The following was written June 11th and the Finals obviously took a very sharp turn Cleveland’s way after this game. Keep that in mind as you read this. Enjoy.
Attending the NBA Finals has been my white whale for my entire life. I’ve gone to a bunch of awesome games all over the country, but I’ve never been able to make it to the Finals due to location, work, or being broke. I finally knocked it off the bucket list last night and it was everything I wanted it to be. In the last 18 months I’ve gone to a Super Bowl, a World Series game, two March Madness games, an Eastern Conference Finals game, and now Game 4 of the NBA Finals. I have very few complaints.
Had anyone but the Warriors been playing I probably would have punted this trip to next year, but I absolutely love watching that team and you should never assume a team you like is automatically gonna get back to that kind of position. Plus, booing LeBron in person is one of the most fun things to do in sports and I was genuinely curious to see how Cavs fans react to him. Spoiler alert: it’s complicated.
This thing was not cheap. For $500 each (plus incredibly exorbitant fees), my wife and I sat in Row 2 of Section 212 in the balcony of the Q, just past the baseline. You pretty much have to use Flash Seats, a ticketing site owned by good old Subprime Dan Gilbert himself, to get Cavs tickets. Their website interface is absolute garbage and they make it pretty much impossible to filter your searches in any logical way, which is ridiculous. We got our tickets the day after the Warriors clinched, when the Finals schedule had already been released for 12+ hours. Despite this, Flash Seats still said “TBD” for the game date and time, and there isn’t any kind of clickable map interface for choosing a section or seeing the view from a particular seat. On top of that, they charge a 20% “seller connection fee” that they don’t tell you about until you get to checkout. I still bought the tickets because I’m a sucker and flying to Cleveland, staying in a hotel, and going to the game was still cheaper than flying to Oakland, staying with people I know, and going to the Oracle.
After eating lunch at the Great Lakes Brewery in Ohio City, the wife and I took an Uber over to downtown Cleveland around 6:30pm, two and a half hours before tipoff. The driver was some young dude who told us there’s a ton to do by the Q and that we’d be “kids in a candy store” down there. I didn’t know this was possible that any part of Cleveland could be as cool as he was trying to tell us, but the dude actually wasn’t far off. The East 4th Street District of Cleveland is basically wall-to-wall bars surrounding Quicken Loans Predatory Lending Arena and whatever Jacobs Field is called now. I’m a huge fan of cities sticking their arenas and stadiums right next to each other, and the setup in Cleveland is perfect for pregaming.
Before we even got to the bars, we noticed a street that was completely shut off for the Finals celebration, and there was all kinds of dumb little fun stuff to do by the arena. The NBA produced this very well: there was a full court with a ton of basketballs to shoot around with, a stage with a live band, a double-decker Bud Light bar (probably the same one from the World Series), a whole wall of baskets at different height levels, and above the ABC broadcast booth was a giant TV screen set up in a grassy park between the Indians stadium and the Q. There were also a bunch of smaller activities like a vertical leap-measuring stack, a photo op setup with a giant Larry O’Brian Trophy, balls with LeBron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love’s handprints to measure yours against, and some other stuff for kids.
We were there too early and this got old in about 15 minutes, so we took off to the bars on East 4th Street. The street was closed to traffic (I’ve never been on a street full of bars that was closed to traffic and had a bad time), and we walked through wall-to-wall Cavs fans and found the least crowded bar possible, Corner Alley. If I noticed anything about Cleveland it’s that every damn bar is massive, and beers were $3.50. That’s basically college town prices. Cleveland was growing on me and I didn’t know how to feel about it. After a couple beers, we headed back to the area around the Q, where a dunk contest had broken out on the big court. There were a whole lotta misses, but not this one:
At 8pm, an hour before tipoff, we headed into the Q. Security was really easy and Flash Seats had said something about using my credit card to get into the game, but they actually just scanned my phone and printed out this little ticket:
Whenever I’m in a new arena I like to take a lap around the concourse and see what the layout is like. The Q has giant, two-story team store and all the standard concession stands. It’s nothing special, but it’s still much better than, say, Barclays Center. There are also random little Cavs stats posted all over the arena. Did you know World B. Free had the second-highest single-season scoring average in Cavs history? Congratulations, now you do. The more you know.
That is a depressingly small number for a 50/50 raffle at the NBA Finals.
We went upstairs and got to our section about half an hour before tipoff. Our seats were on the aisle in the second row of the balcony just beyond the baseline facing the Warriors bench. There weren’t any seats directly behind us, so we could stand up and move around without bothering anyone. I got my snapchat all nice and lit to make people jealous and use all the dope Finals filters, then realized my battery was at like 10%. I asked the usher, some old white guy clearly doing this as a retirement hobby, if there was a charging station. He actually walked me all the way there! If I had done that at Barclays Center I would have just gotten a blank stare. By this point I had finally put on my Warriors t-shirt over the American flag tank top I’d been rocking all day (it’s annoying to openly be an opposing fan in another city for a big game) but didn’t catch too much crap from anyone except the beer guy, whose job is basically to give people a hard time anyway. The misery would wait.
Each seat had a free maroon Cavs t-shirt, a towel, and a wrist band that lit up when you shook it and was sometimes controlled by the arena. Not a bad haul:
The national anthem was a sing-along and the bracelets lit up to look like an American flag. The fans directly behind center court rolled out a huge “DEFEND THE LAND” banner for like 8 seconds before they put it way, a poor imitation of the Raptors’ “WE THE NORTH” banner. That being said, the Cavs intros were bonkers. The Cavs have the best court projection system I’ve ever seen (see video above), and tons of fire poured out of the scoreboard while the players were introduced. It was beyond electric in there by tipoff.
You can’t go to a big game in Cleveland and not feel like you’re watching people who have had their hearts ripped out over and over for decades bracing for something terrible to happen. There are just so many depressing elements of attending a Finals game in Cleveland. Ben Roethlisberger is shown on the video board during Golden State’s free throws to get the fans pissed off. That’s not even the same sport and the Browns are, at best, Roethlisberger’s third-biggest rival. Jay-Z, Marshawn Lynch, Rihanna, and a ton of other celebrities show up at Oracle. The most famous people at the Q were Urban Meyer, Joe Thomas, Spike Lee for some reason, and Andrew Bynum in the middle of his Find Yourself cross-country road trip. Kevin Love got cheered harder than LeBron did, and he’s probably on a different team next year (Update: this might be the most outdated take in this entire post). The pregame hype video had at least 5 clips of Zydrunas freaking Ilgauskas, who left the team ages ago. The catchphrases on the video board said stuff like this:
Can I not be the Diff? Even on the biggest stage, Cleveland is a factory of sadness.
I wanted to like these people. I really did. I tried to put my coastal superiority complex aside for one damn night and just try to walk a mile in their shoes (rooting against their team probably didn’t help this cause). It all started fine. The Cavs fans were friendly at the bars, the people sitting closest to me were pretty nice, and I had a good banter with some older dude for most of the game. I even gave my free Cavs shirt to the girl who took pictures for me and my wife. A lot of these people were great folks, but DAMN do they have weird persecution complex. This city just had an entire freaking 30 for 30 made about how godawful it is to be a Cleveland sports fan because the teams never win, but they did the O-H-I-O chant while the Cavs mascot (why is it a dog?) danced around in a Buckeyes jersey. They cheered Urban Meyer harder than any Cavalier. They booed Anderson Varejao like he never did anything for them. They got legitimately angry at every foul against them, even the ones that were clearly correct when the replay was shown (the scoreboard operator might have been the quickest I’ve ever seen about changing the score and putting replays on the board). They acted like they were owed this despite being in Northeast Ohio, where “nothing is given, everything is earned.” This team has given itself the personality of the man who broke their hearts, came back, and still hasn’t delivered what he promised. Cavs fans have become LeBron James.
This was by far the best game of the Finals. It was close throughout, and Kyrie Irving, Steph Curry and Klay Thompson finally showed up on the same night. JR Smith had a scoring binge in the 1st, and nothing gets a crowd going like a good JR scoring binge. LeBron had the quietest 25/13/9 I’ve ever seen, and the Warriors made more 3’s than 2’s. The Cavs led at halftime and kept it close into the 4th quarter, but Kerr put the Death Lineup in to close out the game and squeezed the life out of the Cavs offense. It was some of the best team defense I’ve ever seen. LeBron tried to punk Draymond by stepping over him, so Draymond punched him in the nuts and called him a bitch. LeBron apparently doesn’t think anyone has called him that before (it’s probably the most common phrase I’ve heard anyone use for him), and complained about it in his press conference after the game. The Warriors won by 11, went up 3-1 in the series, and sent the fans home angry. It was beautiful, and we even got a shirtless idiot on the court!
And BOY were they angry! The wife and I caught a ton of heat on the way out of the building. Some guy started yelling that we’re “not even from Oakland” which is a really dumb thing to yell at anyone, and my wife IS ACTUALLY FROM Oakland. It got to the point where I started subtly fist-bumping other people wearing Warriors gear in the arena instead of high-fiving them so I wouldn’t draw attention to myself. Once we got outside I took my Warriors shirt back off so I wouldn’t have to deal with any more shit. The fans were so depressing we didn’t even bother going out after the game because we didn’t want to be surrounded by misery anymore. Some random idiot threatened to get out of his buddy’s truck and fight me for high-fiving two female Warriors fans on the sidewalk after I’d already taken off my Dubs stuff. This wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle, and I understand that losing sucks and can make you do irrational things, so whatever. On the way back to the hotel, we ran into the Fast & Furious 8 set/the physical embodiment of the Cleveland fanbase’s mental state:
All in all, this game was an incredible experience and I’d absolutely do it again. I’ve always wanted to go to a Finals game, and I wound up at a damn good one. I’d be just fine never going to Cleveland again, but it was a perfectly pleasant place for all but maybe half an hour of the trip. 10/10 would watch LeBron lose again.