years isn't enough. Now Clevelanders have a team that's horrible, and they've been deprived of someone to blame.
That's OK, though. Baseball season is just around the corner.
Wait. Have you seen the Indians' rotation? Maybe that's not so OK.