If you've ever wondered what a basketball team with their heart ripped out looks like, stop by the Q and prepare to weep. Seems impossible that mere months ago, AC raved about this closely knit group of players; friends, teammates, family. Words like "chemistry", "defense" and "playoffs" thrown about lacking the usual sarcasm.
Remember when Mo and LeBron appeared together at a post-game press conference? Remember hearing that Z and Wild Thing were best of friends? Remember when Z and his family suffered a personal tragedy and then adopted two boys? Remember how the city breathed a sigh of relief? Z â€“ healthy and happy. We waited patiently through many years of Z on the bench when his feet decided they no longer wanted to be any part of carrying around a man of that size.
The Mo Flo was a shot of pure joy. Wild Thing's energy was a force of nature. In the center spun LeBron, calling the shots, making the shots, asking for players of varying size and skills, receiving players of various size and skills. And adored by a city whose economic base was shriveling, jobs slipping away, but we had LeBron, the jewel of the NBA. The jewel of the basketball world. The King. We were Witnesses.
We won and we won and we won. And then lost in the Playoffs. Twice. But still . . . each year we grew, refined our skill sets, learned each other's weak and strong points and adjusted accordingly. We were going somewhere.
Except it turned out the only person going somewhere was LeBron. Leaving our final Playoff game last season in a fit of pique, the blame game began in earnest as LeBron approached free agency status.
The team that was a family turned dysfunctional overnight.
Why did we lose? Who can we blame?
Coaching errors? Mike Brown disappeared.
How about that General Manager? Bye-bye, Danny Ferry.
Delonte West, the player Mike Brown told his own son to emulate if he wanted to be great, caught a train west with Sebasian Telfair.
Byron Scott agrees to brave winters in Cleveland. He's a terrific coach. So was Mike Brown, many would argue.
Underscoring all of the "Mike Brown in the Q with a Hammer" moves ran an undercurrent of love for LeBron. If LB ain't happy, Cleveland ain't happy. Who does he need? What does he want? Just say the word and all of Cleveland jumps into motion.
LeBron promised a championship for his hometown. We just needed to grease the wheels of the playoff bus, having no idea there was only room for one. First stop, Connecticut. If you want to take the dysfunctional route, you might as well go all the way. Embarrass and humiliate your family on national TV. Mission accomplished. Next stop, Miami. If you're going to win a championship, you need to be with your friends.
Wait. What? We're being served divorce papers; LeBron is leaving us for Chris and Dwyane. If we'd known he didn't love us, we could have prepared for this season, instead of centering our plans around the self-anointed head of the family, the guy who promised us a ring. The guy who left us at half court, holding a wilted basketball.
The fans rallied. We formed support groups (Team Gilbert, Please Stay LeBron). The Witness poster came tumbling down; we tried to pretend we never loved him.
We vented our anger. That's what the powerless members of a dysfunctional family do. How could this have happened? How could the ring itself mean more to LeBron than the team he won it for?
It's a business. No, it's sportsmanship and loyalty and pride and discipline. Or not.
It's a marriage. Equal partners, planning a future together. Or not.
It's a divorce. One person gets everything; the other side is too stunned to notice their symbolic band is now meaningless.
We'll get over it. The process of healing our collective wounded self-esteem has already begun. If the person you loved the most can wake up one day and decide he's the head of a family business without the family, it's going to take a while to care again.
You have to hit a low point in order to look up. Last Thursday, in an overwhelming atmosphere of emotions Freud would have difficulty untangling, we turned on the remaining team members. How unfair is that? They are struggling, like the rest of us, to put feelings aside and restructure the playing field.
Ironically, when our small forward left, we lost our center. Literally and metaphorically. Z, our gentle Lithuanian giant, followed LB Jimmy south for the winter. And we became spokes without a hub.
The team is shaking things up, starting anew. Mo lost his headband on purpose; JJ designed and wore a pair of chicken shoes, perhaps in an attempt to blind our opponents.
Where there is shame, there is blame. We've had enough of both. Let's play ball.