About three hours into a text thread with my brother and cousin to try and get tickets to the Cleveland Cavaliers vs. Boston Celtics game, I was seriously beginning to regret my decision to take part in this Thursday night sports venture. I mean it’s a basketball game, early in the season, against the Celtics – not worth the money or hassle, right? Oh, I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Over the past few years since Lebron James has come back to Cleveland, being a Cavs fan has turned into a global phenomenon. Celebrities now descend upon our little city on Lake Erie in May and June to watch the NBA playoffs; Usher is a minority owner; and one of the Kardashians is dating Tristan Thompson. Cleveland and our sports teams (well the Cavs and Indians) have gone from a joke to being considered ‘cool’. And Cavaliers’ games have gone from heading down to Quicken Loans Arena an hour early to get your game giveaway to a full blown event.
PRE-GAME: DRINKS & FOOD
After five hours searching for floor seats via Flashseats – because if you’re going to go, go big – I met my brother, sister-in-law, and three cousins for cocktails and a bite to eat. The Cleveland culinary scene has blown up in the past ten years with chefs like Rocco Whalen, Dante Boccuzzi, Michael Simon, and Jonathan Sawyer opening up restaurants throughout the city and nearby suburbs, and going to one before a game has become a must. We decided on meeting at RED Steakhouse in the trendy East 4th District. RED has been named one of the 10 Best Restaurants in the country, and though a most-of-the-time vegan, I can appreciate the menu’s options of quality steaks, cauliflower hash, truffle tator tots, and au gratin potatoes (seriously I praise the genius who put them on the menu).
My cousin had the classic Caesar salad, while my brother and sister-in-law shared the truffled tator tots and filet. I treated myself to some animal and had a perfectly cooked salmon and grilled asparagus (the asparagus comes with bolognaise if you prefer). We all finished our meals extremely satisfied. The atmosphere is upscale casual without any stuffiness, and the décor is simple dark woods accented with red seats and clean lines. The bar was staffed with three friendly attentive bartenders so that you never had to wait long for service.
After food and drinks, we headed across the street to The Q for the game. Though there are some great restaurants throughout downtown and just across the river, if you’re able to get into one along Prospect or anywhere in the East 4th District then you’re only a few minutes’ walk right next to the arena. This is definitely a bonus during the bitter cold winter nights in Cleveland. And if RED doesn’t sound like your scene, there is Flannery’s Pub a traditional Irish pub that has been a staple in Cleveland for nearly 20-years, Barrio serving up tacos and whisky in a hipster casual scene, local brewery and restaurant The Butcher and the Brew, or Michael Simon’s newest venture Mable’s BBQ. There’s also a dozen more spots you can check out.
NO LONGER THE GAME OF OUR CHILDHOOD
As a kid, I remember going to games at what was then Gund Arena, and watching Mark Price, Larry Nance, Brad Doughty, Craig Ehlo, and Danny Ferry play against the likes of Charles Barkley, Kevin Johnson, Scotty Pippen, Michael Jordan, John Stockton, and Carl Malone. You got to the game a little early to buy your pop and hotdog and then you sat and watched ten guys run around the court playing a game. During time-outs you chatted with your neighbor and that was pretty much it. Not anymore.
Once we made our way across the street, through the concourse and crowds buying beer, food from B Spot, jerseys, and one kid getting his hair spray-painted, we came out to our seats four rows behind the basket. I was immediately taken aback by my proximity to the players and the fact that the court looked so small in person. Being that close you realize with all the chaos around you, these guys are playing a game you once played as a kid on the same size court. But let’s be honest, it’s not the same basketball we played as kids. Now there are 360-dunks and a physicality that has grown with the global popularity of the sport.
Gold and wine sprinkles throughout the arena, kids hold up signs for Lebron and a few for the Celtics, while Moondog runs around rallying up the crowd. The noise level is borderline deafening when the Cavs come out for warm-up and somehow gets even louder when the starting line-up is announced.
The one moment of calm and quiet comes when the national anthem is sang by the 20,000-plus crowd led by a local police sergeant. Simple, melodic, and in-tune it was quite beautiful, but then someone yelled ‘Go Cavs’ and the crazy started back up.
FROM A GAME TO AN EXPERIENCE
The next two and a half hours were filled with horns, chants, screaming fans and players, Scream Teams and Cavs Girls dancing during time outs. Speaking of timeouts – they’re no longer a twenty or sixty-second reprieve from the game – but a manic frenzy of flying balls and t-shirts thrown into the crowd, dance parties, and percussion teams plying garbage cans, ladders, and cymbals.
We got to watch a Christmas home video of two brothers from Iowa (Karson(11) and Kole (14) Wehde) opening up tickets for this game and screaming in sheer joy that they’re going to a Cavs game in Cleveland. Those same boys led us through the dance cam during a timeout.
Oh, and there was a pretty good basketball game going on during this spectacle. The Boston Celtics were able to make a game of it with a fourth quarter rally from 18-behind to bring it to a one point game in the final two minutes. But, our mighty Cavs were able to pull out a four-point victory with Richard Jefferson’s final-seconds rebound and two free-throws.
You’re not just going to see a basketball game in Cleveland, you’re going to experience an event. You’ll cheer on your fellow fans trying to win money and tickets playing games stolen from The Price is Right just as loud as you cheer for Kyrie; experience Christmas wishes of two boys coming true; and witness grown men screaming like children while other grown men play a game we all learned as children.
For a few hours you will embrace your inner child and the insanity of an NBA basketball game. Well, at least until you go back outside and Cleveland smacks you in the face with an Arctic wind off Lake Erie.