Cavs for Mavs: Twisted tale of loyalty

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  • LeBron James
    LeBron James

MIAMI – The guy’s moniker is Cleveland Todd. He’s 36 and a self-employed videographer. He’s obsessed with sports. He grew up in Greater Cleveland and now lives in Chicago.

And he hates LeBron James(notes).

Really hates him. Hates him as a player. Hates him as a personality. He hates both the decision (James leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers last summer for the Miami Heat) and “The Decision” (James’ self-promoting ESPN special to announce the taking of “my talents to South Beach”).

As the NBA playoffs have churned this spring, Todd has rooted passionately against the Heat, only to see LeBron and company plow through the competition. It’s been depressing, he said.

On Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the start of the NBA Finals and with the Dallas Mavericks as the only hope remaining, Cleveland Todd decided to do something.

He launched a simple twitter account: @CavsForMavs.

He thought it’d be funny. He thought he’d use it as an outlet to make some harsh comments. He thought maybe his friends would see it.

Within hours he had 1,000 followers. A fan named Brett Nehls designed a logo. Another guy came up with a slogan: “Defeat. Pure. Evil.”

Within a day, Cleveland Todd was fielding media calls.

“It just sort of steamrolled,” he said, protecting his real name because, well, this is mostly a joke and, “I try to compartmentalize my online identity.”

In truth it doesn’t matter. Cleveland Todd could be any of a million fans from the city, where neither the Cavs, nor the NFL’s Browns, nor Major League Baseball’s Indians have won a championship since 1964, well before Todd was born.

LeBron James, the Akron born and raised prodigy was supposed to change that. Then he bailed on Cleveland and joined up with Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) down here.

Now the Heat lead the Mavs 1-0 in the Finals with Game 2 set for Thursday. The horror of James winning that coveted title has gripped millions of fans, who have helped push television ratings to unexpected highs as they root against the Heat.

“ ‘CavsForMavs’ is a good name but I think it’s everybody,” Todd said. “I’ve been getting messages from people who aren’t Cavs fans or Mavs fans. I don’t know how you can live in Kansas and be a Heat fan. Unless you’re a frontrunner and then you’re a horrible person.”

Todd is joking. Sort of. The anger from Cleveland looms over this Finals, making it like nothing in recent memory. This isn’t just about the Heat vs. the Mavericks. For many, it’s more. There is a tongue-in-cheek aspect to CavsForMavs, but the underlying emotion is real.

For the uninitiated, the anti-LeBron passion is difficult to fathom.

Mixed in with many positive messages on Twitter came many more calling Todd a loser who needed to move on.

“They say I’m a whiner or should just get over it,” he said. “Of course, they use stronger language.”

Todd sees it differently. He’s watching Miami get to enjoy something that should’ve been Cleveland’s. There’s a sense that the joy he’s watching on his television has been stolen from him.

“It’s not as bad, but it’s second to when Art Modell took the Browns to Baltimore,” he said of the beloved NFL team that was moved in 1996. “And seeing them celebrate the [2000] Super Bowl was horrible.”

If that’s too deep for you, well, look, "fan" is short for "fanatic." Cleveland fans are as loyal as they come. They stand by these terrible teams for years, and this isn’t supposed to make sense to everyone.

It’s why James' decision just won’t go away as a storyline. James is hardly the first superstar to leave one team to improve his chances at winning a title somewhere else. In fact, a lot of players do it.

The James-Cleveland connection was different. He was local. He was seen as one of them. He expressed an understanding at how special delivering that long-awaited title to the city would be. He was going to be the savior. Then he said sayonara.

James became the most polarizing figure in the league, which, considering he’s never been arrested for a crime or failed a drug test or acted inappropriately in public, is saying something. His greatest mistake was the way he announced his free-agent choice.

As “crimes” go, it’s a minor one.

Yet throughout the season, Cavaliers fans reveled in every Miami loss. Much of the country joined in, something even the Heat sensed in the rousing boos, the over-the-top excitement and the media backlash.

“The world’s a better place now because the Heat are losing,” Wade said back in March.

Now, the Heat aren’t losing much.

Todd and the online community he tapped into on a lark are petrified of where this is headed. He admits not being able to name “four Maverick players a week ago.” Now he’s as big a fan as he can be.

LeBron James keeps pushing closer and closer to his championship, and perhaps like for no other player ever, an opposition jells to root harder and harder against him. It’s the strange, lingering storyline of these Finals, a third city still trying to be heard from.