Tomorrow morning, sports bars in China will be full of basketball fans sipping bloody maries and watching LeBron James try to win the Cavaliers’ first NBA championship. I was there before, watching LeBron lose to the same team in the championship series the year before at a hostel in Shanghai—watching basketball while the hostel bar played terrible country music.
I have watched LeBron James play basketball since he was drafted by my hometown team. I watched the Cavs night after night in primary school, hoping with every possession they would start a comeback, believing, like a good Clevelander, that they just might. I remember the names of the unfortunate prospects to be picked by the Cavs and had their careers ruined from day one. Andre Miller (8th pick of the 1999 draft), Trajan Langdon (11th pick, 1999), Chris Mihm (7th pick by the Bulls in 2000, traded to Cleveland before the season started), Dajuan Wagner (6th pick, 2002). I remember dreaming of LeBron for four years, to the point where us Clevelanders eventually began cheering every loss, hoping to be put in the place to draft him. I remember celebrating winning the lottery. I remember watching LeBron in his first season, being happy just to break .500 for the first time since 1998, and watching from a hotel room in Chicago when he played in his first NBA Finals, cheering him on in vain, as he got swept.
Tomorrow, I will be rooting against LeBron James.
For the sake of my Cleveland friends who are still blindly following the cult, I hope a Cavs win gives them some solace. Maybe it will wake them up out of their Cleveland sports-induced stupor and let them stop staring at the icons on their TV, hoping a miracle will happen, and do something more worthwhile than watching the Cavs, Browns, and Indians. But on the other hand, it could also give them false hope that Cleveland sports really are worth their prayers and offerings. Years of disappointment have done crazy things to the city that hasn’t won a professional championship since 1964 and to its people.
I got out while I could. In 2008, I went to Indiana University for college, then I went to study abroad in China during the 2010-11 school year. While LeBron was losing the NBA Finals with the Heat for the first time that spring, I was blessedly removed from the agony of seeing the ex-Cavalier compete for what should have rightfully been the Cavs’. By then I had already stopped caring about the Cavs and Cleveland sports in general.
“The Decision” did it. Maybe I should thank LeBron for it. If I hadn’t had to sit through months of his politicking, followed by anguishing weeks and days as the free agency period heated up, all culminating in his self-aggrandizing “Decision,” then maybe I wouldn’t have resented him as much. If he just said, “Fuck it, I’m going to win a title with Bosh and Wade,” the day he decided, there would be no pretend drama, no make-believe debate, no pretense of “loyalty” for naive sports fans to sop up. The reality TV special broke everything wide open, leaving me with no cares left to give.
I had seen Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome leave. I had been angry and annoyed. But there’s nothing like a basketball star leaving. It did to the Cavs what Nabisco, Carrier, and Apple all announcing on the same day that they were moving to Mexico did to Donald Trump’s fantasy version of the United States. Their win total dropped from 61 to 19. They just barely broke 20 wins the next two years. In no other sport is a team really just one player. Cheering for the Cavaliers is cheering for LeBron James.
And LeBron James isn’t very cheer-worthy. Clevelanders only started admitting that fact after he left. All the unsavory things about James that were pushed under the rug only became problems when he wasn’t a Cav. When he came back—after Cavs fans had burnt their jerseys, after the owner had posted a hilariously embarrassing letter written in Comic Sans that promised (all caps original), “I PERSONALLY GUARANTEE THAT THE CLEVELAND CAVALIERS WILL WIN AN NBA CHAMPIONSHIP BEFORE THE SELF-TITLED FORMER ‘KING’ WINS ONE”—Cleveland welcomed him back in open arms, like the metaphorical victim or Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan.
By that time, I was already in China. I don’t watch sports much here. It’s hard to, and I have more interesting things to do every day. But I will be watching the NBA Finals tomorrow, and I hope LeBron loses.
I urge Clevelanders, too, to give up on the failed sports enterprises, led by fantasy sports millionaires, swindling gas station moguls who cheer for their team’s biggest rival, or the ones who are too distracted by their European soccer teams to care and the ones who are planning to move the whole team, not just the top player, away so they can win a championship elsewhere. There’s nothing wrong with leaving the cult before they drink the Kool Aid and jumping on the bandwagon of another team whose management and players have just as much connection to your hometown as your hometown team does. Just ask your lord and savior; the Chosen One wore the Yankees hat to an Indians vs Yankees playoff game.
Where to Watch the Finals in Shanghai
Big Bamboo has locations in Jing’an, Hongqiao, and Pudong, all of which will be broadcasting the finals, starting at 8 am (and which broadcast other events, including NFL, MLB, Australian rugby, soccer, UFC, US Open golf). The Jing’an location is most central, at #132 Nanyang Lu.
Where to Watch the Finals in Beijing
Sanlitun bar district would have multiple bars showing the Finals.
Mitchell Blatt is a travel writer, editor, and columnist based in China. He is an author of two guidebooks, Panda Guides Hong Kong and Panda Guides China. He has been published in National Interest.org, The Korea Times, Roads & Kingdoms, Vagabond Journey, The Hill.com, City Weekend, and The World of Chinese, among other outlets. See examples of his published articles.