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Cleveland Cavaliers: NBA’s Luckiest Or League’s Greatest Grudge?


LeBron James’ departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers in the summer of 2010 was a spectacle to say the least. It was hurtful and embarrassing to the city of Cleveland. While the majority of NBA fans across the world were entertained by ESPN’s “The Decision,” the city of Cleveland was left wondering how the NBA could glorify a verdict that held such citywide ramifications? Four years later, how many No. 1 overall draft picks will it take for the NBA to stop apologizing to Cleveland?

Many Cavaliers fans were angry. Images of James were torn down in the streets and jerseys burned. Owner Dan Gilbert and former general manager Chris Grant were left in disbelief. And after certain talents were moved to South Beach, the Cavaliers team that once gained a full head of steam on the back of James’ meteoric rise to league super-stardom was now decapitated with no clear leader. Most important, the city of Cleveland and its hope for success on and off the court was decimated.

After all, James not only provided the Cavaliers with a reversal of fortune; he was a saving grace for the city itself. As the team gained momentum, the city itself pushed further ahead into success as well. For a town where most manufacturing jobs were vacant and unemployment sat at 11 percent, the Cavaliers upswing gave the city of Cleveland a feeling of solidarity. With James jamming $3.7 million for the city of Cleveland each home game and the money made from being ranked second-highest in attendance, in addition to lucrative television deals – fans were sold on hope for their team and livelihood.

In no way did the complete economic fate of Cleveland rest with the Cavaliers, but James’ arrival did change things for the better. Although far short of a utopia, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the relationship with its fans was a beautiful marriage between entertainment and short-term economic prosperity.

Then James left for warmer weather, two championships (thus far) and the opportunity to play with two other superstars.  Cleveland was crushed – publicly. Although he would later regret the reviled television special, LeBron’s “The Decision” made Cleveland look undesirable, incapable of competing on the same level as the Miami Heat and inferior in personnel. Jokes ensued at the expense of Cleveland, and in an instant the city’s positive notoriety and team’s recognition were vanished.

The only thing worse than a break-up is a public break-up. It seems the NBA has been trying to make amends since. The Cleveland Cavaliers have had three of the last four No. 1 overall draft picks, and every attempt to replicate the success that was gutted from the city in one tasteless broadcast has had minimal effect.

No. 1 overall draft picks come with economic consequence as well. They provide a boost in ticket and merchandise sales, set up lucrative advertising deals, and can propel a team back to national television as NBA fans across the globe typically want to see the first round draft pick in action so we can all grade him as a stud or bust. Increased arena attendance and downtown foot traffic brings more money, which in turn can create more jobs. So how many number one picks will it take to measure up to Cleveland’s previous “LeBronomic” success?

Perhaps the NBA has tailored the NBA Lottery to favor the Cavaliers; then again maybe karma is wearing a Cavaliers jersey. It could certainly be Cleveland’s turn to laugh, and who knows how many top overall selections it will take to reverse the embarrassment served after ESPN’s “The Decision.” What’s a fact is that the Cavaliers had a 1.7 percent chance to win the No. 1 pick, and they did. They beat out two of the league’s two worst squads, the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers, who netted the second and third picks.

Even players in the league took notice to the Cavaliers, questionable stroke of luck for the third time.

Cavaliers general manager David Griffin branded their repeat lottery success as a “defining moment.” Perhaps it would’ve been more correct to label it one of a few defining moments, as last year, they selected forward Anthony Bennett first overall, and took All-Star point guard stud Kyrie Irving first in 2011.

So has the NBA completed its penance? Or will the Cavaliers turn that off the court “luck” into on the court success? There’s reason to be skeptical of either scenario.

Tags: Cleveland Cavaliers Nba Draft Lottery