If you are familiar with me, you know about the hashtag I created – #NBAFree. Let me give you some background.
I grew up with the Cavs a close third to the Indians and Browns as my Cleveland sports loves. My father had season tickets at the old Richfield. I probably went to between 20-25 games a year on average from 1986-1993. I was a child of the Lenny Wilkens era. Prior to that, I remember being held up by my cousin Steve, 10 years my senior, to watch the final play of the game four first round series with the Boston Celtics where World B. Free (who averaged 26 a game during the playoffs) missed a jumper that could have tied the game (and the series for that matter). According to Steve, Larry Bird “fouled the s**t out of him” and the Cavs lost 117-115 in a thriller. In his disgust, my cousin dropped me and I landed right on the arm rest of the seat. As we sprinted out of the Coliseum to our car – remember there was one way to exit the arena and everyone went that way – the wind was knocked out of me.
I lived and died with the Larry Nance trade, which sent rising rookie PG Kevin Johnson, Tyrone Corbin and Mark West to Phoenix. My brother, who’s favorite player was KJ, was beyond crushed. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was there in 1989, when Michael Jordan hit “The Shot.” Then a few months later I felt like I was dropped by my cousin Steve again when the Cavaliers decided to send fan favorite and the man they called “the poor man’s Jordan,” Ron Harper, to the Los Angeles Clippers for the rights to Danny Ferry. I thought then, it was the end for this great core group. In 1991, despite losing Mark Price and Hot Rod Williams for the majority of the season to injury, my brother and I – he a senior and I a freshman in high school – went to 30 games. The following season I again went to 30-plus games and kept score in a yellow legal pad that I still have (yes, I am that guy) as the Cavs made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. I loved guys like Henry James, Chucky Brown, Hot Rod, and Tree Rollins.
Once the Cavs moved downtown and I went off to college, we kind of lost touch with each other during the Mike Fratello years.
I will fully admit I was right back in there during the LeBron James era. Ask my friend Mark P about my reaction to the Cavs winning the LBJ lottery. He was unfortunate to be in the same room with me in Chicago when the Cavs lucked changed. When I moved back to Cleveland in the fall of 2006, I locked right back in. I didn’t have tickets, but I certainly watched as many games on TV as I could. How could you not be caught up? But even while it was all going on, I really disliked the NBA product. I’ve always been more of a college basketball guy, and I didn’t like the shticky-in game junk going on in NBA arenas all over the country.
When LeBron Bolted, I obviously hated everything about it, but the super teams bit disgusted me. The lockout before last season was the final straw for me. While I always wanted the Cavs to do well, I quit the NBA cold turkey. I decided to divorce myself from the league. Hence, #NBAFree was born.
At the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards dinner last month, everyone in attendance was given a sheet of instructions for redeeming four free tickets to one of two Cavs games, one of which was against the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night. I decided why not, my kids love going to sporting events, so why not get the tickets and go. Hey, they were free and that is quite the value these days. The tickets were not nosebleeds either. I ended up in the lower bowl, section 110, in the fifth row, right across from the Spurs bench.
I haven’t been to a game since LeBron left. My kids are a month shy of six and three. I went in with low expectations considering my previous highs in The Q. Well, I am here to report, I was pleasantly surprised by the changes since I was last at a Cavs game.
First and foremost, I came in from a completely different angle. I was there as a father first, and a Cavs fan second. We walked through the concourse and stopped at the sign making station. My son’s “Go Kyrie” sign was a gem. Right across the way, my daughter stopped and got two temporary Cavs tattoos on her wrists. They had kids getting their hair sprayed wine and gold and getting their faces painted. It was a good way to get my kids acclimated to their surroundings and excited about the game. My son begged to go down to the seats and off we went.
Yes, they were both scared of the fire coming out of the scoreboard, but they were mesmerized. During the LeBron years, I always thought the music and the piped in noise was at a ridiculous level. Pregame is one thing, but during the game when you can’t keep up a conversation with the person next to you, it’s a problem. Wednesday night, I really noticed a difference in volume.
Once the game started, my kids were right into the action. But it wasn’t just about the game. My biggest beef with the NBA was always the extra- curriculars going on. It’s supposed to be about the play on the court. As a basketball fan, I can’t stand it. As a father of two young kids at their first game, I loved it. The Q Tube bits, the scream team dancing, the cheerleaders, the t-short toss, the music, my kids were loving every minute of it. Who knew the bass drum and “defense” chant could be so inviting. Ask my daughter, she was chanting right along with it.
And here I have been saying for years that all of this was over the top garbage that was not needed.
I get it now. The Cavs, and the rest of the middling to bottom NBA teams, need this kind of stuff. It keeps the attention of the patrons, especially kids, the next generation of ticket buyers. In the meantime, the game was tight throughout and the Cavaliers played well, other than an off night from All-Star Kyrie Irving. That certainly didn’t stop my son for holding up his Kyrie sign.
We stayed a three and a half quarters – it was way past their bedtimes – but we made a stop on the way out. My daughter just wants to do everything her big brother does. From the second we left the house, she wanted to wear a “Cavs Jermsey.” Yes, she calls them “jermseys” instead of jerseys. My son was rocking his birthday present from last year – a white Kyrie number two. I thought we could get away with it, but she was persistent. The good news was that all Adidas gear was 20% off last night, so she became the proud owner of a Tristan Thompson “jermsey” in 3T. Yes, I can’t say no to my little girl. My son, who loved Dion Waiters live, got a t-shirt.
The evening ended with my jersey clad children sitting on their parents shoulders happy as can be, walking to the car. We listened to the end on the way home, and my son cried when the Cavs lost. He’s seen plenty of Tribe and Browns late game losses live the past two years that he should be accustomed to it. He couldn’t understand why Kyrie’s final shot didn’t go it. I told him “this is Cleveland my man, get used to it.”
I just want to thank the Cavaliers for debunking my theories on the live NBA experience. But most of all, I’d really like to thank my wife and kids for making it all worthwhile. Seeing the game through a young child’s eyes is magnificent. I was a proud dad, that’s for sure.