You’ve surely seen it by now: In his first home game as a Cavalier in two and a half years, Matthew Dellavedova received MVP chants at the free throw line.
Matthew Dellavedova. Delly. The folk hero. The nobody forced into a starting role. The little bastard who proved he belonged in the NBA Finals. The terrier who harassed Stephen Curry and wound up in the hospital for his efforts. The pride of Maryborough, firstborn of Mark and Leanne. The guard with a jumper like a folding chair and the tenacity of a wombat. The man who earned a spot on the postgame podium alongside LeBron James.
That guy—our Delly—got MVP chants at the line.
And why not? Tongue is obviously in cheek here, but that’s as close to an MVP moment as we’re gonna get at the Q this year. Maybe someone will go off for 40 one night—ideally Collin Sexton, but more likely Jordan Clarkson. Larry Nance will throw down some big dunks. Tristan Thompson will grab some big rebounds. Bad as these Cavs are, there will be highs.
But no one else on this roster except maybe Thompson or Channing Frye could have produced a moment with as much gravitas as Matthew Dellavedova did Wednesday night. Delly carries emotional weight, and not just because he’s a plucky white guy (but also because he’s a plucky white guy). He was only in Cleveland for three seasons on his first tour, but he was there for a lot.
That’s as close to an MVP moment as we’re gonna get at the Q this year.
He was there for the days of Andrew Bynum and Anthony Bennett and the days of Kevin Love and LeBron James. He was there in 2015 and 2016, when Cavs-Warriors became a rivalry. He was one of the people who made it a rivalry. He was the tryhard killing himself to keep Steph from getting the ball, the irritant at the bottom of every pile. The underdog who made you earn it, an avatar for the 2015 Cavs if there ever was one. He got a DNP on June 19, 2016, but he earned every jewel on his ring.
There are precious few remnants left from those Cavs, the ones who went punch for punch with the Warriors. LeBron is in L.A., Kyrie is in Boston. Love is hurt, and now Thompson is too. J.R. is just gone. Where there were established veterans there are now questionable youngsters. Things changed quickly.
But then the Cavs-Bucks-Wizards trade happened, and Delly came back, and a surge of good feeling came with him. Not that anyone has delusions that he’ll turn the Cavs into winners—consult a doctor if that’s the case—but some feel-goodery is nice in a lottery-bound season. On a team full of players who are relatively new and/or just stopping through, it helps to have someone recognizable. Someone you feel like you know.
It’s little wonder that Dellavedova won over Cleveland so. He checks all the boxes, clichéd as they are. He’s scrappy, he’s tough, he’s fearless. He plays basketball like it’s football—albeit Aussie rules in his case. It isn’t hard to imagine him in a Browns uniform alongside Josh Cribbs, tearing downfield in kickoff coverage en route to blowing up a wedge.
It seems the values that are beloved in northeast Ohio are embodied by those from down under. Former Australia national team coach Brett Brown once said of Dellavedova, “He just epitomizes that Australian spirit. They just fight, man.” The Melbourne-born Kyrie Irving said, “It’s just his nature. It’s that Australian blood that he has in him that’s running deep, and it’s just deep-rooted.”
LeBron, whose image and legend are built on his very unlikelihood, said of Delly before the 2015 Finals, “He just tries to beat all the odds.”
It’s a thrill to root for someone like LeBron, but his otherworldliness can make him seem more alien than human. His brilliance sets him apart; his life in the spotlight seems impossible to fathom. One doesn’t imagine bumping into him at Heinen’s. To watch a player who is less spectacular than ordinary is to watch someone you can understand, someone you can touch.
So yeah, when Matthew Dellavedova stepped to the line in his first game back in Cleveland, he got MVP chants, and it was a real moment. He sank both free throws, shutting the door on a would-be Knicks comeback. It was an elegant final stroke on a picturesque return, insofar as Delly can be elegant. His final stat line: 15 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 22 minutes—and a team-best plus-17.
The crowd at the Q meant that shit.
Everything is about winning in professional sports, and sure, of course it is. You compete so you can win, and you win so you can make money. When a team sucks like the Cavs do now, it’s easy to write off the whole season, to say that the only matter of significance is what draft pick they get. Fair enough.
But that belies so much of why sports matter, namely that they make us feel and care. Often that caring is tied to performance in a fickle, what have you done for me lately arrangement. You’ll be cheered when you excel, but excel too little and you’ll be forgotten altogether. But strike the right chord, be on the right team, create the right moment, and you transcend performance. Delly has done that. Wednesday night he was honored for it.
While the MVP chants were clearly silly, they weren’t mocking. The crowd at the Q meant that shit. He’s a made man in this town, and deservedly so. He’s a champion who’s made more of an impact on the court and in the heart than could ever have been expected. He didn’t choose to come back, but he came back regardless. What’s more beloved in Cleveland than that?