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The Cavs Don't Know D.C. Hates LeBron

If I were coming up with a list of the most hated figures among all-sports D.C. fans, it would probably be Sidney Crosby, LeBron James, Coach K, Peter Angelos and Daniel Snyder. Feel free to disagree. Most hated teams? Harder to put in any order, but the top half-dozen would likely include the Cowboys, Eagles, Penguins, Flyers, Cavaliers and Duke.

And "hate" doesn't necessarily mean "would spit in their faces on the street," but it's not some passionless emotion either. It's real. People genuinely dislike those names, and those teams.

Remarkably, the Cavs don't seem to understand that. Tonight is the the last Wiz-Cavs game of the season, and it will probably mean something to Cleveland after getting dropped by the Wiz last week. But when they were here in town and I was asking questions about the pent-up bad feelings....well, here's what Mike Brown said about D.C. fans and LeBron.

"You think there is hostility? I don't....really? I, I, you'd have to ask him that. But I'm not conscious of that."

There were other reporters there. They can vouch that he was being serious. He didn't know. I asked about the signs, and the chants, and the crying references on the JumboTron.

"I didn't notice all the signs and stuff like that," Brown said. "But you know what, any good fan's gonna cheer for their team and cheer against our team. I mean, there are some good players that come through our building, and sometimes they get booed, because they're good players, but I didn't know it was to another level here."

I mean, how can he not know? Every time LeBron touches the ball--every single time--he's booed. Throughout last year's playoffs, there was that brilliant (if ridiculous) "O-Ver-Rat-Ed" chant. There are Crybaby t-shirts (I get smiles whenever I wear mine to the gym), and t-shirts with LeBron's head on top of a crab. The kids pictured above sit right behind the Cavs bench.

"It doesn't happen in other arenas," one of the Cavs beat writers told me. "They cheer him in other arenas."

ESPN's Marc Stein, who has some D.C. in him, completely gets it: "Cleveland-Washington, one-sided or not, is one of the tastiest hookups we ever get, because these teams and fan bases harbor an undeniable contempt for each other," he wrote last week.

But the Cavs players? Not feeling it. Ben Wallace said LeBron is treated the same in D.C. as in every city. So did Joe Smith.

"He gets probably the same welcome everywhere," Smith said. "You always have your Cleveland haters, because of what's gone on in the playoffs here the last few years, but at the same time, when he takes the floor he gets the same reception everywhere."

Which is what, I asked.

"A good one," Smith said. "A good one....He gets the same cheers here that I see him get anywhere else. Like I said, you'll have some [haters], but for the most part, I think we probably have more Cleveland fans here than Wizards fans here. Whenever we come, for the most part. That's why I said, he gets a mixed reception, but those Cleveland fans kind of out-shadow any negativity, they out-shadow what the Wizards fans do."

I mean, am I living in a fantasy world? Yeah, there are Cleveland fans, but even in a 17-win season the arena feels like a seething pit of LeBron hatred to me. LeBron, any thoughts?

"I'm hated in all 30 cities," he said. "Well, 29. They love me in Cleveland; other than that they hate me everywhere else. New York likes me, too, I forgot about them."

I asked him why he would be hated.

"I go out there and do the things that I do," he explained. "I mean, they shouldn't root for me, because I'm an opposing player. But like I said, I'm not liked in a lot of arenas. It doesn't affect me at all, man, I don't get caught up in it. I just go out there and just try to help our team win."

If they were trying to drive me crazy, it was working. Sure, people here hate him because he's good, but in D.C. it's also because of three straight playoff losses, two without Gilbert. It's because he tore out fans' veins and arteries and blood vessels with all those last-second drives in '06. It's because he's one of the most dominant players in the league, but he still throws up his arms in horror when he doesn't get a call. It's because he gets fouls called when he trips over his feet. It's because Darius Songaila was suspended for Game 6 last year. It's because his friend Jay-Z wrote a diss track about DeShawn Stevenson, and they had it played in a D.C. club. It's because of what happened on Christmas in Cleveland. And it's because when LeBron was asked about the Wiz's suddenly healthy lineup after the loss last week, this is what he said.

"Well, every team that we've played, for some odd reason, is healthy," he said. "And then it seems like you'll watch them a few games later and four of their guys are out. You know, everyone is healthy when they play us."

Ha. Hahahahahahaha. You're complaining because the Wizards are healthy when they play you? Surely not. I mean, there's no way.

Anyhow, the Cavs deservedly have bigger things on their minds than the WIz this season, but the Wiz sure don't. Your season highlights this year are the win over the Cavs with Arenas, and the Crab Dribble game. It's no coincidence that the Wiz played with a level of passion in those games too often absent, although Mike Brown wasn't having that, either.

"Does it carry over to this game? Uhhhh. Maybe, maybe," he said before last week's game, when I asked about the rivalry. "Maybe for them they feel the same, but this is our next opponent, and right now we're in a different position from them, so we don't look at this as any different than who we played in our last game or the game before, you know?"

Even after the game, when asked if these awful Wiz play so well against the Cavs because of that rivalry, Cleveland's coach wasn't convinced.

"I don't know," he said. "I don't know if it's because it's a rivalry. We've got rivalries...I guess we've got a rivalry here, we've got a rivalry in Detroit, we've got a rivalry in Boston...."

At least Delonte West understood. He's from here. He just bought a seven-figure house on the Potomac in P.G. His friends were raised to cheer for the Bullets.

"Definitely matching up in the playoffs every year and eliminating them in the playoffs, of course the home team is going to hate you," he told me. "I definitely hear it a lot when I come home, like, 'Aw man, how you do that to our Wizards, man?' "

"It's funny, they hate the outcome of the game, I don't think people actually hate US," West also said. I think more than a few people would disagree.

(Michael Wilbon wrote a more sensible column about Wiz-Cavs today.)

By Dan Steinberg  |  April 8, 2009; 12:32 PM ET
Categories:  NBA , Wizards  
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This really just proves that living in Cleveland stunts your mental capacities

Posted by: JDP_ | April 8, 2009 1:01 PM | Report abuse

This reminds me of the "rivalry" between the Indians and the Yankees in the mid-to-late-90's. For a while there, we were the only team that could beat the Yankees in the playoffs, and it felt like every personnel move those guys made was specifically designed to spite us.

I know everyone who isn't from east of the Hudson River (and west of the East river) is supposed to hate the Yankees, but Cleveland fans REALLY hated them. So did the players. It was a passion.

But I also remember that the Yankees had no idea that there was even a rivalry going on. When a sportswriter would ask them about it, they'd invariably say something to the tune of: "Huh? I thought that the Red Sox were our rival. I mean, everyone wants to be our rivals, we're the Yankees."

My point is that I think this rivalry means a lot more to the Wizards than the Cavs because the Wizards need a cast of villains here and the Cavs don't. I have a feeling if one of two of the previous playoff series had gone the other way, you might see some more recognition on the Cav's part.

Posted by: MattinSW | April 8, 2009 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Stan Katsen is making a case to join the list.

Posted by: FlyersSuck | April 8, 2009 3:19 PM | Report abuse

lol dan synder should be #1

Posted by: rachel216 | April 8, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Definately down with Snyder and Angelo's. They are 2 of a stinkin' kind.

Posted by: ridgely1 | April 10, 2009 6:49 AM | Report abuse

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