The five stages of NBA Finals grief: While We’re Waiting

Hello darkness, our old friend.

How soon we ended up here, on the losing side of an epic NBA Finals. Less than one year after 1.3 million of us danced in the streets and stood on tiptoes to catch a glimpse of a abruptly planned but magical Championship parade, we’re drying our tears, hanging up our black, sleeved jerseys and turning our eyes to The Jake.

The 2017 NBA Finals presented an emotional roller coaster we Cavs fans weren’t quite accustomed to. The downside of cruising through the Eastern Conference Playoffs is… well, you cruised through the Eastern Conference Playoffs. Sure, steamrolling everyone was fun, but our guys weren’t the only ones who went somewhat untested. We, as fans, weren’t quite tested, either.

We knew there was a buzzsaw waiting for us out West. We knew an incredible team got even stronger with the addition of KD. But we believed in our guys, and rightfully so. We’d watch them win with such ease over the Pacers, the Raptors and Celtics.

And now, after five games of exceptionally high highs and frustrating, painful lows, we’re back to that hollow, empty feeling of a season ended just a tiny bit too soon. As our team fought and faltered, and as the Larry O’Brien trophy slipped further and further away, I realized we Cavs fans were experiencing something significant: the five stages of NBA Finals grief.


Denial is the first stage in accepting an NBA Finals loss and, in my experience, it begins way before the end of the final Finals game. “Yeah but,” I found myself telling my friends after Game 2, “They can come back from this. Being down 0-2 is nothing. Nothing!”

I said the same thing after the heartbreaking loss of Game 3.

And toward the end of the third quarter of Game 5.

As the writing on the wall became more and more clear, I let my relentless optimism take the wheel. Is it denial, or is it hope? That, friends, is in the eye of the beholder.



I’ll be honest and tell you that this stage dominated my mood and mindset throughout pretty much all five Finals games. Except for Game 4, in which my mood was more tipsy and jubilant, but the Internet tells me neither of those are stages of grief.

I can’t tell you how many F-bombs were hurtled at my TV. How many “UGH I HATE HIM!” or “I CAN’T” texts I sent to friends, followed by the little knife emoji (sometimes about Steph, usually about Draymond, once about Zaza The Nut Puncher).

With each passing minute, America’s Most Unlikeable Team got even more unlikeable, and I got even angrier. During Game 5, I’d get so frustrated that I’d flip the channel to an episode of Friends that’s old enough to drive. A few minutes later, though, and I’d find myself screaming, once again, at my TV.

Though we’re now a few days removed from “The Loss,” it’s really easy to slip into the anger phase. One quick glimpse of Steph Curry chewing on his mouth guard, or of KD choking on his beer, and I anger-spiral quick. It’s been a rough week on Twitter.


I, like many Cleveland sports fans, am never more religious than I am when a big game is on the line. “If we could just make these free throws.” “Please, can we just, sink this shot.” “Please, oh please, don’t let this be the end…”

When seemingly insurmountable odds stacking rapidly against us, we often bow our collective heads and send a little wish up to the sky. And, whether you choose to pray to God or Woody Hayes or Buddha, it’s a way to cope with the feeling of powerlessness that slowly sinks in when, as a fan, a win you desperately need feels further and further away.


If I’m being honest, I’m currently straddling the line between this phase and the next. I’m not ready for basketball to be over, and I miss our guys already. I can’t bring myself to watch to watch anything related to our 2016 Championship, because I know I’d cry my eyes out (well honestly that always makes me cry, Finals loss or not).

If grief is a process of healing from something that hurt your heart, depression is a necessary and completely unavoidable step along the way.


Oh boy. I just started thinking about Steph chewing on that mouth guard, and I’m feeling closer to anger than acceptance.

But here’s the thing. Accepting an NBA Finals loss isn’t about feeling “alright” or “OK” with the outcome, it’s about accepting that what we didn’t want to happen did, in fact, happen. It sucks and it’s sad, but it’s true. No matter how much we swear or how hard we pray or how relentlessly we deny, we can’t change what happened—we can only look forward.

We’ll never like the fact that the 2017 Cavs couldn’t come back from being down 0-3, but as time passes and new Championship opportunities come Cleveland’s way, I promise we’ll all feel a little better.1

Chins up, buttercups. Have a great Thursday.

  1. The sooner the better, Indians. []

  • RGB


    Yes, I am aware there is a HOFer here. But, the 80s, man.

  • jpftribe

    A Mingo that could tackle. Loved this guy.

  • RGB

    On the wrong end of quite possibly the worst transaction by the Browns ever.

  • jpftribe

    IF we’re not counting Ray Farmer drafts as transactions, then yes, quite possibly.

  • Harv

    is that the Chipper? If so, what was the horrific transaction?

  • JNeids

    “During Game 5, I’d get so frustrated that I’d flip the channel to an episode of Friends that’s old enough to drive.”

    Was it the Michael Rappoport episode? He’s been trying to revive his career in Cleveland this past week.

    “Though we’re now a few days removed from “The Loss,”

    Did you not read Corey’s piece from yesterday??? “Second, don’t give this loss a ‘The.'”

    “The sooner the better, Indians”

    Surriously. Between the Cavs season being over with 3 less wins than we wanted, the Indians looking like regular season Cavs rather than the postseason Cavs, and the Browns being the Browns, I can’t help but feel like:


  • jpftribe

    I’ll save everyone the google. Browns swapped 2nd and 3rd round picks and traded him to SD after he blew up the first Buffalo / Kosar deal by threatening to retire.

    To pour a little more gas on the fire, they then drafted the mad dog in the meathouse with their first rounder.

  • Harv

    I was at bargaining (no sweep no sweep no sweep) after Game 2, and anger -> acceptance within minutes following Game 4.

    But really, this was a classic championship hangover meeting a significantly improved, already great team stocked with veterans of title runs. So what’s all this angsty stuff when it would have taken peak performance and effort across the roster to match up, yet it was clear Cavs players intended to wait until the last possible moment to go full throttle and when they lost way more than their share of the effort plays. As Lue joked (sort of), it would be good if they put as much effort into learning the defensive schemes as their team handshakes.

    Here’s what’s annoying me: the Indians also appear hungover. Would make the summer transition a whole lot easier if we could slide onto a local team playing with genuine urgency, regardless of record. Two hangovers and eternal Browns rebuild blahblahblah – now that’s a fan bummer.

  • JNeids

    I would understand if my Michael Rappoport reference deterred you from reading the rest of my comment, but said basically the same thing in different terms re: Indians and Cleveland sports overall.

  • Harv

    But he had already stopped playing hard. They got little and lost little – he had a few spasms with other teams but Chip had some, um, issues in the ’80s. Wasn’t a secret before they traded him.

  • Harv

    yep, didn’t see yours. My day job often forces time lags between the time I start a comment and post it. What you said.

  • jpftribe

    I’m sure there was some upside to freeing up Chapelle’s babysitting services.

  • RGB

    Yeah, Chip was a little, ummm, sensitive, but was a was a 4-time pro-bowler.
    And he seemed happy after his SECOND renegotiation…

  • MartyDaVille

    It took me only a few hours to get over this. As we all know, we’ve experienced worse. All that scar tissue helps.

    The worst thing about it now is being inundated with all the over-the-top Warriors glorification by the media, just when their over-the-top Cubs glorification was starting to wane.

  • RGB

    I turned it off with one minute remaining, and went right to sleep, content in the fact that we pooped on their perfection.

  • JM85

    I’m glad it’s over. Whether it was the media screaming about this GS team being the best ever or a D list celebrity trying to get his 15 minutes of fame, this was a Finals to forget and move on from.

  • jpftribe

    They were going to trade him for the Kosar pick and wound up with draft position. Non-stellar performances all around.

  • MartyDaVille

    I’m sure RGB knows this, but there was a strike-replacement player in 1987 who wore No. 56 for the Browns whose name was — and I am not making this up — Dick Teets. I couldn’t find any pix of him.

  • jpftribe

    What’s your guys recollection of Accorsi leaving? If you figure a GM’s impact is 3 years out, that kinda marks the beginning of the end.

  • Chris

    The Indians are a hot pile of garbage abounding with under-performance. Their recent efforts are a gross embarrassment to the game of baseball. The heart they displayed 2016 is entirely absent. They suck.


  • tigersbrowns2
  • nj0

    Well, at least Garrett is injured.

  • nj0

    This NBA season was the most now season ever.

  • nj0

    That’s one of the most confusing things I’ve seen.

  • RGB

    I think this is the interest on our karmic payment for the Cavs 2016 championship.

  • RGB
  • tigersbrowns2

    thanks RGB … interesting. he was the first QB to post a perfect passer rating. how’s that for a trivia question ??

  • nj0
  • nj0

    I thought the championship was the payment for the previous 50+ years of misery?

  • Harv

    accorsi spent a year while Belichik consolidated his power and then was ushered out, Mangini-like.

  • CBiscuit

    Little known fact: He was the first NFL player who got slapped with the transition tag.

    (hears boos, shows self out)

  • CBiscuit

    I heard he was not a great locker room presence.

    (hears more boos, keeps scrolling)

  • RGB

    God hates Cleveland. The Tribe collapse was the payment tor LBJ’s insolence.
    Apparently he wants interest, also.
    A lisfranc injury to Garrett would probably cover it.

  • RGB

    They couldn’t just let him walk…