By Max Toth
Being a sports fan can be a weird experience.
All you have to do is check out the face-painted maniac up in the 500 level of your local stadium to realize that any person who spends their nights cheering for the victories or lamenting the failures of a group of virtual strangers is just a tad off their rocker.
Some fans spend years supporting their squads, such as my beloved grandmother, who recently turned 80 and happened to be at Maple Leafs Gardens in 1967 when the Leafs captured their last Stanley Cup. It may be 53 years since then, but her devotion to the Blue and White hasn’t waned and she could probably spend another 53 years sounding off on William Nylander's lack of defensive effort.
I have my own pro sports obsession, in the form of the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers. A lot of eyebrows raise when I share that fact with other people, which is understandable. After all, the Toronto Raptors have experienced a meteoric rise in popularity over the past couple of years and hail from the same city that I do.
But I can explain.
I first became a basketball fan when I picked up a copy of the video game "NBA 2K13". This was right in the middle of the reign of LeBron James with the Miami Heat and, being an 8-year old "frontrunner", I spent most of my time playing with the King and company. Despite being a 2K13 nut, I didn’t end up following the daily proceedings of the NBA until the 2015 season. That was the year LeBron migrated back home to Cleveland, so naturally I joined up with the Cavs.
The next few years would be quite the ride.
From the magical 2016 championship run, to Kyrie Irving leaving and then LeBron taking off (again), followed by a ton of losing.
So, why am I still a Cavs fan?
Why not just follow LeBron to L.A like so many others, or slip into the crowd and support the aforementioned Raptors?
To be honest, as much as I respect LeBron, I don’t want to let just one guy dictate my entire NBA fandom experience. Plus, while I liked the LeBron-era Heat, I don’t think I even watched one of their games so it’s not like I’ve rode the LBJ bandwagon for my entire life.
The reason I don’t root for the Raptors is a lot more simple.
I just don't like them.
I’m not exactly sure why I started despising the Raptors so much. I even have a classic purple Kyle Lowry jersey and a signed birthday note from iconic Raptors president Masai Ujuri kicking around my room from the days I counted them as my *second* favourite team. But I’d probably say my distaste began to fester during the 2018 season when the Raptors enjoyed a historic campaign and the Cavaliers seemed to be crumbling, as LeBron played out what would prove to be his final season in Northeast Ohio. Because of that, it became a real debate/argument between me and my Raptors-sympathizing friends.
Now about those Cavs.
This season has proven why it’s always more rewarding to stay with your team through the highs and lows. Take the Cavaliers best player, Collin Sexton. Collin was drafted by the Cavs in 2019, their first LeBron-less year since 2011. In his rookie year, Sexton was boneheaded, trigger-happy and generally disliked by his teammates - a group of grumpy veterans who had been sold on competing for a championship alongside LeBron and didn't feel like babysitting an ambitious 19-year old on a losing team.
Collin, however, persevered.
He took a big step forward in his second season, albeit on a Cavaliers team that still sucked. But now, he’s become a bonafide leader and franchise player on a fun, young team that’s starting to turn the corner. With a strong core that includes Sexton, a two-way beast in center Jarrett Allen (As my dad says, "Big hair, Big game!") and burgeoning young point guard Darius Garland, Cleveland seems to be on the rise. It may not be next year, or the year after that, or even the year after that, but, trust me, the Cavs are coming.
And hopefully, unlike my Grandma and her beloved Leafs, it won't take 53 years.