Cleveland is a Bermuda Triangle for pro sports franchises without the tropical weather. Yet somehow the situation has deteriorated to hazardous levels in The Forest City in the past 12 months. I can’t tell which environment is more toxic these days between the Winter Olympics in Sochi or the pro sports experience in Cleveland.
The Browns and Cavs are analogous to those Soch-ity double toilet stalls located inside of Russia’s Olympic venues. Basically, their fans are watching the equivalent of soiled diapers sizzling under a hot sun. Conversely, Russia’s Sochi Olympics preparation and P.R. machine has been managed worse than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On Thursday, the Cavaliers put an end to the horrors of the past four years by rowing general manager Chris Grant out to the middle of Lake Eerie and dumped him overboard midseason Fredo Corleone-style while Dan Gilbert watched from his porch.
In the past few weeks, the world has been collectively crestfallen at developments surrounding Russia’s Sochi Games. There are hotels without lobbies, bottomless manhole pits lacking covers, dangerous sink water, surveillance in hotel rooms, legislated homophobia and 7000 stray dogs which have been ruthlessly executed.
"A dog ran into the Fish Stadium, we took it away," Alexei Sorokin, the director of the company contracted to exterminate animals throughout the Olympics told the Associated Press recently. "God forbid something like this happens at the actual opening ceremony. This will be a disgrace for the whole country."
It's time to get a little introspective though. For all those Americans taking nationalism to the extreme by denouncing Coca-Cola for featuring a Super Bowl ad sung in various languages, this is your counterpart.
If Russians were given the chance they’d mercilessly scoff at Cleveland like Americans do at Moscow’s polar climate or Ivan Drago after pulverizing Apollo Creed. Not only do Clevelanders set their most prolific athlete’s jerseys on fire as if he was an exiled former despot. They light themselves ablaze for entertainment—or warmth.
In the 1970’s the city was being run about as well as Sochi Olymoic venue construction projects. in 1978, Cleveland became the United States’ first city since The Great Depression to default on its debts.
In conventional political thrillers, frosty relations as a result of lingering Cold War tensions between the Russians and United States typically result in a Tom Clancy-inspired doomsday scenario in which D.C. or New York City is attacked, nuked, but just the fact that Cleveland is host of the 2014 Gay Games would be enough for President Putin to alter the trajectory of his nation’s missile guiding systems.
Cleveland being a symbol of mediocrity in professional sports would be unsatisfactory for Russian standards. The Federation has committed a litany of disdainful acts in the name of preventing the country from being disgraced in front of the world during the Olympics. Can you imagine what they’d think of Cleveland?
Between LeBron’s Decision on July 8, 2010 and the June 22, 1969 Cuyahoga River fire, Cleveland’s been burned twice. Even the rivers catch fire during summertime in Cleveland. However, this may be the nadir of Cleveland’s sports valley.
It’s inevitable that May’s Eastern Conference Finals will prominently feature a pair of ex-Cavs in James and Andrew Bynum duking it out for a ring. However, Sochi and Cleveland are in the running for the world’s worst sports cities.
Before he linked up with the Heat in the summer of 2010, James failed to convince Bosh that Cleveland was an upgrade from Toronto, much like former owner Ted Stepien failed to move the Cavaliers to Toronto in the '80s. Although he was damaged, Bynum was the first major free agent Cleveland has signed since Craig Ehlo. The promise was there for him morphing back into the league's second-best center. Cleveland's contract offered Bynum an above market value of $24 million and that wasn't enough for him to ingratiate himself with the Cavs. It's unclear whether that speaks volumes about Cleveland or Bynum. The blame for the humiliating Bynum saga can be equally distributed among Bynum and the front office, who had to be aware of Mike Brown's unpleasant history with their mercurial center.
Two years ago, Brown's veteran Lakers nearly took an L against the Golden State Warriors by benching Bynum when he attempted an ill-advised three-pointer. Bynum and Brown could not see eye-to-eye on a veteran team with championship aspirations, but the Cavaliers thought they could co-exist with a young squad in Cleveland?
Ultimately, rehiring Mike Brown after firing him in 2010 was a mistake that doesn't make amends for running off Paul Brown in the '60s.
The Cleveland Browns couldn’t sell their head coaching vacancy as a timeshare after firing head coach Rob Chudzinksi, who failed to win the division during his first season while they gutted the roster, traded their 2012 first round draft pick and spent half the season trying to trade a blossoming All-Pro 22-year-old wide receiver their current general managercalled a future bust a year and a half ago while he was an NFL Network analyst. Left and right candidates expressed disinterest with a rare opportunity to become head coach.
The coach CEO Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi settled on was the defensive coordinator for the Bills. During the interview process, Mike Pettine's daughter poo-pooed the Browns, despite Cleveland being the only franchise interviewing her pops.
That didn't stop the Browns from hiring him though. Banner actually introduced Pettine as the Curly to their Moe and Larry. This is an actual Joe Banner quote from his introductory conference transcribed by Cleveland.com.
"I don’t know if you had a chance to meet Mike, but since (GM) Mike Lombardi and I are Moe and Larry, we set out to find Curly — and we succeeded,'' said Banner to a roar of laughter, referring to his bald-headed, square-jawed new coach. "That’s why it took so long; there aren’t a lot of Curlys running around the country.''
Good luck Browns fans. Aat least the Indians made the playoffs last season–before their pitching aces Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez bolted in free agency.
The Cavs began this season hopeful, with Drake playing in the background, texting each other about the real possibility of reuniting with LeBron in the summer of 2014. Somehow in an Eastern Conference that was historically bad, they found a way to detonate before the All-Star break.
Dion Waiters loves him some Dion Waiters and seems to hate his teammates. Bynum converted into automatic T.O. mode to force his way out of town, Kyrie Irving has lost his will to play defense, is posting career-worst averages in points per 48 minutes, shooting percentage from two and the three and is light years ahead of LeBron in terms of wanting to bolt from Cleveland.
If he’s not careful, Irving could become point guard Carmelo in a few seasons.
No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett is having the worst season by most statistical measures in modern NBA history. Luol Deng was happier on an I.V. drip after his botched spinal tap than he is with the Cavs and Mike Brown is a lame duck coach for the second time.
Now it makes more sense as to why Cleveland has the third-most bars per capita of any city in the United States. It’s hazardous to watch these teams play without emotional support nearby. While we’re on this subject, is that really a city you want to coup Johnny Manziel in for the next five years? By the time his rookie contract expires, he’ll be sporting a Mountain Man Favre beard and the patch of Ch-ch-chia hair LeBron grew when he stopped grooming himself while he got the nerve up to break up with the Cavs during his final season before free agency. This is a recipe for Manziel to go into Ryan Leaf mode.
The Cleveland sports franchise owners don't offer much hope either. Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has been under investigation by the FBI for at least a year and not for being a diehard Steelers fan. He’s already copped to that. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert is a DL Pistons fan and the Indians are owned by James Dolan’s uncle.
The most depressing part is that it didn’t even have to be this way. George Steinbrenner, only brought the New York Yankees after his failed bid to purchase the Indians and a few years earlier the NBA reneged in its Jackie Moon deal to absorb Steinbrenner's Cleveland Pipers into the league 10 years before the expansion Cavaliers were even conceived. Steinbrenner's first blockbuster move long before he owned the Yankees was to snatch Ohio State’s Jerry Lucas out from underneath the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals and eventually John Havlicek was poised to join him in the backcourt.
In a letter to Sports Illustrated in 1961, Lucas explained his decision to sign with the Pipers for a smaller salary than the one offered to him by the Association. It’s an ode to Steinbrenner’s management skills.
The NBA and Steinbrenner reached a deal to merge with the Kansas City Steers for the 1962-63 season. However, his partner, Steers owner George McKean was delinquent with his payments to the NBA and the Steinbrenner was unable to muster up the funds on his own or from his dad. The franchise folded as a result and the ABL went under the following season.
We’ll never know whether Steinbrenner’s Pipers would have fared better than the Cavaliers, but the bar wasn’t set very high. Cleveland has to be the first city that ruined a bright businessman, pushed him out and watched him become a legend in New York City.
The difference between Sochi and Cleveland is that Sochi doubles as a summer reprieve from Russia’s harsh winters. It's the Russian South Beach. Cleveland’s lake effect and location along the Snow Belt makes it a conducive environment for ice wine production, which numbs the body to the cold winters. It's not a vacation spot though. Unfortunately, Russia just declared war on alcoholism. While Sochi is home of the Olympic rings for two weeks, Cleveland is a three-ring sports circus.
If there’s hope for Cleveland, it’s in the upcoming draft season. The Browns have the fourth pick in a quarterback-rich draft. The Cavs could fall into the top-five, during a draft which appears to be the deepest of the lottery era, and escape with a talent that compensates for them selecting an overweight tweener with sleep apnea, asthma and a gut with its own gravitational pull.
First they’ll have to hire a new general manager. Then, they’ll have to either let LeBron James go or hope he decides to opt-in for the fifth year of his Heat contract before exploring free agency. As star-crossed as the Browns are, the Cavs are even more hopeless. The Cavs could use the extra offseason to get their affairs in order and build their staff around LeBron's high school teammates and business partners.
My CAVS personnel predictions GM: Maverick Carter Head Coach: Dru Joyce Assistants: Dru Joyce III, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee
— Chad Zumock (@chadzumock) February 6, 2014
If Dan Gilbert’s son can’t pull another bunny out of his hat during the lottery selection show, there’s always the possibility of bringing gold medalists to Cleveland. American bids for the Olympics in New York City, D.C. and Chicago have failed miserably, however, The U.S. Olympic Committee should throw its weight behind Cleveland as a locale for our next Winter Olympics bid. It’s not like there’s anything else going on there in the sports world for a while.