Monday, June 20, 2016

Rooting Interest

TigerBlog really wanted the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the NBA championship last night.

Or did he?

On the one hand, he really wanted to see LeBron James bring an NBA title to a city that hadn't won a major professional championship since 1964. James, of course, is something of a native son, having been born and raised in Akron.

What could be better?

Maybe it's a Midwest-California thing too. Cleveland, it would appear, needed it more.

On the other hand, Cleveland fired Dave Blatt in midseason. Blatt had been the head coach, and he is a Princeton grad.

So how could anyone with Princeton ties still root for the Cavs?

On the other other hand, Blatt was at Princeton during TigerBlog's conflicted Princeton-Penn era.

BrotherBlog went to Penn before TB did, so Penn was always the favored team back then. Silly, right?

The poster child for Princeton basketball player that Penn fans couldn't stand back then was, of all people, Howard Levy. Of course, Howard was actually the poster child for running an offense through a center who could contribute in all phases of the game.

In other words, he was way too advanced for the Penn fans.

TigerBlog often thinks back to his days as a Penn fan. He would never have imagined at the time that he would actually end up watching Penn for four years and the Princeton for 30 more after that.

He can still remember his first Princeton-Penn game at the Palestra, back in his freshman year. He marveled at the building, not really comprehending the significance of the rivarly.

He remembers vividly the "sit down Pete" chants that came from the Penn students. TB had no idea who Pete Carril was back then, let alone any remotest clue of what role Carril would come to play in his professional life.

As he thinks about it, he wonders how many people have ever done as big a 180 on such an intense rivalry. Is it just TigerBlog and Leo Durocher, who went from managing the Brooklyn Dodgers to the New York Giants. That was unheard of back then.

Durocher, by the way, won 738 games with the Dodgers and 637 with the Giants. Those teams don't like each other now. Back when they were both in New York, they hated each other passionately.

As for Princeton-Penn, what really surprised TigerBlog back in the 1980s was how quickly his allegiance shifted. He went from loyal Penn student and fan to, hey, who were those Quaker guys anyway.

The person who was most amazed by this was Chuck Yrigoyen, who back then was the director of communications at the Ivy League office. He routinely questioned TB about what team he was rooting for, as if he kept expecting to get a different answer than "Princeton of course."

Chuck is now the commissioner of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, a Division III league. TB is pretty sure that 1996 was the last time Chuck asked him about the Ivy rivalry.

Anyway, back at the NBA Finals, Blatt clearly got the short end of the stick from the Cavs. Does that mean a Princeton person can't root for Cleveland after that?

TigerBlog has always liked watching LeBron. TB has always been amazed by James and how he became such a greater passer. Why would he ever have had to pass the ball, when he could just take it directly to the basket against anyone he ever played against when he was growing up?

He also seems like a pretty good guy, right? For someone who has that much fame and money, he comes across as somewhat grounded. Maybe he isn't, but at least he seems genuine. 

James is the second-best player TigerBlog has ever seen. Michael Jordan is the first. People a little older than TB can say Bill Russell maybe, or Oscar Robertson or Jerry West.

TigerBlog will go with Jordan over anyone. If you were too young to see him play, you can't imagine how off the charts great he was.

TB doesn't understand why so many people criticize James. What player has ever done more with a supporting cast that was almost always outmatched by the top team of the year?

Maybe if Jordan had played in the time of Twitter and limitless sports commentary, people would have jumped all over him too. On the other hand, what could you possibly have said about Jordan?

Last night was Game 7 between the Cavs and the Golden State Warriors. It was a weird series, with the first six games all decided by double figures, mostly in blowouts.

Game 7 was different. It was tight throughout, and it seemed like it was tied at 89-89 for the longest time. The biggest play in that stretch? James with an incredible out-of-nowhere block on a fast break that seemed like it would give the Warriors the lead.

In the end, Kyrie Irving dropped in the big three, and James did everything, with the third triple-double in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals.

When it ended, James dropped to the floor, tears in his eyes. It was obvious that he realized the enormity of what he had done, for the city of Cleveland. Nothing since 1964. All kinds of heartbreak. Even the heartbreak of losing James to Miami and seeing him win two titles there.

So now he was back. And he brought his team back from a 3-1 deficit to win the championship, delivering to his city in a way that maybe no professional athlete has ever done before.

It was one of the most emotional moments TB has ever seen from a professional athlete. TB actually thought that the corporate nature of the NBA would preclude anyone from ever having such a moment, to be honest. It was a great moment, a beautiful moment for a team, a player and a city.

On the other hand, to hell with them. They fired the Princeton guy.

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