The bartender was perplexed when I asked if they had NBA League Pass. Apparently, I was the first to make such request. He was, in fact, a big fan of the hardwood professionals, but not many who had previously occupied my stool shared that sentiment. Seeing my Cleveland Indians t-shirt, he immediately pointed to the corner TV, which was adjacent to the Bud Light sign with a burnt out bulb where the ‘L’ was supposed to reside.
“The Cavs and Heat are in the third quarter right there, bud, you don’t need League Pass.”
These words rolled off his tongue with a hint of condescension, as though he was insulted that I desired to watch anything else. I ordered a Bud ight, as the sign suggested. Watered down excuses for booze aren’t normally my go-to, but the burnt out ‘L’ on the sign encouraged venturing outside of my comfort zone, just as the Cleveland Cavaliers have forced my hand of venturing outside of my sports fandom comfort zone.
“Which game were you interested in watching, anyway?”
Calculating my response carefully, I requested the riveting action of the tussle between the middling Philadelphia 76ers and not-bad-enough Brooklyn Nets. The bartender was dumbfounded. I knew exactly what was going through his head — why would this guy, wearing an Indians shirt, opt to watch Ben Simmons and Spencer Dinwiddie duke it out, instead of Cavs lifers LeBron James and Dwyane Wade battle against the Miami Heat?
Before he could put two and two together, I blurted something about being a 76ers fan tonight, parlaying that into a discussion about my favorite team: whoever was playing the Brooklyn Nets. Dario Saric, Joel Embiid, and Ben Simmons were my muse, with some dudes named Allen Crabbe, Jarrett Allen, and Spencer Dinwiddie playing the antagonist role. The 76ers second-half stumbles produced curse words that can be partially attributed to draught Bud ights. When the Nets pulled out the eight-point win, disappointment enveloped me.
“So, you’re more concerned with the Nets losing than the Cavs winning?” A shrewd observation from the small-town bartender.
The Cavs and their struggles were inconsequential. They have LeBron. I’ve seen this movie before. Maybe the drama-meter has been dialed up a setting or two but the post-Miami LeBron Cavs have provided an overdose of January fodder, only to make the Finals in each of the previous three campaigns. Sure, this year might be different. The Cavs have not graced the bottom three from a defensive rating standpoint in previous years, as they currently occupy the 28th spot in that category. But it’s still LeBron’s team and until he doesn’t make an NBA Finals, betting against him is foolish.
The Nets are the primary concern. LeBron just might bolt for greener pastures following this tumultuous season. Doom! The Nets pick is the saving grace. Dan Gilbert and his cronies covet the pick, as indicated by the cavalcade of scouts who accompanied him in attending the recent Oklahoma Sooner and Alabama Crimson Tide basketball game to watch potential Top 10 picks Trae Young and Collin Sexton. It’s the insurance plan if LeBron were to leave. As with a handful of insurances, though, it is insufficient in its coverage.
Today’s NBA environment excludes middling rebuilders from championship consideration. If LeBron were to bolt, the Cavs would find themselves stumbling into mediocrity or worse, Nets pick in tow or not. Yet, here I am, at this small-town bar, convincing a small-town bartender that the Nets pick is more important than the Cavs results. It’s a byproduct of previous seasons, in which concerning ourselves with Cavs struggles was more or less pointless in terms of Finals contention.
The Cavs beat the Heat? Cool, I suppose. Go Hawks! Go Magic! Go Mavericks! Go Kings! Go Suns! Go Bulls! Go Grizzlies! Anyone but the Nets.
One more Bud ight, so I can drown my sorrows regarding another Nets victory. Would they please trade Spencer Dinwiddie to some non-threatening team already?