by Anthony Lima
It’s getting tougher and tougher to explain to millennials how sports in our youth were just as much about good guys vs. bad guys as it was about winners and losers.
Spotting a good guy or a bad guy in the 80s was as easy as finding Debbie Gibson in a shopping mall. Bernie Kosar: Good. John Elway: Bad.
Back then you had carefully etched-out protagonists and villains that would serve as the lifeblood of the city or conversely, the punching bag. They were living, breathing depictions of characters the likes you would see in the movies.
Think Jake Taylor vs. The Duke.
Think Rocky Balboa vs. Ivan Drago.
Think Jack Torrance vs. his wife (I rooted for the axe, we all did).
Bernie Kosar was the quintessential loveable Cleveland poster boy. You see the number 19 anywhere and it’s as sacred now as it was then – as long as Corey Coleman can actually play in at least seven games this year.
But imagine if Bernie Kosar forced a trade out of Cleveland with two years left on his contract. Imagine reports existing that he couldn’t get along with Clay Matthews and that their brands clashed. Just think about how that would play out
Bernie is at it again, showing up at his Pony Cleats signing at Gold Circle and he made sure to passive-aggressively trash Clay Matthews’ Pontiac dealership while speaking into a cassette recorder that a fan snuck into the event by way of a fanny pack, noting that his performance in ‘Masters of the Gridiron’ was clunky. Mathews shot back 48 hours later when the news finally got to him that his performance wasn’t as clunky as Kosar’s sidearm delivery. Kosar did nothing to quell rumors that he wants to go to Denver and that the Broncos are prepared to send John Elway to the north shore to play at Municipal for the Browns.
Yeah that would be weird.
Kyrie Irving is now off to the hated Boston Celtics and he will be public enemy number one on opening night in Cleveland. He will be booed, jerseys might get burned and this time I don’t see a fan rushing the court past security to hug No. 2.
He is an enemy of the state for as long as he wears Celtic Green. He now serves as a threat to Eastern Conference supremacy and now stands in the way of LeBron James elevating his legacy. It is OK to root against Kyrie Irving, fans are allowed to be fans.
Fans will never be expected to be completely rational in these situations. When it’s time to boo or cheer an athlete, you don’t immediately process the pros and cons or a player’s career and attempt to categorize the nuance of your love and/or hatred. Instead the neurotransmitters compute and emit binary emotions. On opening night you will feel compelled to boo. It’s a logical reaction. Nobody should have a problem with this.
It should be also be OK to cheer Kyrie if the Cavs decide to craft a video montage detailing the highs. There were many of them after all.
Kyrie Irving went from top pick to an all-star in short order. Then he was an All-Star Game MVP. Sure his team was terrible and the losses added up, with two separate coaches having issues truly connecting with Uncle Drew.
But he did something Cavs have ever done – including LeBron James – and that’s commit to the Cavaliers. Remember that he signed a max extension on minute one of free agency in 2011, before he knew anything about whether LeBron James would be coming home? That should count for something.
So should delivering the biggest sports moment in many of our lifetimes. You can’t mention the ending of the title drought without mentioning Kyrie. His Finals performances are on the Mount Rushmore of all-time Cleveland sports moments.
This will get very confusing for fans; it’s quite the departure from the good old days in sports. We were conditioned to hate the rival team and cultivate a level of disdain that could become irrational. You’ll remember all those John Elway horse jokes that used to fly in the late 80s in northeast Ohio. They were contagious.
Rooting against other humans solely because of the jersey they wear is part of the fun of being a fan. It’s nothing to apologize for.
But Kyrie provides an interesting test case because of his appeal in Cleveland. There are many fans that were happy to appoint Kyrie atop their pecking order of favorite local sports stars, even ahead of LeBron James. His shoe is the second-highest selling sneaker in the country, with many paying hundreds of dollars to wear them even on the snowy streets of Cleveland.
Many fans have posters of Uncle Drew on their walls. Many go back to their DVRs to see Game 7 from a year ago to watch Kyrie’s championship-winning shot – so immortalized they can’t even cancel their cable and switch providers out of fear of losing the recorded game!
So welcome to the new world of sports fandom, where you watch a kid get drafted and develop, you watch him help you do the unthinkable and win a championship in a city where it would seem impossible, then watch him hijack a team and force a trade to their hated rival. Fans almost need to see therapists just to compartmentalize their own rooting interests. They’ve already gone through this with LeBron, who they had to love, then despise, then love again, and he’s still got another potential decision looming.
This is a new frontier of sports and it’s up to all of us to keep up with the madness. To this day we deify Bernie Kosar, who never won a championship – never even played for one with the Browns – and ended his career with a losing record as a starting quarterback.
Yet he can do no wrong in Cleveland.
You know who is a winner? A championship winner? Kyrie Irving.
Something tells me he won’t be getting the Bernie treatment anytime soon.
And if art really will wants to imitate life, I look forward to seeing you at the world premier of Major League 4, Taylor Takes His Talents to New York.