2015-2016 Cleveland Cavaliers Unworthy of Hollywood
No – It’s a feel-good story, and that’s all
What if I told you a town was clinging on to the past of a single moment of glory? That is the premise of ESPN’s 30 for 30 Believeland, which details the struggles of Cleveland’s lack of championships since the Cleveland Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship. Cleveland is representative of the dramatic shift in American society from manufacturing and the American Dream of the 50’s and 60’s to the current struggle of many cities and towns that once depended on those same ideals. No one can deny what this NBA championship means to Cleveland and to Northeast Ohio. However, the narrative of Ohio vs. The World and LeBron vs. The Haters make the storybook ending difficult to convert into a Hollywood film.
While the championship is a feel-good story for the city of Cleveland, it is not only hard to paint LeBron James and the Cavaliers as a heroic protagonist, but it is also difficult to find a traumatic event or antagonist that Cleveland had to overcome. Cities like Detroit and Pittsburgh have also struggled in the new economic reality, but their sports franchises – the Red Wings, Pistons, Tigers, the Penguins, Steelers, and Pirates – have mostly been successful and progressed past the losing labels because their front offices have made smart decisions.
These franchises also embraced the working class identities of their cities as all these franchises pride themselves on teams built around defense and hard work. While LeBron says he is putting in work to win one for the ‘Land in his Samsung ads, one has to wonder how authentic his own identity is after so many years of productions and endorsements. As Joshua Scott writes in his article for Medium, do we really believe that LeBron James drives a Kia?
Cleveland, like many cities in the Rust Belt, struggled after companies and factories left due to the outsourcing of jobs abroad and the crash of the housing market. If anything, owner Dan Gilbert’s role in the 2008 market crash by handing out subprime mortgages through his company, Quicken Loans and his infamous Comic Sans letter should make him less of a conquering hero and more of a comic villain. Also, LeBron’s narrative is too complex for him to be a simple hero. He was “The Chosen One” according to Sports Illustrated and immediately was cast as the savior of the Cavaliers franchise. James became the ultimate turncoat with the decision to take his talents to South Beach, which looked even worse considering the hour-long special on ESPN and the press conference welcoming him to the Heat. His return to Cleveland also seemed measured with a co-written letter by Lee Jenkins explaining his decision.
In addition, LeBron James is a flawed hero who seems opportunistic. Who would turn down the chance to live in Miami and win some championships with your friends Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh? In addition, when he left Miami, many considered it a power play to gain control and power in the Cavaliers franchise that Pat Riley would not allow him to have in the Miami Heat organization.As Pat Riley told reporters after LeBron James left Miami, “No more smiling faces with hidden agendas, so we’ll be going in clean”. Even though Riley gave LeBron the motivation to win a championship in Cleveland, Riley understood that LeBron had made a calculated move to leave an aging roster in Miami for a younger and more dynamic team in Cleveland in which he would have ultimate say.
In Cleveland, LeBron continued to work behind the scenes to make the Cavaliers his team. Numerous moves such as two #1 picks gone for Kevin Love, costly contract extensions for Anderson Varejao, Kevin Love, and Tristan Thompson, and the firing of David Blatt all support that theory as LeBron has had his hand in all the Cavaliers’ deals since he came back home. However, all these moves paid off and they beat a historically good team to win a hard-earned championship. LeBron vs. The World? Hardly, he took control of a franchise and godfathered his way into a position of leadership. He does not seem like the typical underdog that a sports fan would root for in real life, much less a movie.
On the other hand, the Golden State Warriors hardly seem like a force of evil. Baby-faced Stephen Curry had a great run as the two-time regular season MVP and the Warriors became media darlings throughout that time. If anything, the league took the role of antagonist for both teams by influencing games in the shadows. Draymond Green’s high stepping kicks definitely warranted a suspension but one has to wonder why it did not happen against the Oklahoma City Thunder, but rather the Cleveland Cavaliers after two kicks to Steven Adams’s groin were left unpunished. Also, the referees played a major role in the series by putting players from both teams in foul trouble and affecting gameplay in Games 5-7 (all Cavalier victories) into a pace and style that suited the Cavaliers more.
Another reason why the Cavaliers’ championship would not make a good movie is because it would have to ignore and whitewash so many inappropriate moments that should never take place in a sports movie. As stated earlier, Draymond’s groin kicks are hardly an evil villain’s plan to stop a championship especially as Matthew Dellavedova got a shot at Andre Iguodala’s groin as well. How does Hollywood portray J.R. Smith with his history of pipes, Hennessey, and shirtlessness? How would a filmmaker explain LeBron’s role in the firing of their head coach mid-season despite being in first place, or the fact that Kyrie became a cuckold right before the playoffs? There is no clear way to make the Cavaliers look like squeaky-clean angels.
The biggest reason why a sports film of the Cavaliers would not be a great idea is the legacy and influence of the greatest. Michael Jordan did not undermine his legacy by trying to recapture his championships in a feature film but rather, he enhanced it with Space Jam and with documentaries. Space Jam made brief references to Michael Jordan’s life story, his father, and his career with the Chicago Bulls but provided comic relief to his baseball career and his time away from basketball. Space Jam only enhanced Jordan’s legacy and celebrity as it cemented his status as the greatest of all time.
There have been rumors of a sequel, Space Jam 2 which would star LeBron. However, it remains to be seen if LeBron can carry the same sense of humor or panache that Jordan brought to the screen with Bugs Bunny. Even the original Space Jam director, Joe Pytka, stated in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that “[LeBron] doesn’t have the same unanimous superstar status that Jordan held in 1996” and that the project would be “doomed.”
Contributing author: Alvin Nguyen