I want him .. DEAD! I want his family … DEAD! I want his house burned to the ground! I wanna go there in the middle of the night and piss on the ashes!
That was Robert DeNiro’s Al Capone talking about Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness in the movie The Untouchables. It’s probably also just a shade or two to the right of the warm welcome that Cavalier fans will bestow upon the Washington Wizards tomorrow night – particularly their twin knuckleheads of DeShawn Stevenson and Brendan Haywood.
Without a doubt, Stevenson and Haywood have earned the enmity that will be coming their way. Stevenson secured his place as one of the dumbest players in NBA history (as compiled by the noted historian Charles Barkley) when he called Cavs uber-star LeBron James “overrated.” Hell, why am I telling you this? You know it already. It’s been one of the biggest stories surrounding the Cavs in the past month. During that month, Stevenson has only jammed his Nikes further into his mouth.
Haywood’s comments, made earlier this week, may have flown under the radar. Haywood mocked James’s remark that the Wizards were out to hurt him, and admonished the King to “[p]lay basketball and leave it alone.”
(NOTE: The next paragraph is brought to you courtesy of Steve Buscemi’s character in Con Air):
Define irony. A bunch of idiots dancing around on a plane to a song made famous by a band that died in a plane crash.
It may not be truly ironic that Haywood is the one taking LeBron to task, but it’s at least curious and self-interested. After all, it was Haywood who took a cheap shot at LeBron in Game One, pushing him into the courtside cameramen as he was driving for a layup. That cheap shot earned Haywood a Flagrant Two foul, good for one early shower. Haywood complaining about James’ lack of toughness is like the fox complaining that the chickens won’t come out of their coop.
Wait a minute -- that analogy doesn’t work at all. Foxes are typically perceived as strategic and cunning. Haywood’s actions (like Stevenson’s before him) are the exact opposite of cunning. They are stupid, as in suicidally stupid. What can possibly be gained by trying to agitate one of the game’s best players?
My loyal readers (I am taking liberties with the plural today) know that I cannot write for very long without taking a detour, and this column is no exception. The mention of Con Air got me to thinking about a conversation I recently had with a buddy, in which we listed the worst movie accents ever. Nicolas Cage’s turn as Cameron Poe in Con Air has to be near the top of the list. In the darkest recesses of my mind -- the truly evil part that still can play that godawful Milli Vanilli song as though it were released yesterday -- I can hear Cage drawling about hummin’birds and mai tais and Yahtzee.
Now that I’ve sickened myself, time to get back to the point. As much as anything, Haywood and Stevenson are grasping at straws. They are on the brink of having the Cavs send them home for the third straight season. They have to be tired of watching LeBron beat them in every way possible, whether shooting (like his two clutch shots in the final minute of Game One, which brought back memories of his big shots in Game Three and Game Five of the 2006 series) or passing (like his dish to Mr. Wiyah Hangah himself, Delonte West, for the game-winner this past Sunday; a pass that was eerily reminiscent of him setting up Damon Jones for the series clincher in 2006). They’ve seen this movie before; they know how it ends; and there’s not a thing they can do about it.
So what do they do? They jab at LeBron in the press. They take cheap shots at him on the court (I defy anybody to tell me, with a straight face, that Stevenson was going for the ball when he swung at LeBron’s head in Game Four). They’re trying something, anything, to get the King off his game. (And while they’re at it, they’re finding a way to get themselves into the national media.)
Is it working? Well, the scoreboard doesn’t seem to think so; the Cavs hold a 3-1 lead, with James leading the way as usual. With Game Five slated for tonight (or this afternoon; what’s with the 6:00 PM starting time, NBA?) at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cavs stand a good chance of dismissing the Wizards for the third straight year.
Should the Cavs win tonight, it will be their tenth victory in their last eleven playoff games against Washington. And that gets at the real reason why Stevenson and Haywood are chafing, and taking out their frustrations so visibly: the Wizards don’t matter. This series is and never was anything more than a speed bump to the Cavaliers. They expected to win. Not winning would have been a huge disappointment, a colossal step back from last year’s run to the Finals.
With this being the third straight first-round playoff matchup between the two teams, the natural tendency is to characterize it as a rivalry. But a rivalry requires some notion of equality, of competitiveness, of both teams winning games. The Wizards don’t fall under that definition. They are “rivals” in the same way that the 1970s/1980s Indians fans saw the Tribe as rivals to the Yankees. Sure, they might have occasionally pulled out the emotional win in front of a packed house on Fireworks Night; but the rest of the time, they were having their jocks handed to them. That’s where the Wizards find themselves today. They have to know, deep down, that they are the pawns against the King.
So please, keep this in mind when you watch tonight’s game. Root for the Cavaliers, for certain. And definitely bring it to Stevenson and Haywood. I’d love to hear chants of “SOUL-JAH BO-OY” every time DeShawn touches the ball, or is involved in a play, or breathes. I’d pay money to see one of the Cavs dunk in traffic, then hang on the rim and shove his crotch into the opponents’ faces, as Haywood seems to enjoy doing. But all that rooting is done with an underlying tone of sympathetic contempt, as opposed to true hatred. To go back to where we started, this series isn’t about wanting anybody dead. No, this series is about the ignorance of the guy who brings a knife to a gun fight. The Wizards are holding the knife right now, and all we as Cavs fans can do is shake our heads.