Cavaliers, WWW

The Shot That Saved Cleveland Sports: While We’re Waiting

Musician, songwriter, record producer, and R&B utility infielder Allen Toussaint wrote a song called “There’s a Break in the Road.” Betty Harris recorded the song in 1969 and blues-rock goddess Susan Tedeschi is fond of covering it.1 The chorus goes like this.

Cause there’s a break in the road, there’s a break in every road
I got mine, you’ll get yours, there’s a break in every road
You just dog me around, treat me like dirt, you don’t care how much I hurt
But there’s a break in the road, there’s a break in every road

Those lyrics could be retroactively applied by the Cleveland Cavaliers to Game 4 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals, even if the song’s sexual car metaphors and messages of female empowerment aren’t as applicable.2  Two years ago Wednesday, on May 10, 2015, the Cleveland Cavaliers were playing the Chicago Bulls at the United Center, down 2-1 in the series and staring down the barrel of a 3-1 deficit with 1.5 seconds remaining. Then this happened.

There it was. A break in the road. After years of others getting theirs, being treated like dirt and getting hurt, we as Cleveland fans finally got ours. That shot in that game altered the trajectory of the Cavaliers, Cleveland sports, and, for many of us, life as we know it.

“Oh come on, Kyle. Aren’t you being a little melodramatic here? The game was tied, the Cavs could have still won the series, and the Cavs didn’t even win the Finals that season. The Cavs would have won the 2016 Finals at full strength anyway, just the way it unfolded. Besides, it’s not like it altered the course of the universe.”

Thank you Imaginary Reader With the Exact Same Voice as Me, but I politely disagree. I remember exactly how weighty and desperate that moment felt two years ago, and I also have a written record to prove it, having written a recap of the game not too far from this spot in cyberspace. Here’s what I said at that time.

Since the start of April 26, the Cavs have lost Kevin Love, had J.R. Smith suspended, had Iman Shumpert serve as a competent replacement before straining his groin, and had Kyrie Irving aggravate a foot injury that he’s apparently been fighting for some time.3 …

On Sunday, the Cavs were your friend in Goldeneye for Nintendo 64 who had run out of ammunition and was running around aimlessly, trying to slap people to death … . [I]n the third quarter of Sunday’s game it seemed inconceivable that the Cavs could land enough desperate karate chops on the well-armed Bulls to bring the series back to Cleveland at a 2-2 tie.

It only takes one shot to save a season. … [A]fter slapping at the Bulls all afternoon in vain, LeBron James wound up and delivered a knockout punch that will be on his highlight reel for the rest of his career. Visibly emotional after the game, James brought the series back to Cleveland with a chance to take the lead in a series that had looked hopeless only thirty minutes earlier.

James’ stepback jumper was before Cleveland was a city of champions, before the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers and Indians reminded us what it was like to love again, and before James, Irving & Co. expelled the demons from about 150 cursed seasons. That video shows just how long ago 2015 was: Kendrick Perkins hopping on the pile? With Mike Miller and Shawn Marion? That might as well have been an eternity or three ago. In May 2015, we had no idea what The Block was or even that it would exist someday, and a 3-1 lead wasn’t a punchline but a death sentence for the team opposite it.

Before James’ stepback,4 I felt quite certain at the time that the Cavs would lose that game, the series, and the whole dream of assembling a “superteam” would have unraveled in a matter of months. Kevin Love would decline to re-sign and leave, LeBron James would conclude that resurrecting Cleveland’s hopes and dreams was either impossible or not worth the effort, the franchise would sink back into the bottomless trench of futility that defined it from 2010-14, Kyrie Irving would force a trade, and your author would have have concluded as he had in the past that everything was meaningless and the universe was cruel.

Instead, James hit the shot, and the Cavaliers tied the series, took care of business in the remainder of the series, demolished the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference Finals, tested the Warriors without two of their best three players, beat the Golden State Warriors in the 2016 Finals, undid the curse, and established an almost-authoritarian hegemony over the Eastern Conference — one that breaks other franchises. The 2016 Cleveland Indians could face the ponderous histories of themselves and the Chicago Cubs, liberated from the city’s ghosts of 50 years’ past. The Cleveland Browns could be the comedic relief they’ve become instead of the wretched plague on the soul they were.

Some would argue that indulging what-ifs is a pointless exercise in the imagination. But it certainly felt like and looks in hindsight like the Cavs were teetering on the edge of rebirth and oblivion, and by some magical stroke of fate the road broke in their favor. Manipulating time to inflate your own responsibility for good fortune or swell the pain of regret is one of the burdens of being human. What if I had gone back in that bar to ask for her number? What if I had bought that plane ticket? What if my friend had not hopped in the car that night?

And cheating the future from the history it wanted is the stuff of legends. In a rare twist of fate, the Cavaliers and Cleveland sports fans were on the other side of The Fumble and The Shot and Jose Mesa. And it felt great. To me anyway, it said, “Wow, maybe we, maybe he can do this.” Then it happened. The rest — what happens after James misses that shot on May 10, 2015 — is, fortunately, not history. The 2016 Cavaliers and LeBron James are.

Your Calvin and Hobbes strip of the day. This is my birthday Calvin and Hobbes strip,5 which I had never looked up before until recently. It foreshadowed a lifetime of romantic frustration, so I guess I was doomed to be a sports blogger from the start.

And now for the random 90s song of the day. I saw Blues Traveler last weekend, so you’re all getting a “Run-Around” this Thursday. John Popper plays a mean tin sandwich.6 The video features a Wizard of Oz theme, some people licking a passed-out stranger’s hand in an alleyway, and plenty of baggy clothing, because the 90s.

But you, why you want to give me a run-around?
Is it a sure-fire way to speed things up
When all it does is slow me down

  1. Harris and Tedeschi have also performed the song together. []
  2. But I’ll be damned if I didn’t think about trying! []
  3. A little grim foreshadowing of what would happen in the NBA Finals. []
  4. Should this shot have a name. The Bull-Buster? The Kick to the Bulls? In an homage to “The Shot” in which the Cavs were victims to the Bulls, “The Un-Shot” or “The Reverse Shot”? []
  5. The one that was in the newspaper on the day I was born. If you were born from November 1985 to December 1995 you can find yours here, and if you were born outside the range just pick one from the same year of the decade and date. What’s yours? []
  6. Apparently this is a nickname for the harmonica. []