Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mavs deliver King's justice

I woke up this morning and the world was the same as it had been from the day before, and for that matter my 36 years prior. When my alarm buzzed at 7:30 a.m. on June 13, 2011, a major Cleveland professional sports franchise still hadn’t won a championship.

That cold, hard fact didn’t seem to matter when That Guy in Miami(TGiM) dejectedly walked off the floor on Sunday night. Local news broadcasts displayed tape of half-filled bars downtown where Cleveland fans righteously cheered the Heat’s demise.

I have a bad feeling about this..
Miami losing with LeBron James wilting under a blazing Finals spotlight was about all vengeance-minded Clevelanders could ask for. Still, now that it’s over, I can’t lose sight of the fact that this isn’t Cleveland’s championship to commemorate. Giving the Mavericks a standing ovation at The Q next season, an idea that has been half-jokingly bandied about on Twitter and Facebook, is a little tacky and more than a little pathetic, and I hope it doesn’t happen. Co-opting Dallas fan's joy doesn’t do a damned thing for me, either.

While enduring another season without parades or championship banners is par for the well-worn course around here, there's still something to be gained from these Finals. For me, it's the grim satisfaction of justice well served.

When the Big Three joined forces last summer in a display of rap concert-like bravado, there were glib promises of multiple championships before the first practice ball had been bounced. This moment of unthinking hubris came from a guy who had yet to win a single Finals game, and combined with the "get me mine" modern sports culture the Heat so gleefully embraced, it made his team an easy and deserving target of fan derision.

The Heat was a glamour team with a notoriously fickle fanbase and its own web-page on ESPN. It was despised throughout the land while Cleveland was criticized by media pundits who mistook passion for jilted bitterness. Like New York or Boston would have been politely golf-clapping for James had he done them in same "look-at-me" fashion as he did Northeast Ohio. No matter, as Clevelanders know this cultural blind spot well and defended themselves justly.

But when Miami moved ahead of Boston to grab the second seed of this year's playoffs, it seemed inevitable that the Heat would come out of the East at the very least. The first six weeks of the interminable NBA post-season were like a slow car crash involving a suddenly aged Boston team and a one-lonely-man Bulls' squad. James was knifing through his early-round foes in ways reminiscent of those heady days before manufactured ESPN specials were dressed in $600 checkered button-downs from Barneys New York.

At this point a Miami championship and the crowning of James as a conquering hero were almost a given. The Big Three's alleged collusion in Beijing and all the arrogant trappings of last July were on the precipice of being forgotten by those shortsighted enough to take Vince Lombardi's "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing" mantra to heart. And worst of all, the Cleveland sports scene was set to become a punch line in the longest running dirty joke since "The Aristocrats."

Then came these Finals, and it's like there was some enormous karmic shift in the sporting universe. James, so curiously passive and disinterested in his second-to-last game in a Cavaliers' uniform, kindly rehashed his Game 5-against-Boston antics three straight games against Dallas. An unbelievable display of anti-aggressiveness and dispassion that will have basketball fans and sports psychologists alike nattering for years to come.

If James gave us a gift, then the Mavericks tied the bow. Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Terry, J.J. Barea, Jason Kidd, Brian "The Custodian" Cardinal and even "Soulja Boy" Stevenson himself all elevated their games on the same stage where the world's most talented and enigmatic basketball superstar could only flounder in flop sweat.

It was fascinating and somehow savagely sweet to watch Dallas surgically pick apart Miami while James essentially sat back and watched. Ultimately, the Heat losing meant that for once, the a-holes of the world, so nicely represented by James and pals, didn't finish first. Karma came through with a bloody vengeance, and for that more than anything I am grateful.

As someone tweeted during Dallas's championship celebration, which in one final embarrassing kick in the pants for Miami could be heard through the walls during the Heat's post-loss press conference, "It never gets old watching the Death Star blow up."

Justice may have come to Miami 11 months late, but for Cleveland fans, "better late than never" carries a ring that will only be topped by that long-awaited parade down Euclid Avenue.