Somewhere in middle America, in a gymnasium not quite suited for NBA basketball 4,000 people, native Cantonites and Cleveland Cavaliers parishioners gathered. This is where over a hundred years ago 700,000 people filled the streets of this town over a hundred years ago to see William McKinley speak. These streets outside the Canton Memorial Civic Center, home of the Developmental League Canton Charge, are still worn with traffic, and the steps past the glass doorway still sound like the roar of a religious revival or a political rally.
CANTON MEMORIAL CIVIC CENTER (cavs.com)
What’s inside is a volume of enthusiasm that feels uniquely Ohioian. This is a preseason NBA basketball game, and the roar of 4,000 resembles what may have greeted Barack Obama in October 2008. From a corner, the universe of this gymnasium orbits from a point directly where it should and the hyperattentive population cheers every slick pass, offensive rebound and, it seems, every dribble that Kyrie Irving takes with the ball.
People hold open doors for strangers here and smile not out of obligation but because they are genuinely happy. It seems bizarre that anyone could be so pleasant living in a D-League town, but tonight the NBA is in town, except that people aren’t urinating all over toilet seats and there’s a line to wash hands at the sink in the washroom.
The Cavaliers played three quarters of basketball last night against the Charlotte Bobcats. The players in the fourth quarter, with all respect to center Desagana “Lasagna” Diop, appear unlikely to play for the team when the season starts October 30th against the Brooklyn Nets.
It was more like a preseason game coached by Mike Brown than anything that has happened in the past several years. That is, Jarrett Jack is already out with knee soreness for an estimated nine more days. Carrick Felix was just diagnosed with a hernia and will require surgery. Tyler Zeller was denied the opportunity to play in this game after being hurt on the wet floor in the Wine and Gold game at Bowling Green and shortly thereafter surgery, a necessary appendectomy while recovering from the injury. Anderson Varejao, returning this season from surgery and a blood clot issue, was not scheduled to play. Alonzo Gee, sidelined for the first two preseason games, was finally returning, but Sergey Karasev was out of the country obtaining his work visa – necessitated by him playing so much basketball since he was drafted that he eventually had to travel though the Bahamas to come to Cleveland for training camp instead of a direct route.
This is only the preseason. There is no reason for anyone to play hurt or to risk any kind of injury while playing. Dion Waiters, who struggled on defense and was removed by Brown early in this game, went back into the game later and improved, but walked off the court limping then braced himself with both hands as he descended the stairs off the court and into the locker room.
The much hyped small forward “battle” between Gee, free agent Earl Clark and CJ Miles was fought to a stalemate as each candidate failed to set himself apart. They are who we think they are. Even with his difficulty handling the ball and scoring, Earl Clark’s size at 6 foot 10 distinguishes him, and it would just be unlikely that a defense first coach like Brown would look past his length and start Gee or Miles ahead of him.
ALONZO GEE IS STILL AN AMAZING ATHLETE. I MEAN IT LOOKS LIKE HE'S LEVITATING. (Getty Images)
Irving spent many possessions playing off the ball, with Waiters handling distribution duties. This is the time of year when experimentation like this can take place. With Jack out, Waiters on the ball was interesting as an alternative. Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett played on the floor at the same time, with Thompson at center and Bennett in a kind of stretch four position, that allowed him to physically intimidate on defense but also to spread the floor with his ability to score from anywhere.
As the game wound down, the crowd dissipated. We’d seen the players that were likely to play for the Cavaliers. There were friendly goodbyes and handshakes and we went to Swenson’s in Akron for burgers on the way back to Cleveland. We ate in the car, it was raining just a little bit, the crisp Ohio air smelled like wet leaves and the fall. And then eager teeth clenched down on deliciousness wrapped in wax paper and held in two hands.