(Editor’s note: The following is a submission from Cleveland-based writer AJ Lubetkin.)
Dear Kyrie Irving,
I remember when I started to believe.
It was January 29, 2012. I had just clocked off work, delivering food for a crummy college sports bar. The Cavaliers were down against the Boston Celtics, 87-86, with less than ten seconds to go. I really had to get home to finish my coursework before another Senior English Class butt-kicking, but dammit, we were down one with possession. I grabbed a Diet Coke, sat at the bar, and sat through a handful of Bedford Nissan and Mr. Hero commercials before the game reconvened.
The whistle blows. You have the ball as you stand near mid-court, dribbling with your right hand as your left is planted just above your left knee. You dribble from right to left, sizing up the green jerseys as if they were placed on a chess board as Boston fans are raining down a chorus of chants, “DE-FENSE” echoing off of the Garden’s walls.
Six seconds. Anderson Varejao sets you a pick.
Five seconds. You split Brandon Bass and Avery Bradley.
Four seconds, three seconds, two seconds… You set your foot, pivot and elevate towards the basket for a layup that looked entirely too easy. Cavs up one. Boston doesn’t recover. Game.
What shocked me was that, for the first time in a while, I felt optimistic about the state of our Cleveland teams. I’m not a fan of the typical “woe is us” stance that seems to permeate from three separate arenas/stadiums/ballparks, but facts are facts. Since LeBron James left Cleveland we’ve gone years – years – without any realistic hope of a drought-ending championship. That’s what we want, it’s what we deserve, and anybody who tells you anything different is wrong. We don’t care how you do it, Kyrie. We want a title like you can’t possibly imagine.
So, that hope. It waxed and waned throughout your first two years, thoughts of epic Madison Square Garden performances wrestling with subpar assist numbers and a troubling medical track record over what really represented you. The wins didn’t matter at that point; the best way to succeed in the NBA is to bottom out for two or three years, and build through the draft.
Now it’s Year Three, and that hope, it just seems diluted, like someone drank half of a bottle of Gatorade and filled the empty space with water. Every good thought that we had heading into the season is either dead, dying or walking around with a red dot on its forehead.
For better or worse, a lot of that is on you.
I don’t care what anybody says: The Cavs did an amicable job at surrounding you with talent. LeBron had it worse—way worse. Chris Paul had it worse, too. Players whom ESPN is grooming you to call peers have all had to, at one point or another, galvanize whatever the hell they had in front of them and will their team into the playoffs. It’s the NBA; especially in the East, it can and has been done. And this year might be the worst it’s ever been.
How have you responded? By glumly strolling the sideline, arguing fouls with refs, looking completely disinterested in certain situations and unwilling to share in others. You are wildly inconsistent. You look bewildered when a contested, fade-away jumper doesn’t drop.
The team plays better when you’re off the floor.
You’re also wildly talented. And only 21 years old. By no means should it be believed that whatever is going on between your ears isn’t a byproduct of your age.
But saying that you want out of Cleveland? Dude. Come on. You don’t get to say that. LeBron left and we cried, but he put in seven dedicated years to a team that, at their best, could boast Mo Williams as their second-best player. To this day – for as much as we still blast his name – it has to be said that LeBron’s fate could have been different had the Cavs held up their end of the bargain.
So if you really feel that way, your wish will probably be granted. Not this season. You might even sign an extension without forcing a trade. But eventually, if you really want to leave, you’ll find a way. And if the decisions of former stars bolting for sexier locations really is a trend, you’ll probably be a Laker or something. But – assuming you really do leave and become Top Dog elsewhere, you’ll be asked to handle adversity, to take your bruises, get up and be there for your teammates. If you can’t do it, you’ll get discouraged when the breaks don’t go your way, and captain another underachieving team to a mediocre destiny.
AJ Lubetkin graduated from Cleveland Heights High School in 2008 and Ohio University in 2012. He writes about hip-hop at The Smoking Section and doesn’t understand how somebody born in Cleveland can actually root for the Steelers. He lives for random “Here we go Brownies!” chants and Tribe games at the Jake. Follow him on Twitter.
(Image via Scott Sargent/WFNY)