Saturday, May 15, 2010

Alone in Cleveland

The sweet sound of a Ray Allen swish sounded more like the dull thud of medieval guillotine on Thursday night. The singed twine definitively executing the season of dreams of the Cleveland Cavaliers and effectively began the nightmare for Cleveland fans dubbed The Summer of Lebron. But the Boston Celtics on Thursday night did more than simply defeat the Cavaliers in round 2 of the 2010 Playoffs. They may have pushed the biggest piece in the free agency puzzle out of its believed position, thus, scrambling all the other pieces around too. The Celtics may have altered the very landscape of the NBA for the next decade or so because of the manner in which they dealt that defeat.

They did not just beat the Cavs. They demoralized the Cavs to the point where the Cavs themselves no longer believed they could compete with the Celtics. That is the ultimate defeat, not only on the court but in the mind, and I’m sure Lebron saw this. He realized his teammates were mentally defeated, that his coach couldn’t compete (panicking in Game 5 with Daniel Gibson and continually underplaying athletic bigs Hickson and Varejao) with the opposing coach, that to win this series he would have to enter a realm of super-human capability that even he was not capable of entering. And seeing all this Lebron, well, he realized he was on his own, and he gave up. He quit on his team just like they had quit believing in themselves. The symbolic moment of this cataclysmic cascade of events for Cavs fans came in the waning moments of the elimination game. As the final minute ticked down and Mike Brown was screaming at his team to foul or do anything, but nothing happened. The Cavs just stood around watching Rondo or Allen dribble away their championship aspirations. And when a team mentally checks out, and a star quits on them, and everybody loses trust in everybody else at such an important moment, well there is no turning back for that team, that is a moment which changes everything.

There is always that line, that invisible, abstract but amazingly obvious line that you know never to cross without massive repercussions. We know this line with our friends, professors, teachers, parents..etc. As in you knew never to call your mom an idiot and when you finally accidentally/purposely did, things would always be just a little bit different because in that moment something had fundamentally changed. So to with 2010 Cavs. You don’t lose trust in your teammates the way Lebron did and go back to them. Lebron, in this series, saw his team as group as what they truly are: a rag tag group of players rashly assembled and heavily dependent on him. A group of players mentally owned by the Boston Celtics and in this moment Lebron stopped trying for them, knowing they could never help him win a title. It’s the only explanation for his complete lack of interest in the last two games. He passed the ball away emotionless, watching his teammates struggle and fail because they just weren’t good enough, skilled enough, and most importantly mentally strong enough. But this wasn’t a vengeful Lebron, like Kobe a couple of years ago when he refused to take a shot to teach his team a lesson and have them come back to him begging him to play like he wanted to. No, this passive Lebron was more like a parent realizing for the first time that their kid was never going to be what they wanted him or her to be. This was a sad Lebron who seemed to just realize that these guys around him were not good enough, no matter how hard they tried and no matter how hard he wanted to believe that they were. And when you realize that, you can’t ever go back to way things were. Before Boston I’m sure Lebron genuinely thought that he could lead this group to a championship. But Boston’s defeat of Cleveland opened up Lebron’s eyes. Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, and Kendrick Perkins showed Lebron what a real team can do, and Lebron has realized to get one of those, he will have to leave Cleveland. And Lebron's leaving Cleveland will change everything.

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