So I went to visit a buddy from undergrad who now goes to med school in Cleveland, and since I grew up in Pennsylvania, I’ve never been to a Lakers game live. Thus, I decided it would be a cool idea to get tickets to Lakers-Cavs and we could go see the game together. My buddy isn’t too big of a basketball fan, but he was up for it since I was so excited to go.
We ate before the game and went to Quicken Loans Arena, arriving at about 6:15. The game didn’t start till 8:00, but we figured that it would be better to get there early and see warm-ups than to get there late and miss some of the game. Well, we ended up getting there too early, and we had to wait outside the gates for a good 15 minutes. We finally got in and got to our seats, which were in the 2nd level, 13 rows up (in other words, way up there). However, I was so psyched to see the Lakers live that it didn’t matter to me; I was sitting on the edge of my seat trying to make out who was who out on the court.
The Lakers were on the near side and the Cavs were on the far side. For the Lakers, it was mostly the bench guys on the court: Shannon Brown was practicing jumpers on the wing, Sasha and Fisher were practicing threes in some sort of competition where they shoot around the three point line till they miss, Josh Powell was working on his pick and pops, and Bynum was working on his low-post moves. Oh yea, and Ammo was running along the midcourt line, for some unknown reason. Shortly after that, Jordan Farmar came out and started warming up as well.
There were a few striking things I noticed during warm-ups. First of all, Derek Fisher didn’t miss. It was just three after three after three, all of them going in. Second, Farmar’s “warm-up” consisted of near half-court pull-up jumpers. You wonder where the PUJIT’s come from? Well Farmar practices them; really bad, long distance, off the dribble PUJIT’s, at least before this game. After a while, I zoned out from staring, and just sorta sat there waiting for the other guys to show up.
All the Lakers and Cavs left the court, presumably for their pre-game talks with their coaching staffs while I continued to zone. About 30 minutes before tip-off, both teams returned to the court with their full rosters, forming lay-up lines as I screamed like a giddy school girl when I saw Kobe. Then, it happened.
I wasn’t quite sure why at first, considering there was a bunch of ambient noise in the arena, but the crowd just roared. Then I saw it was because he had arrived: Lebron. The crowd was screaming with adulation, and Lebron ate it up. He strutted; he had fun with the crowd; he really gave them a show. After his ritual half-court shots which sent the crowd into an absolute frenzy (one of the last ones finally banked in), the two teams got ready for tip-off.
Every time the big screen showed Lebron, the crowd erupted with applause. It didn’t matter what he was doing or where he was; the crowd loved him. When J.J. Hickson was dunking on the Lakers, the applause didn’t even come close to when the big screen showed Lebron. And when Lebron had his two And1’s in the 1st half, the crowd absolutely exploded. It didn’t matter what the rest of the Cavs did; everything revolved around Lebron. The Cavs take the lead in the middle of the third after trailing the whole game? Not even 50% of the sound for a random Lebron appearance on the big screen. The only thing that came close? Anderson Varejao’s game-winning foul draw. Otherwise, the Cavs fans simply couldn’t cheer enough for Lebron. I don’t think I’ll ever hear a crowd cheer louder than when Lebron hit the jumper late in the 4th to put the Cavs up by 7. When your pants start vibrating, you know it’s loud.
As for the game, I couldn’t really give you any analysis; being there live, I just lost all objectivity and got sucked into the moment. Every play became larger than it actually was, and every possession seemed like life or death. It didn’t help that you get almost no stats and can’t keep track of anything, but the whole experience just became surreal after a while. I did notice the Shaq repeatedly abused our front line, the Cavs cutters picked our back line of defense apart, and Anderson Varejao did all the little things to beat our bigs. But, perhaps the biggest but of all, was that Lebron was able to shoot over our defense, draining multiple threes and jumpers, the part of his game which was perhaps his biggest weakness.
Even though the Lakers lost, being live at this game was an amazing experience. It was tense throughout, with some pretty decent play from both sides. However, I think the Laker fan I met in the bathroom who almost got into a fight with a men’s room full of Cavs fans put it best: “It ain’t gonna matta’ when Lebron goes to New York and ya’ll got nothin’ to cheer about.”
If Lebron leaves Cleveland, basketball will be dead in that city. They adore him, maybe more than LA adores Kobe. Whoever wins the championship this year, does it really matter when you think about it on this scale? If the Lakers do win this year, sure we’ll be happy. But if Cleveland loses this year, Lebron may leave because of it. And if he’s ever gone, I asked myself honestly: what will they have to cheer for? Really makes you think about what’s important in sports.