x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Cleveland Cavaliers find life is tough without LeBron James

Sport is a reflection of life. And life, as we are often reminded, is unfair. But what's happened to the Cleveland Cavaliers since the departure of LeBron James verges on the unbelievable.

LeBron James is shadowed by Christian Eyenga during Monday night’s victory for Miami Heat over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
LeBron James is shadowed by Christian Eyenga during Monday night’s victory for Miami Heat over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Sport is a reflection of life. And life, as we are often reminded, is unfair.

Jay Cutler, the Chicago Bears quarterback, pulls out of the NFC Championship game with a sprained knee ligament, and he is strafed in tweets from players present and past, all in the dark about the injury's severity, for being a gutless quitter.

Padraig Harrington (in Abu Dhabi) and Camillo Villegas complete rounds of golf and sign scorecards, only to be disqualified from tournaments when television viewers who spot trivial violations rat them out to tour officials.

Evander Holyfield, the boxer chasing one last significant title before he qualifies for a senior citizen's discount, needs an outcome of any sort against Sherman "Tank" Williams - a win to soldier on, a loss to compel him to retire. Instead, they clash heads inadvertently, drawing blood from the former heavyweight champion, and the bout is declared a no-contest.

Those are unfair. But you have not seen unfair, a what-did-we-do-to-deserve-this unfair, until you have laid sad eyes on the basketball's Cleveland Cavaliers.

You may remember the team for having once employed LeBron James. Though who worked for whom is worthy of debate.

Partly to pacify James, the Cavs management acquired decent enough players to create a competitive ensemble, leaving the team vulnerable long-term. Then, upon turning free agent after last season, James was offered the maximum allowable contract to stay.

As was his right, James bolted for Miami, while raising the bar to new heights for rudeness in doing so.

Since, the Cavs have been in a free-fall the NBA has not seen since Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen skipped out on the Bulls. Chicago nose-dived from 62-20 in 1997/98 to 13-37 the next season, shortened by a players lockout.

With Monday's loss to James and the Heat, the Cav-Nots swallowed their 21st defeat in a row, two short of the league record for extended futility. A model of consistency on the road, they have lost 24 consecutive games away from the increasingly unfriendly confines of the Q, which stands for Quicken Loans Arena, not the Quagmire.

Their lone win in the past 32 games came in overtime. The last win in regulation? Thanksgiving weekend. If this pace continues, LeBron's leftovers will have taken the Cavs from first (overall in the regular season) to worst, which no team has achieved.

It once was said of NBA games that you could catch all of the suspense by tuning in for just the last two minutes.

In the Cavs' case, by tuning in after the first two minutes, you might miss any drama. Cleveland tends to get behind early and remain there. Their average margin of despair: 15.4 points.

Some in the Cavs' camp have maintained a sense of humour, of the gallows variety. Chris Grant, the general manager, said, "Plan A was for LeBron to re-sign, and Plan B was for LeBron to re-sign."

Plan C, apparently, was to joke about A and B.

Byron Scott, the coach, has shown patience, perhaps owing to his substitute's role for the expansion Vancouver Grizzlies in 1995/96, whose record 23 loses in a row hangs by a thread. That means a team coached by Scott is about to erase an embarrassing mark established by a team on which he played.

"There are tougher things in life than this," Scott said. "It's not the end of the world."

Not like it was to Clevelanders last summer, when the skies permanently darkened. After James announced "The Decision" in the worst hour of television outside of any "Jersey Shore" episode, they burned his No 23 jersey in effigy, dismantled a mural featuring him with a sneaker sponsor and mocked him in a new billboard.

Dan Gilbert, the Cavs owner, smeared James as narcissistic and cowardly. Some fans were disappointed. They thought Gilbert went easy on him.

Spare your pity for Gilbert and save it for the fans.

While the franchise value has declined from US$476 million (Dh1.79 billion) to $355m, according to Forbes magazine, Gilbert is spending $32m less on player salaries.

He also will keep $15.9m in an NBA payroll tax that would have been assessed with James and will pocket a few million from contributions by the taxed teams.

The life-is-unfair theme is an oldie but a goody in Cleveland, home of the Rock 'n' Roll Museum. (The blues would be more appropriate.) The town has been title-starved since 1964, prompting a popular sports blog called "Waiting For Next Year: A Tradition of Hope, Passion and Misery."

Sometimes, fairness in sports tends to even out. Cutler has been vindicated with confirmation of his injury, and a few disgraced twitters apologised.

The PGA is considering rules changes as a result of the ludicrous disqualifications. Holyfield has scheduled another fight.

As for the Cavaliers, we leave you with this knee-slapper from Gilbert, which was written before the season and which may have upset the sports gods: "I personally guarantee that the Cleveland Cavaliers will win an NBA Championship before the self-titled former 'king' wins one. You can take it to the bank."