May 13, 2013

Shalom, astute aficionados of all things Wine and Gold! And welcome to the TENTH ANNUAL OPTIMIST AWARDS BANQUET. I am this “Optimist” they speak of – and I’ll be this evening’s host.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 whole years that we’ve been convening for the perennial season-ending smorgasbord. And because this event is a little extra special, tonight’s ceremony will be broadcast on Tru-TV – set to be aired sometime this week between episodes of “World’s Dumbest Criminals” and “World’s Dumbest Daredevils.”

In fact, we’re pulling out all the stops for this year’s Banquet. We have an interpreter for the hearing-impaired, a full cash-bar, a silent auction, music by DJ Kishka and a buffet that, for the first time, includes some of the entries I’ve been clamoring for – like pig’s feet and city chicken. I was hoping to have Fred McLeod emcee the event, but he demanded to be paid with an entire sleeve of Bridgestone B-330 golf balls.

We’ve got it all – except for Freddy Mac, whose demands we decided were just too steep for our event. So I’ll be tonight’s keynote speaker

I understand that 25 years is marked with silver and a 50-year anniversary is marked with gold. I was hoping our 10th would be commemorated with something a little fancier than tin – the most common low-density metal in the Earth’s crust and the same thing your Miller Lite widemouth pint bottles are made of.

That’s kind of a bummer, but we’ll work around it.

Before we get to the awards presentations, I’d like to thank some individuals who have been down with the Big O for the duration – guys like the Maniac, Jeff Schaefer, Professor Chewy, Big Mo and even Matt Morgenstern. And more than anyone, I’d like to thank my beloved boss, Tad Carper, and his (and everyone else’s) beloved boss, Dan Gilbert, for allowing me to let my freak flag fly.

Now let’s get this fakakta event underway, shall we?

For those of you hoping to find the 78th Annual Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards, that ceremony is being held on the banquet room located on the second floor. (Although you’re welcome to crash our gala – provided you hold your applause until after all the nominees have been called.)

I’ll conclude my opening marks the same way I conclude each column. If you’ve had too much to drink, please find a designated driver or call a cab. It’s important to me that each member of this Banquet gets home safely and in one piece – even the creepos from the All-Nemesis Team.

With that said: sit back and enjoy the Banquet and, as always, please – no gang colors.

2012-13 All-Optimist First Team

Over the years, I’ve suffered the slings and arrows of critics for my stubborn insistence on loading up the First Team with Cleveland Cavaliers. They’ll accuse me of excessive homerism – especially this year – because the Wine and Gold won just 24 games in 2012-13.

Well I, for one, say: Up their butt with a coconut! For starters, it’s my Banquet. I paid for the booze and karaoke machine rental. And besides, the Cavaliers are the team I’m most widely exposed to. And from what I’ve seen, this is a young, promising squad poised for big things.

You can imagine my offseason anticipation. If these kids are First Teamers now, just think how good they’ll be next year! The only asterisk among this year’s starting six is Head Coach Byron Scott, who was released by the team after the campaign and later replaced by former skipper, Mike Brown.

Coach Scott was (and is) the very definition of class and professionalism. He was given a tough task when he took over three seasons ago and did a rock-solid job getting the franchise through some dark days. Coach Scott never complained about the hand he was dealt or the injuries that stockpiled through his tenure. In that time, he made the Cavaliers a competitive club and got Cleveland’s prized rookies from the past two Drafts off to solid starts in their pro career.

For those reasons, Coach Scott joins his former greenhorns on the 2012-13 First Team …

Kyrie Irving Dion Waiters Tyler Zeller Tristan Thompson Alonzo Gee Byron Scott
Guard Guard Center Forward Forward Head Coach
Kyrie Irving
First-time All-Star is Cavs cold-blooded killer in the clutch.
Dion Waiters
Answered Draft Day critics by playing angry all year.
Tyler Zeller
Andy's injury forced the fresh-faced rookie to grow up fast.
Tristan Thompson
Grew to NBA manhood in his second season in Cleveland.
Alonzo Gee
Guarded the toughest opponent every night -- for 82 nights.

The epitome of class and composure in the face of fire.

2012-13 All-Optimist Second Team

The roster of the All-Optimist Second Team has seen myriad changes throughout its decade of existence. But throughout those ten seasons, certain players have weathered the annual remodeling.

If you’re looking for your guards to post up my starting backcourt, good luck with that. Because although my All-Decade starting backcourt lacks size, both players are as tough as a one-eared alley cat. And my starting forwards are not only All-Stars and World Champions, but one of them swatted an actual bat out of mid-air during a game and the other one celebrated a basket by elbowing James Harden in the head.

Before we get to the starting Second Team, I’ve compiled a list of the other luminaries from the past decade of voting. I’ve been saving my consonants up all season for this list, so please join me in congratulating …

Thaddeus Young, Jarvis Varnado, Beno Udrih, Ekpe Udoh, Ben Uzoh, Royal Ivey, Mirza Teletovic, Tornike Shengelia, Pablo Prigioni, Timofey Mozgov, Donatas Motiejunas, Fab Melo, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ian Mahinmi, Viacheslav Kravtsov, Hamed Haddadi, Marcin Gortat, Danilo Gallinari, Marco Belinelli, DeSagana Diop, Norris Cole, Kent Bazemore, Rodrigue Beaubois, Gustavo Ayon, Josh Akognon, Joe Smith, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ike Diogu , Didier Ilunga-Mbenga, Delonte West, the Sashas (Vujacic and Pavlovic), the Vladimirs (Lucic and Dasic), Jeff Green, Mark Blount, Luther Head, Quincy Douby, Krylo Fesenko, N'Diaye Hamady, Yakhouba Diawara, Panagiotis Vasilopoulos, Sofoklis Schortsanitis, Novica Velickovic, Milos Teodosic, Zarko Rakocevic, Strahinja Milosevic, Darjus Lavrinovic, Nemanja Besovic, Raviv Limonad, Ben Wallace, Branislav Djekic, Zarko Cabarkapa, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Mustafa Shakur, Ish Smith and, as always, Joel Przyzbilla, the Vanilla Gorilla.

Earl Boykins Nate Robinson David Lee Metta World Peace Manu Ginobili Doc Rivers
Guard Guard Center Forward Forward Head Coach
The Earl of Boykins
Cleveland native and one of the best little men to play the game.

To this day, "Krypto-Nate" is still frustrating foes.
David Lee
Tough, solid, and steady, Lee plays the game the right way.
Metta World Peace
Meaner than a junkyard dog; crazier than a soup sandwich.

Even his complete screw-ups are entertaining.
Doc Rivers
Despite coaching the C's, I still love the guy.

2012-13 Optimist All-Nemesis Team

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a lover, not a fighter. I don’t like singling out my nemeses. But the fact remains: They started it!

Like the Second Team, there are plenty of repeat offenders on the All-Nemesis All-Decade Team. If I could have loaded it all up with Boston Celtics, I would have. (Other than the great Doc Rivers – long-time Head Coach of my Second Team.) Because it’s a “best-of” list from the past ten years, I left guys like Ricky Davis (who called our city a “black hole”) and DeShawn Stevenson (who cheesed Cleveland during separate playoff runs) off the list.

I have nothing personal against the All-Nemesis Team. For all I know, they’re great guys who’d probably save drowning puppies if they had to. And, of course, I these guys were on my team, I’d probably love them.

But they’re not. So I don’t …

Joakim Noah Kevin Garnett Paul Pierce Carlos Boozer Bill Simmons Gregg Popovich
Center Forward Forward Forward Writer Head Coach
Joakim Noah
Frightens small children.
Kevin Garnett
Frightens children of all ages.
Paul Pierce
Consummate Celtic. Nuff said.

Just to prove I can hold a grudge for nine straight years.

Graduated from smug, self-centered blogger to smug, self-centered pregame host.
Gregg Popovich
Great coach, but nobody likes a bully.

The 2012-13 Edgar Jones Seventh Man Award

As it is every season, the Seventh Man voting went down to the wire, with a handful of hanging chads separating the winner from his lowly competition.

The coveted Edgar Jones Award – named after the toothless and tenacious former Cavaliers forward – goes to the reserve who simultaneously stimulates the Quicken Loans Arena crowd and concurrently contributes to the Cavaliers’ cause.

Past winners of the prestigious honor include Boobie Gibson, Anderson Varejao, Flip Murray, Devin Brown, Ben Wallace, Jamarius Moon, Ramon Sessions and Corperryale L'Adorable “Manny” Harris.

This year, the Cavaliers’ bench – at times, the team’s strength – produced several worthy candidates. Luke Walton provided level-headed leadership and was probably the best pure passer on the team. Marreese Speights brought a nasty attitude and some scoring punch off the bench. And Wayne Ellington’s smooth overall game worked well in reserve or in a starting role.

But this year’s top Seventh Man is veteran swingman C.J. Miles – who produced consistently off the bench all season.

Miles had some huge scoring games, set career marks for three-point shooting and was easily the second unit’s most steady performer. All this, and C.J. is one of the coolest, most easy-going and approachable guys on the squad. He can play piano by ear, digs jazz, has over 500 pairs of sneakers and – should there be a cataclysmic event such as a Zombie Apocalypse – can survive solely on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Luke Walton Mo Speights Shaun Livingston Wayne Ellington C.J. Miles
Luke Walton Marreese
CJ Miles

2012-13 Optimist All-Media First Team

Where would we be without the media? You readers wouldn’t know what the cuss was going on – that’s where.

So as the Optimist Awards Banquet celebrates its Aluminum (*sigh*) Anniversary, I’ve decided to round up an entire First Team of the best and brightest writers and reporters currently covering our beloved Cavaliers.

Narrowing the list of Cleveland’s transcendent sports journalists down to just the top six was no easy task. Even the Second and Third Teams consisted of heavyweights like Rick Noland, Jodie Valade, Ken Silverstein, Brian Chauncey, Scott Sargent, Larry “Brother D” Durstin, Marla Ridenour, Terrance Planet, Bill Livinglarge, Matt Loede and Andre Knott.

Some technical awards – for Punctuation and so forth – were held at a separate Banquet earlier this week. At that ceremony, in a rare voting anomaly, WKNR’s Kenny Roda took home the award for both Best-Dressed media member (tied with WERE’s “Sports Brothers” co-host, Delvis Valentine) and Worst-Dressed media member (tied with every other member of the media).

The local media take a lot of heat, but just remember, they’re only here to protect and serve. And here are six of the very best at writing words and stuff.

Mary Schmitt Boyer Jason Lloyd Bob Finan Sam Amico Tom Withers Daryl Ruiter
Mary Schmitt-Boyer
Recently-elected President of Pro Basketball Writers Association.

The John Riggins of Cavalier beat writers.

Veteran scribe who once survived a turkey attack with me.

The “eye candy” of Cavaliers beat writers.
Tom Withers
Associated Press alpha dog.
Daryl "Eeeee-Z" Ruiter
If you have to ask ...

The 2012-13 Golden Tait Awards

Named after the Cavaliers legendary radio play-by-play man – Joe Tait – the Golden Tait Awards are broken down into several categories.

Like the All-Media Awards, these separate trophies were handed out at a ceremony held earlier this week and hosted by radio analyst, Jim Chones. Of course, Cavaliers broadcasting guru, Dave Dombrowski, was on-hand to micromanage the entire event, ensuring a miserable time for everyone in attendance.

All-Optimist statuettes cost only, like, $7.50 apiece, so we made sure that almost everybody got some hardware. Hats off to this year’s other winners, which included Campy Russell, Brent Valenti, Dirty Kurt, Mike Snyder, Dan Sevic and Dan Sevic’s hilarious dog, Marty Allen, Carl Kronenburger, Bardo and the irrepressible Jeff Phelps.

But some of this year’s notables include the lovely and talented Allie Clifton, who did a fantastic job in her first season on the sidelines, Scott “Z-Man” Zurilla, who split duty as Cavs radio producer and the play-by-play voice of the Canton Charge and finally the 2012-13 campaign’s Man of the Year, Fred McLeod, who – as far as Cavalier broadcasting is concerned – is hands-down the hardest-working man in show business. Freddie Mac is a pro’s pro, has fostered a great on-air relationship with A.C., asks the tough questions in the tough situations, is an excellent golfer, has an awesome wife and possibly the best head of hair in the entire organization.

The only beef I have with Fred is his refusal to emcee this Banquet at a hometown discount. A move like that cries “prima donna” to a guy like me. But, hey, nobody’s perfect. And I still love Fred anyhow.

Scott Zurilla Allie Clifton John Michael Austin Carr Fred McLeod
Scott Zurilla
Team/Teamwork Award
Allie Clifton
Rookie of the Year
John Michael
Sophomore of the Year
Austin Carr
Austin Carr Good
Guy Award
Fred McLeod

2012-13 Optimist All-Current Events Team

As many of you know (but are afraid to admit) every Friday afternoon publishes a new edition of News … Around … The … League – a hard-hitting piece of journalism that branches beyond the whimsical world of sports and into arenas that affect our daily lives – Birthdays, Today-in-History and, most importantly, Current Events.

Like most of tonight’s award-winners, the cream of the Current Events crop had some seriously stiff competition. I could easily argue the case for He Pingping, the world’s tiniest man, or Skinny, the 41-pound cat from Richardson, Texas. There’s the Lansing, Michigan “traffic turkey,” the Iranian space monkey, the golf course leopard shark in San Juan Capistrano, St. Henry of Finland, St. Margaret of Cortona and St. Joyce Coffee of Epping, New Hampshire, who got arrested five times in 26 hours.

And you know the voting was tight if we were forced to exclude the scarf-wearing Pittsburgh highway pig, Cobbler and Gobbler – the presidentially-pardoned turkeys, Topsy, the elephant that Thomas Edison electrocuted and exspecially 101-year-old Otto Jensen, who was run over and killed by 91-year-old Mary Beaumont in Burbank, California.

Voters must have figured Otto Jensen had it coming. Either that, or that the six winners were simply that awesome …

Weng Weng Parrot Lil Poopy Pion IKEA Monkey Al Roker
Pint-sized Fillipino private eye.
Foul-mouthed British parrot who once called his master a "%#@&%" and a "$@#%!!".
Lil Poopy
Nine-year-old Massachusetts rapper, forced to battle both haters and The Man.
Roger Pion
Angry stoner crushed seven police cruisers with a stolen 15-ton tractor.
Can't a well-dressed Japanese macaque simply shop at IKEA in peace?
Al Roker
Repaid Obama's hospitality by sharting all over the White House.

Professor Chewy's 2012-13 All-Bald Team

A tradition like no other, over the past decade Professor Chewy’s All-Bald Team has singlehandedly made male-pattern baldness infinitely sexier than a full-head of thick, robust hair. And of course, Chewy himself is a bald and beautiful Bohemian boy-toy.

Notable omissions include from the Ten-Year Team include Larry David, Stanley Tucci, Lou Gossett, Jr., Lex Luthor, Jr., Mr. Dobeck, Sir Ben Kingsley, Sir Kimbo Slice, Marcellus Wallace, Andre Agassi, Cal Ripken, Alan Arkin, Robert Duvall, Patrick Stewart, Dr. Evil, Terry Pluto, Michael Stipe, Telly Savales, James Carville, Yul Brenner, Hector Elizondo, Prince William, Ed Harris, "Hey Now!" Hank Kingsley, John Malkovich, Jason Alexander, David Cross, Paul Schaeffer, Curly Howard and Charlie Brown.

Professor Chewy is a stickler for the rules and there are THREE big no-no’s that will not only get you removed from the All-Bald list but will render said smoothie a pariah in the bald community: NO rugs, NO plugs and – heaven forfend – NO drugs!

With that in mind, we conlcude the Tenth Annual Optimist Awards Banquet by presenting the decade's top chrome-domes …

John Amos Ron Howard Tony Soprano Louis CK Michael Symon Jeff Phelps
John Amos Ron Howard James
Louis C.K. Michael Symon Phelpsie