If you thought the 2012 NBA Finals was a struggle between the Thunder and the Heat, you don't understand sports politics.
Off the court, a proxy series is playing out between basketball fans in Cleveland and Seattle, who for better or worse find themselves cheering for losses more so than wins.
Yes, the sweet bitterness of a jilted lover still runs deep in two metros spurned in separate ways by the drama that comes with professional sports.
“I am sure that outside of Oklahoma the biggest fan club for the Thunder is in northeast Ohio,” said Mark Hazen, a building inspector who lives near Cleveland. “Everybody I know is rooting for the Thunder because they're playing LeBron.”
While the Cavaliers remain the local fave, the No. 2 spot on most Ohioans' list rotates as quickly as Miami's schedule. Last year, when the Heat played Dallas Mavericks for the championship, they called themselves the ‘Mavaliers.' This time around they're just satisfied with “LeBron haters.”
For those not familiar with the story: James, who won his third MVP this season, was a hometown boy when he was drafted by the Cavaliers and promised to bring them a title. He almost did so, but after a consecutive streak of playoff appearances he left in superstar fashion for Miami in 2010.
“It is not so much that LBJ left town but how he did it, by embarrassing us on national TV in the most narcissistic promotional event the NBA has ever seen,” said Jon Harris, a finance manager for a Cleveland real estate company. “He can go win his MVP awards, but we hope he never wins a title in Miami.”
Anti-LeBron fervor has spawned several new logos, which have quickly hit the local T-shirt market. One features the letters OKCLE, with the letters sharing Thunder and Cavalier colors and the slogan “Won't steal your Thunder. Only borrowing it” underneath.
“There's always people who make comments like, ‘Get over it,' but from our standpoint we're having fun with it,” said the shirt's designer, George Vlosich of GV Art & Design. “We're rooting for you guys.”
Losing a single player, no matter how big, is nothing like losing an entire team, though. Fans of the former Seattle SuperSonics are so angry about the Thunder's sudden rise they're siding with a team more than 3,000 miles away.
“I think the fans here kind of think that this team was built off the broken backs of Sonics fans,” explained Steve Kelley, a sports columnist for the Seattle Times. “I don't think there's a whole lot of love for Miami, it's more we're just kind of in a what-if mode. If these games were in Seattle now this town would be crazy.”
Despite deep connections between the Thunder and the Sonics, Seattleites just can't get behind white and blue.
“I am rooting for Miami because LeBron has taken enough garbage for his decision and the lack of championships he has won,” said Michael Wilcox, a lifelong Washington resident who spent eight years living in Edmond. “I also want the Thunder to pay their dues much like the Sonics did when they lost in The Finals in 1978 and then returned and won in 1979. They learned and then earned it.”
Truth be told, it’s not the Thunder players or staff who has Seattle riled up, Kelley said. Kevin Durant and Nick Collison played for the team while it was still in Seattle. Thunder coach Scott Brooks was a Seattle assistant coach, and Sam Presti was general manager before the team’s move to Oklahoma City.
It was the interplay between seller and buyers, said Wilcox and Kelley, which left so many in the Puget Sound feeling ripped off. And, yes, a little bit jealous.