The Cleveland Cavaliers were playing at Detroit on Monday night and in a sports bar in Cleveland, less than a half-mile from Quicken Loans Arena, none of the five TVs showed the game. Three showed the Rams playing the Kansas City Chiefs. Two showed a college basketball tournament.
Eventually a bartender changed two to show the Cavaliers, but few patrons stirred. Even those who looked up lost interest as Cleveland fell behind by 30 points to the Detroit Pistons.
This is life in the post-LeBron James era for the Cavaliers, who were 2-13 before Wednesday night’s game against the Lakers.
And though interest in the Cavaliers has declined, city officials hope that the economic boom Cleveland’s downtown experienced during James’ second stint with the team won’t diminish with his departure.
“The short answer is that it’s too soon to tell,” said Emily Lauer, senior director of communications for Cleveland’s tourism bureau. “The Cavs have only played seven home games this season and when I spoke in early July … I said it will have an impact. It will. I do think we have to look at it over the longer term more at the end of the season is a fairer look at it particularly from the economic standpoint.”
Lauer said there has been a surge in development over the last five to seven years, and she doesn’t think that totally ties to the Cavaliers’ popularity. James left the Cavaliers in 2010, returned in 2014 and left again this year.
“Cleveland’s overall greatness isn’t going to be defined by LeBron leaving,” Lauer said. “This is still a great town.
“You can’t take away all of the dollars that have been invested in redeveloping our downtown and really throughout the region.”
Earning James’ respect
One of the most heartfelt responses to James’ departure came from Cavaliers second-year player Cedi Osman, who developed a close relationship with James during their one season together.
“My first thing when I came here to Cleveland ... was to earn his respect,” Osman said before Wednesday’s game. “Whenever I get on the court to do my best.”
Osman knew he had James’ respect after an interaction before last season. James stepped on Osman’s foot and suffered a sprained ankle. The rookie apologized, but James told him not to worry.
“He was like, ‘It’s all good man,’” Osman said. “Keep playing hard like you do. I felt over there like I started earning his respect. Then during the year the only thing he was caring about was to be playing hard and work hard. That’s what he shows me.”
Osman appreciated James’ uplifting nature.
“When I was having a bad game, he would always talk to me and tell me that I have to keep my head up and be positive because it’s a long season,” Osman said. “That’s what I learned from him.”
No tank talk
Not long ago it was the Lakers who had to answer questions about tanking to get a better draft pick.
Recently, Cleveland guard J.R. Smith told reporters that the Cavaliers were tanking, which led to a reporter asking coach Larry Drew about the subject.
“Am I coaching to win? Well, I’m not coaching to lose,” Drew said. “I don’t put my time in to put guys out there to lose. I’ve never done that, I never will do that. … To coach to lose, I don’t understand that, I don’t know how to do that.
“I don’t know how anybody can do that. That’s something I would never, ever do.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli