The Cavs and Oscar Robertson

I managed to run five miles yesterday morning. This morning I’m pretty much limping along. I guess I should be worried about that. Or about the fact that Government Motors is going belly up next week. Or the fact that North Korea really does have weapons of mass destruction. And so on. But instead, like most in NE Ohio, I’m pondering the rise and potential fall of the Cleveland Cavaliers. If they lose to the Orlando Magic at home tonight, the community will be sucking a collective tailpipe.

That’s a shame — given the great season the Cavs have had. And I’m reasonably optimistic that they will win the next three games and advance in the playoffs. (Does basketball season ever end? I digress.) But regardless, the Cavs demonstrate the unifying effect that sports — professional and quasi-professional (college in the upper divisions) — can have on a community.

I’ve written about that previously from the standpoint of Pittsburgh: City of Champions — the Steelers and Pirates.

Cleveland — and Northeast Ohio — could use that kind of community relations boost right now, given the economic and other problems we face here. Yet maybe that’s too big a burden for one team — and one player — to carry. We’ll see.

And if the Cavs don’t make it beyond the Magic, a good explanation can be found in a NYT column written by William Rhoden (before the Cavs lost Tuesday night): “In LeBron James, Oscar Robertson Sees a Star with a Familiar Plight.”

Robertson was the James of his era — but in all the years with the Cincinnati Royals, he never had a strong enough supporting cast to win an NBA title.

“When I played for the Royals, when I look back on it, there’s no way we could have won,” Robertson said Monday in a telephone interview from his home in Cincinnati. “We played the Celtics, and they had three or four superstars playing in their lineup. We had one.”

Robertson played for Cincinnati from 1960 to 1970. The team was carried to whatever heights it attained by Robertson. The Royals never reached the finals during Robertson’s tenure, but he was an actor in a great individual rivalry. Oscar Robertson and Jerry West were the Kobe and LeBron of their era. There certainly were other great guards of the era, but Robertson and West defined the position: black-white rivals in the racially charged civil rights era of the 1960s. They were the same age, shared similar backgrounds — “Jerry had a tough time growing up, and I grew up in a ghetto in Indianapolis,” Robertson said.

West was the cold-blooded, stop-on-a-dime clutch shooter, so deadly that he made his way into a Richard Pryor monologue. Robertson was the exquisite technician who ran the team, scored, rebounded and made each teammate better.

West, like Kobe Bryant, had the better supporting cast. Robertson, like LeBron, was his team’s everything man.

Mo Williams — you reading this?

And full disclosure: I really don’t like professional basketball and won’t watch another minute of any game if the Cavs go belly up. But saying that, I hope they win. Hey, it’s good for the community.


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