First Team: One for the Land with Ray Lu '18

by Ray Lu | 6/23/16 5:30pm

Clevelanders celebrated in the streets outside of Quicken Loans Arena after the Cleveland Cavaliers won Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
by Ray Lu / The Dartmouth

Before I dive into this first edition of “First Team,” I’d like to acknowledge those that came before me.

“Riding the Pine” was far from a masterpiece. Rather, what started as temporary space-filler quickly devolved into weekly drivel. The authors grew complacent and not only stopped producing quality sports content, but also stopped writing about sports in general. This was all facilitated by the executive staff at The Dartmouth — specifically a legacy of editors that failed to check this abuse of power. I assure you my leash is not nearly as long.

Despite its shortcomings, “Riding the Pine” achieved a cult status similar to what “Finding Dory” (2016) will soon gain — both are characterized by some combination of fanaticism and a feel-good-underdog-triumph story. Hank and Fish referenced Andy Dufresne of “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) crawling in sewage in their first article. To quote the great John Madden, “The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.” I’m not sure where Easy Street is, but this isn’t it.

This summer, “First Team” will not fill that void. The powers at play have demanded a return to pure, old-fashioned sports coverage. Fortunately for me, my editors’ sports knowledge is limited to quotes from “Miracle” (2004) and roster-stalking attractive student-athletes — standards still unfortunately higher than those of the past.

It was a big week for the formerly-cursed city of Cleveland. Lebron James, Akron’s golden boy, fulfilled his promise and brought “The Land” the championship that it so desperately coveted. James’s circuitous journey, which included a stop in Miami that earned him two championships, brought him plenty of criticism. Vilified by many, he elected to return to Ohio two years ago, referring to his time in Miami as his version of “college,” which is equivalent to me referring to my time at Dartmouth as “summer school.” Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost to the Golden State Warriors in six games. This year, the Cavs played David in one of the greatest David-and-Goliath stories in the history of sports, taking down a Warriors squad that set a regular season record with 73 wins. In the process, the Cavs also became the first NBA team to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals.

I happened to stop in Cleveland on that fateful June 19 day on my drive from Austin, Texas to Hanover. After the Cavs broke the city’s 52-year curse, Clevelanders lined the streets, handing out high-fives to every passerby, jumping on cars, chanting “Let’s Go Cavs” in the streets and bringing the city’s traffic to a standstill. The celebration got even wilder throughout the next few days, with J.R. Smith taking off his shirt and never putting it back on, J.R. Smith pouring champagne all over a waitress in Las Vegas and J.R. Smith lifting up a child à la Rafiki and Simba in “The Lion King” (1994). Cleveland would also like to extend its sympathies to the entire state of Minnesota, which boasts four major sports teams and zero titles since 1991, now the longest such drought. Cincinnati hasn’t claimed a championship since 1990 but only competes in baseball and football and can probably claim a share of Cleveland’s good vibes.

Even more amazing than the Cavaliers’ victory was the fact that Golden State was a five-point home favorite in Game 7. While the Cavaliers had history working against them, it was clear from Games 5 and 6 that James was not going to let this team go down without a fight, and in the end he willed this team of underachievers (minus Kyrie Irving) to the promised land. The Warriors are slight betting favorites for the NBA title next season, which isn’t surprising given their accomplishments this past year. Their 2015-2016 season, however, will forever be remembered for being title-less. They have good company in the 2007 New England Patriots. The New York Giants had “The Catch.” The Cavs had “The Block.”

The NBA landscape is constantly changing. Last night, Ben Simmons was drafted first overall by the Philadelphia 76ers in the most unsurprising move of the night. What was surprising was the Milwaukee Bucks’ selection of 19-to-23-year-old high school victory-lapper Thon Maker at 10th overall, further confirming that rumors about the Sudanese-Australian player’s age were probably leaked on draft day to try to get him to fall out of the lottery. With budding stars Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jabari Parker and Greg Monroe, the Bucks will be a force to be reckoned with in the next few years.

The player to watch from this year’s draft is Croatian phenom Dragan Bender, who was selected fourth overall by the Phoenix Suns. It’s no slam-dunk, pun intended, but it’s tough to argue with a guy named Dragan. On the other hand, the name Kevin Love strikes fear into the hearts of no one, for more than one reason.

Welcome to the “First Team.” We don’t ride the pine.