CLEVELAND: The confetti had been stuffed into the rafters for the better part of two months. If it had been dusty and choked the sellout crowd in attendance upon fluttering to the court, itíd be easy to see why.
Thatís how long the Cavaliers went between victories in 2011. Both of them just so happened to come at home. When they finally ended their 26-game losing streak in overtime to the Los Angeles Clippers, Baron Davis was so upset and embarrassed he admitted he intentionally got himself ejected so he didnít have to watch the celebration. Two weeks later, incidentally, Davis was traded to Cleveland.
Theyíre off the hook now, this franchise, no longer owners of the longest losing streak of all four major professional sports leagues. The Philadelphia 76ers must now carry that yoke just as they carried it last season after tying the Cavsí mark, which was also shared by the NFLís Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Counting the 10 losses to end last season and the 17 to start this one, the record has been exhumed from Cleveland and dropped on another passionate, unfortunate sports town.
The worst part? The losses have been piled so high for so long in Philadelphia, itís difficult to decipher a plan anymore. Or catastrophically, if there even is one.
The Cavsí 2010-11 season was an 82-game death march. I was in my first year covering the NBA and had the same look most nights as Antawn Jamison: What the hell are we doing here? I took this job expecting to cover LeBron James. Jamison came here expecting to play with him and contend for a championship. Instead he was sharing a locker room with Semih Erden, Samardo Samuels, Joey Graham and plenty of others who never played in the NBA again. They had to scrub his skid marks from the Gateway garage when his contract expired.
I didnít know it at the time, but there was a plan. It was risky, borderline insane. But there was a plan. From the time LeBron left, the plan was to get him back in 2014. I began writing that around 2012 and people thought it was lunacy ó and rightfully so. The letter, the jersey burning, the ďAkron hates youĒ chants. It all seemed too raw. The idea of James returning seemed ridiculous.
But the Cavsí plan was to lose ó a lot ó compile high draft picks and stockpile trade assets to use when the time was right. And if James never came back, they would build around this nucleus of young talent. There were draft blunders along the way ó Dion Waiters, Anthony Bennett ó and the unwillingness to bring in strong veteran voices left a locker room of kids to unsuccessfully fend for themselves.
And yet somehow the plan still worked.
But what about the Sixers? How long can this go on? Are they waiting for Charles Barkley to return and save them? Julius Erving? And worst of all, when will they start protecting their own?
Rookie Jahlil Okafor has only collected a couple of NBA game checks and already had his reputation tarnished with a fight outside a Boston bar on Thanksgiving night. TMZ showed footage of Okafor shoving a man to the ground and appearing to punch him after he was heckled for being on the Sixers.
Worse yet, the Philadelphia Inquirer, citing five sources, reported Okafor had a gun pointed at his head outside a Philadelphia establishment in October. Two months, two frightening incidents for the face of the franchise.
Now there is only so much teams can do, but at the very least they can provide security for these high-profile targets when theyíre out late at night. Then itís up to the players to use it.
Upon Jamesí return to Cleveland, one of the Cavsí first orders of business was to beef up the security staff. With at least five guards on payroll, itís now one of the largest in the league.
These arenít rent-a-cops. Theyíre former police officers and guys with FBI and Secret Service experience. Now the players know anytime they want to go out, call a security guard to go with them. Most of them do, although clearly J.R. Smith didnít when he reportedly had an altercation outside a New York club recently at 4 a.m. You know how that ended.
Smith has insisted the public details are inaccurate, but clearly something happened because Smith alerted the Cavs the next day about an incident. The NBA players association has warned teams to stay away from that club in New York, a league source said, since it was the place where Thabo Sefolosha had major problems last spring. Now it is viewed as a target where folks try to bait pro athletes.
Ultimately, a player is responsible for his own behavior, and guys just entering the league donít understand yet the target that they wear. Even last season, when Kyrie Irving was in his fourth year, already a max player and one of three superstars on the Cavs, he was walking down a street in another city when a car pulled up and asked him for his autograph, according to a league source.
Irving began to approach the car before the security detail he was with stopped him and instead approached the car. The item was taken to Irving to have signed and then carried by security back to the vehicle. The message was clear: Never, ever approach a strange car in a strange city without a plan.
Itís a lesson Okafor, and the Sixers, are learning the hard way.
Jason Lloyd can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ.