Tomorrow night, when the Cavaliers open the 2009-2010 season against the Boston Celtics, it will begin the most important season in Cleveland history—basketball or other. This year, more than any other, the Cavaliers are primed for success, boasting a lineup with all-star talent, a reigning coach-of-the-year, a revamped arena and a city thirsty for celebration.
For Clevelanders, it goes beyond the basics. This is not the average season, or the average opener. Certainly bigger than the Indians’ 1995 and 1997 World Series runs and, arguably, bigger than the 1964 NFL Championship—the last this city has seen. This Cavaliers season goes beyond sports.
The season is unique because now, more than ever, Cleveland is a city devastated by circumstances. Years of fading industry, failing jobs, decaying infrastructure and fleeing citizens has left the city hollow, with hardly a trace of past greatness.
Walk down Euclid Avenue, through Public Square and look around. See the buildings, the streets, all empty. Yet, in some past life, some parallel universe, those streets and buildings were filled and the city was alive. This city had something special.
The Cavaliers give Cleveland the best chance to find that spirit again. A successful season—and by successful, a season that ends with a parade—could bring a wave of new life to Cleveland. No, it will not fix all the problems the city faces, but it can and will help.
Here, take a look at some of the different factors that make this season the season. The reasons why “There’s Always Next Year” does not apply.
Five teams—the Cavaliers, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs have a shot at the NBA title this season. Four of these five will match up in the last two rounds of the playoffs and the Cavaliers match up well with all of them.
The Cavaliers have an undeniably loaded roster. The team lost no key parts from a 66 win 2008-2009, and added a future Hall-of-Famer, Shaquille O’Neal, while essentially giving up nothing. The team also added forwards Jamario Moon and Leon Powe and guard Anthony Parker, role players who will increase the team’s shooting percentage and shore up the defense.
Problems encountered in the disappointing Eastern Conference Finals against the Orlando Magic should eliminate themselves with O’Neal, whose presence in the post will limit Dwight Howard’s impact. The new wing play, which will assure a legitimate second defender when LeBron James—the team’s best—is already occupied, keeps the second, third and fourth options of teams like the Lakers, Celtics and Spurs from running unopposed. For once, James will not be the only shutdown defender on the floor, enabling the Cavaliers to worry less about spreading the defense and leaving defenders alone.
Most importantly, this lineup will not be the same a year from now. The Cavaliers will not pay aging O’Neal 20 million dollars to stay in Cleveland and James, without whom the Cavaliers are average at best, is only under contract until July. There is no speculation here; those are the facts. James may resign with the Cavaliers, or he may go somewhere else. That possibility alone means the Cavaliers best chance is the season at hand—because next year is not a guarantee.
The potential economic impact of the Cavaliers success is the biggest reason why the team must take advantage of what this year has to offer. For a long time, Clevelanders have joked that "the economy is LeBron James," and while it certainly goes beyond the Cavalier’s superstar, his success and the season outcome will make a difference this year. A huge difference.
Consider this: Every time the Cavaliers play a home game, approximately 20,000 people infiltrate downtown Cleveland. They pay to park their cars, eat food at a local restaurant; perhaps they pair the game with some other form of entertainment. Then those same fans pay for tickets, souvenirs, more food, cotton candy for little Johnny, a few beers and maybe a pit stop on the way home depending, of course, on the distance.
In fact, distance traveled is another factor all together. Great professional teams draw crowds from all around the country. A great Cavaliers match up (say, Cavaliers v. Lakers on Christmas) might draw some out-of-towners to witness a great game. If a Los Angeles millionaire flies into Cleveland, stays at the Ritz, makes a trip out with his entourage for pre-game drinks, goes to dinner, then hits the game and later finds a nice club to mourn his beloved Lakers’ loss at (maybe with the players themselves), it all equals one thing. Revenue. More importantly, it means revenue for the city—a city that really, really needs some.
For the 2007 NBA Championship vs. San Antonio, the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Greater Cleveland estimated that each playoff game played at the “Q” generated an economic impact of, get this, 3 million dollars. This is the combined effect of everything mentioned above. Fans come to the city to go to the game and spend money on local businesses as a result. For playoff games, when the atmosphere is particularly electric, fans without tickets still come to town, choosing to go to area bars and clubs to watch the games with others. Either way, the city wins.
Some economists will argue the economic impact is actually an illusion and that those entertainment dollars would have been spent somewhere else, had they not been spent on the game. Essentially, they argue that the game just eats up entertainment money in one big burst, and doe not really create a big revenue increase.
The impact can go beyond the traditional concepts, however. Consider a study by Dennis Coates and Brad R. Humphreys of the University of Maryland Baltimore County department of Economics. Their work, which examined “The Economic Impact of Postseason Play in Professional Sports,” concluded that the hometown of the winning team from the Superbowl had an average increase of $140 in per capita household income.
The reason, as speculated by Coates and Humphreys, was not that more money was spent, but rather that the productivity of workers had increased because of an increase in worker morale, due to the victory. While, there were no specific correlations drawn between per capita income and an NBA Championship, one could speculate that a downtrodden city like Cleveland could experience a serious increase in morale if a professional sports team finally experienced national success.
Indirectly, the Cavaliers success affects the city in another very important way—exposure. This does have economic implications, but it also affects the overall national opinion of the city so commonly referred to as “the Mistake by the Lake.” A seven game series alternating between a place like San Antonio or Los Angeles and Cleveland will provide the city with approximately 14-20 hours of national television coverage, with a multi-million person viewing audience.
Aesthetic shots of the city, whether taken from the “Q,” the Goodyear Blimp, or other locations gives Cleveland a much needed increase in positive exposure. More importantly, it exposes some of Cleveland’s entities to the world. A good year for the Cavaliers is a good year for many of the organizations and opportunities in Cleveland.
Cleveland State University is certainly one of those entities affected. Jim Drnek, dean of students at Cleveland State, says, “Anything that shines a positive light on the city of Cleveland benefits anyone and any organization that’s located close to or in downtown. I think we would benefit from the positive publicity. I think there are some real tangible things…there might be some kind of victory celebration that could come near campus…and we’ve got a front row seat to all of that.”
The impact at Cleveland State would go beyond the exposure. Many Cleveland State students are Cavaliers fans that would be affected by a win in a way that so many others in Cleveland would—a new sense of pride. Said Drnek, “Since most of our students have come from the region, most of them have grown up following the sports teams—especially the Cavaliers, with their success. I think it would do wonders for the morale of our student body.”
When it comes to the broader impact on the city, the potential is similar. A championship could change the way Clevelanders look at everything. “The impact is immeasurable,” says Drnek, “because, Cleveland has had a bad rap for so long, for no good reason. It is a wonderful place to live, the people are friendly, there are things to do, its affordable. I think [a Cavalier’s championship] would bring recognition to a city that really deserves it.”