Cavs fans are, by and large, lemmings. That's the only reasonable conclusion, based on yesterday's Game 1 win over the Wizards.
First, consider the "wine"-colored "RISE UP!" T-shirts distributed to fans as they entered the building. Throughout the pregame festivities and, indeed, the game itself, iconoclasts who persisted in wearing their dangerously non-standardized street clothes were singled out on the video screen, as witty phrases flashed underneath their faces. To wit:
"Wine aren't you wearing your shirt?"
"Quit your wining and put it on."
"Wine not . . . it was free?"
Eventually, the street-clothes-wearing fans would relent, and the lemmings would cheer, and the camera would find some other poor sucker willing to have his or her individualism drowned in wine.
Then there's the "RISE UP!" slogan itself, which adorned not only the T-shirts but also the team's white playoff towels. In fact, the Cavs' catchy playoff mantra was deployed approximately 43,017 times yesterday. "RISE UP!" banners hang from the Quicken Loans Arena ceiling and are plastered outside the building. Four massive jerseys, 25 feet by 35 feet and weighing 102 pounds each, hang from Cleveland's Terminal Tower, "RISE UP!" Just in case the message wasn't clear, the pregame video unleashed a barrage of brawny verse:
To rise; to get up;
After falling down.
To stand as one;
To advance to a higher level;
The time to RISE UP is now.
But some individuality emerged from Sunday's sea of unthinking wine. Witness Don Mathis Jr., a 50-year-old devout Catholic and artist who was adorned in a red-white-and-blue Uncle Sam hat, a LeBron James jersey and a massive crucifix. His beard and moustache were neatly striped with the Cavaliers' tri-colors.
"I also paint with my beard in real life," he told me. "They're abstract paintings -- kind of like Jackson Pollock."
It's actually not a funny story. After his wife was murdered in 1998, Mathis said, he stopped shaving and eventually became inspired to use his beard as a brush, dipping it in acrylic water-based paints. His work can be seen at his Web page, http:/
"If you ever want a print, let me know," he told me. "I'll give you a good deal. They're original."
About that, I have no doubt.
Gilbert Arenas might be sidelined, but he inserted himself into this series via blog. "I already called the [Cleveland] players," he wrote late last week. "Damon Jones, Larry [Hughes], LeBron didn't want to pick up the phone because he already knew what was going to happen. The message is, 'Punks jump up to get beat down.' "
Yesterday, Jones confirmed that he spoke with Arenas.
"I thought it was a great tactic on his part," Jones said. "Trying to give us bulletin board material, to [make us] go out and try to do something that was out of our character, try to dominate. But you know, basketball is basketball. When you get out there on the floor, players make plays."
And for obvious reasons, Arenas made none.