What now? How to Live in a Post-“Champion Cavaliers” World

The King is dead. Long live The King.

On Monday night the Cleveland Cavaliers’ dream of a repeat died at the hands of the nearly perfect basketball machine that is the Golden State Warriors. Despite 41 Herculean points from LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the rest of the Dubs would not be denied the club’s second championship in three seasons. The road to Larry O’Brien’s trophy figures to run through the Golden Gate Bridge for the foreseeable future so what does this new world order mean for the Cavaliers and their fans?

First, there should be no head hanging for the Wine and Gold faithful. The Cavs were severe underdogs coming into this series and in each individual game therein. Cleveland did not blow a series lead, and despite a regrettable Game 3, there are few opportunities ripe for incessant dissection or “what ifs.” This Warriors team entered the series with a combined three MVP awards, 20 total All-Star Game nods, and 15 cumulative All-NBA awards. When Durant joined them last summer the smart folks in Las Vegas actually allowed people to bet on Golden State versus the field. That means if any of the other 29 NBA teams had won those betters would have gotten paid. Vegas wins again. The Cavaliers simply faced off with arguably one of the best teams in the 70-year history of the NBA. It burns, but we must tip our hats and move on.

Second, don’t give this loss a “The.” Somewhere along the line Cleveland media and fans began fetishizing the city’s sports pain. Various “The’s” prefixed certain drives, shots, and fumbles. Some deserved the shorthand because of the violent way victory transformed to defeat before our eyes, like a quiet knife between the ribs. This series was more like hypothermia – a slow, quiet demise in which after a while we all knew what was going to happen. Sometimes a loss is just a loss even if the stage doesn’t get any bigger.

Lastly, don’t complain. Before 2016 I would often discuss sports with friends who hailed from other cities. In one encounter a Chicago native complained about the Bulls’ struggles the day after the Blackhawks won a Stanley Cup. This frustrated me to no end as none of my teams had ever tasted champagne in my (or my father’s) lifetime. Since then I’ve developed a personal standard that after one of your teams wins a title you cannot complain for five years (you can apply your own standard of course). Losing the 2017 Finals does not erase the previous year’s victory. This loss does not immediately transport Cleveland back to the days of John Elway and Jose Mesa. Cleveland is a city of champions. Let’s act like it.

Despite a disappointing ending in The Finals’, the 2016-17 Cavaliers may go down as one of the most talented clubs in not only franchise history but also the city. James, Love, Irving, Thompson, Smith, and Frye are all under contract for 2017-18. Even without a draft pick, Cleveland remains a desirable free agent destination (who wouldn’t want to play with LeBron?) and the possible arrival of Turkish forward Cedi Osman could be worth tracking. There is every reason to believe that the Cavs can win both the Central Division and Eastern Conference again next season. Odds Shark already gives Cleveland 3-1 odds to win the title in ’18. As we close the book on the 2016-17 Cavaliers season I’ll share with you the thought that has been bouncing around my head the past twelve hours: Thank God we won it all in 2016.