New look Wiz get ready for Cleveland rivalry
Remember when LeBron James said there was no rivalry between the Wizards and the Cavaliers? DeShawn Stevenson was asked about that comment Monday afternoon, on the eve of the rivalry's first 2009-2010 incarnation.
"He's the Golden Child, he's gonna say that," Stevenson said. "He has a lot of stuff to lose. I don't. I don't care."
In other words, we're still allowed to milk this thing for Web hits. Later, Stevenson talked about how Cleveland had 40-some wins a year ago. The number was actually 66. Close enough. And the bearded, duck-tailed one was asked about ex-teammate Antonio Daniels possibly signing with the Enemy in Ohio.
"I have nothing against [Daniels] as a person," Stevenson said. "It's just that jersey and that person that's over there."
That person over there? That's why this is awesome.
This city currently has a few treasured sports rivalries. Skins-vs.-Cowboys. Caps-vs.-Penguins. Nats-vs.-FAIL. And, of course, Wizards-vs.-Cavs.
The treasury of good times continued last year, when the Wizards went through that unfortunate recession. Still, there was The Crab Dribble game. The Christmas game in Cleveland stolen by the refs. The Cavs Bench enraging the Wiz fans by standing throughout the second half.
And sure, many of the people who built this rivalry are gone: Darius Songaila, Daniels, Larry Hughes, Damon Jones, Eddie Jordan, Oleksiy Pecherov, etc. And sure, publicly, the Wizards' vets have declared this thing long dead.
"I think some guys have a distaste for Cleveland on this team, but me personally, it's just another game," Brendan Haywood said, drops of insincerity streaming out of his pores. "I play basketball. We can go out there, I can foul you hard, you can foul me hard, I can be mad at you that day, but the next time we see each other, it's a different game, it's a different day. I don't need to hold a grudge. Life's too short. C'mon, Dan."
"Just ready to play man, just ready to play," Caron Butler said, when I asked if this rivalry was still a going concern. I pointed out he hadn't technically answered my question.
"I'll tell you half the story, the rest you fill it in," Butler said. "I'm just ready to play."
Luckily, there were some less guarded souls out there willing to help fill the rest in.
"That's been the talk from day 1 of training camp, that we got to go out there whenever we play them," newcomer Randy Foye said. "You've got to understand, when it's games like this, coach don't have to say too much, guys are ready to play. As soon as they take steps on that Cleveland soil, guys are ready to go."
"That Cleveland soil?" See, the Wizards don't say such things about the soil in Oklahoma City. Foye said he knew some about this rivalry from watching the playoff battles TV, but that that he learned more when he arrived in D.C.
"I got a little bit of education, talking to DeShawn, talking to Gil, guys like that," he said. "I just YouTubed DeShawn Stevenson versus LeBron, to see what came up, because I heard them talking about it, so I got a little bit of everything. You know, I heard Brendan talking, I heard Caron talking, I heard Stuart Scott saying things. From then on, I understood that it was a big rivalry."
What, no Soulja Boy?
"Yeah, I saw little bit of Soulja Boy, I saw Jay Z," Foye confirmed. "Like I said, I just checked up on it to see what it was about and how serious it was."
And do fans in Cleveland still feel the same way? Well, depends who you ask.
"I've never been cheered for on the road, I always get booed, so I'm used to it," Butler said, playing down any special treatment in that special corner of the Rust Belt.
"Even when we played them in the preseason, they booed us as soon as we ran out there," Foye said, again administering a warming dose of truth. "They was waiting for us to come out....And LeBron wasn't even playing. I was like, 'Man, these fans are hostile here.' This is a preseason game. I know you want to win every game, but man, this is a preseason game and they booing us like this? I was just thinking, just imagine how the regular season gonna be."
In fact, this rivalry is largely for the fans, and the fans in both cities love it. The regular season is so dang long, it's nice to have little Super Bowls here and there. As for Stevenson, the man most responsible for this thing getting as fun as it got, he tried to play it cool on Monday, saying LeBron has been "playing awesome," but he didn't deny that he still has certain feelings. Like, his thoughts on the rivalry's health?
"As long as I'm on the court, as long as Gilbert's on the court, 'Twan, Caron...until pretty much all that goes away, it's gonna be a rivalry" he said. "Watch the tip ball, nobody say what's up to each other. No hand shakes. You see any other team, we always give a handshake before."
I asked DeShawn whether he'd ever consider signing with the Cavs; "you think they would sign me?" he asked. "Do you think that? They would never sign me over there, I already know that."
Stevenson said he knew he'd get boos and chants, and even his teammates agreed that he'd get heckled. He's talked in the past about what fans there would say when they saw him around town, but apparently that's no longer a concern.
"I really don't go out when I'm in Cleveland no more. I just stay in my room," he said. "Ain't nothing to do in Cleveland. Have you been there?"
I pointed out that there's a lake.
"I don't do lakes," he said.
But other Wizards wouldn't even co-sign Stevenson's thoughts about the Cleveland tourism industry.
"You're searching, man, you're searching," Butler said.
"I mean, they've got the mall, movie theater," Haywood said. "That's all I really do in any city anyway, go to the mall or go to the movies, so it's cool to me."
"Oh, there's a lot to do in Cleveland," said native son Flip Saunders. "It depends what you want to do. I hope that there's nothing to do tonight in Cleveland, that's what I do hope."
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