The Optimist

by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor
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Good afternoon, Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea! It’s just your friendly neighborhood Optimist. And if today is July 22, 2011, we are left with but two options. One, we can commemorate the 215th birthday of the founding of our lovely city by Moses Cleaveland. Or two, we can gird up for another sweet-n-meaty episode of NEWS … AROUND … THE … LEAGUE.

Or … we can do a little bit of both.

Let’s do the history lesson first. History’s boring.

The year was 1796, and the Revolutionary War had made a hot mess of many parts of Connecticut – literally.

During the war, British and Tory brigades, some led by the traitor Benedict Arnold, had set ablaze entire towns that they suspected to be Colonial strongholds. So in May, 1796, years after booting the Brits, the Connecticut General Assembly commissioned a brigadier general named Moses Cleaveland to head west and survey a territory that was less smoldering.

When he reached Buffalo, a delegation of Mohawk nation and Seneca tribe Indians opposed Cleaveland’s entrance into the Western Reserve, but were placated with some beads, whiskey, MLB naming rights and $1,200 in unmarked bills.

Cleaveland’s expedition coasted along the North Shore, and, on July 22, 1796, finally landed right here, where the mouth of the Cuyahoga River meets Great Lake Erie. Cleaveland was struck by the region’s panoramic beauty and, after joining his party for some calamari dibattista and chicken wings at Shooter’s, divined the location as a favorable location for a city.

Growth was slow in that first year, with only four colonial settlers inhabiting the area. (There were only 150 by 1820.) Moses Cleaveland, himself, took his talents back to Connecticut after that first year – never to return to the city that bears his name.

Of course, you readers know the rest of Cleveland’s story. For approximately the next 150 years, not much happened. Then we invented rock’n’roll, hosted the Hough Riots, burned the river down, blew up Danny Green and got collectively cheesed when Brian Sipe threw an interception with the Browns well within field goal range.

Luckily, Nick Gilbert made it all right just this past May – crushing the NBA Lottery and securing two of the top four picks in the 2011 Draft. And that’s where we stand, fellow Cleaveland Cavalier fans.

Unfortunately, the history lesson precludes us from covering some critical issues, like Rupert Murdoch’s narrow escape from a pie-wielding madman, Chinese beekeeper Lu Kongjiang setting the world record by wearing a 60-pound beard of bees, or a recent New York Times article which asserts that our playgrounds have actually become too safe.

I’m exspecially disappointed that we won’t be able to cover the final topic, but I’m glad the issue’s finally gotten some traction. I’ve been an outspoken proponent of child playground recklessness for years. No surprise that the Old Gray Lady is just getting to it now.

Of course, the Times isn’t a reputable outlet for current events. That’s why you readers turn to the pages of, and specifically, to NEWS … AROUND … THE … LEAGUE for your most accurate, up-to-date information.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s get you knuckaheads educated …

Wes is More – Now that we’ve covered our boring history lesson for the day, you nerds are probably hoping that we can move on to some lighter fare, like calculus or advanced trig. But the answer is No dice.

First, we have to talk some hoops.

And let’s start with a story that’s developing right in our own backyard: the Cavaliers’ decision to own and operate their very own NBDL squad in Canton, Ohio.

The new team – formerly the New Mexico Thunderbirds – will begin operations in Stark County this autumn. The Cavaliers are the fifth NBA team to bring their own D-League team in-house and, as owner/operators, the Wine and Gold will have exclusive control over all basketball and business elements for the franchise.

Canton was previously known as the home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, as well as the birthplace of Jack Paar, Phil Hubbard and Boz Scaggs. Now, Cavalier fans will recognize it as the pipeline for young talent to develop their skills for Byron Scott’s major league club.

And if that news wasn’t good enough, we also learned that my man, Wes Wilcox, was named the team’s general manager.

Wilcox has been with the Cavaliers for the past eight years and currently serves as Cleveland’s Director of Player Personnel. The California native brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the position. In his first year with the Cavs, Wes was the team’s advance game scout, a position he held for four seasons. He moved on to become the team’s college and pro personnel scout for three seasons and was named director of player personnel in September 2010.

Wes is also a great guy and a solid family man who I’ve known personally for his entire stretch in Cleveland. And I can tell you that the Canton D-League franchise is in great hands.

As for you readers, I know it might be easy to forget a red-headed dude with the name “Wes Wilcox” – but you shouldn’t. Wes is one of the Cavaliers’ front office – if not the entire league’s – fastest rising stars.

Ming Dynasty – I’m secure enough with my love of – and devotion to – the Cavaliers to admit that, every now and again, I find myself mired in what I call a “team crush” on another squad. In the past, I’ve been intermittently smitten with the Portland TrailBlazers. But lately, it’s been the Houston Rockets.

Some of you might be thinking: ‘Hey, that’s fine, Big O. We’re all weak from time to time. But couldn’t you find a nice Eastern Conference team to bring home?’

Sure I could. But those teams play the Cavaliers too frequently, and I’d find myself far too conflicted. Sneaking off with a Western Conference club is like tasting the forbidden fruit. Naughty, naughty.

I freely confess this to you readers because, this past week, I actually got a little choked up to hear the news of Yao Ming’s premature retirement.

You’d be far better off reading’s Jason Friedman’s excellent piece about the eight-time All-Star. But I also wanted to give a nice N.A.T.L. send off to one of the game’s great – and underrated – big men.

Yao Ming was more than just the tallest Chinese player in the NBA. He was an emissary for an entire nation, an entire culture.

He was unique right from the start, weighing 11 pounds at birth – more than twice the weight of the average Chinese newborn. He tried out for the Shanghai Sharks when he was 13 years old and practiced 10 hours a day just to make the team. In his final year with Shanghai before entering the NBA Draft, Yao averaged 38.9 points and 20.2 rebounds a game, shooting 77% from the floor.

In the NBA, Yao was the top overall pick in 2002 and went on to make eight All-Star appearances, was named All-NBA five times and finished with career averages of 19 points and 9.2 boards per game. And by all accounts, Yao Ming was an even better individual than a basketball player – an ambassador, a humanitarian, all done with a fantastic sense of humor.

When Yao retired, he thanked his family, his team and his nation. But he also took the unusual measure of thanking “life” – which sounds strange until you hear the potential future Hall of Famer expound …

“I would also like to thank life,” said a tearful Yao. “Life is like a guide. When you sincerely follow it, it will open one and another door for you and the world outside of them is so different and exciting. Today, I retired. The door of basketball is closed, but another door has just opened which will lead me to a new life waiting for me to experience.”

Friends, I can’t think of a better way to wrap up today’s NEWS … AROUND … THE … LEAGUE.

Yao Ming is one wise man. And not just because his brain is likely the size of a bean-bag chair. He is wise because he understands and accepts life’s changing seasons.

Some of you might be ready for the change of seasons, what with the oppressive recent heat wave. But first you must accept and embrace the heat wave. Winter will be here soon enough.

As always, have yourselves a merry little weekend.

And I know I sound like a broken record with this warning, but if you’re going to emulate that awesome TV commercial and fill your entire car with alcohol this weekend, please do so in the comfort and safety of your own driveway. Shucks, I do it all the time – filling my Volkswagen sedan with a nice black-and-tan (Bass Ale up to the steering wheel and Guinness about up to my Adam’s apple.)

It’s not as much fun as cruising around with a sportscar full of Patron, but it’s a heck of a lot safer and will definitely keep the Five-O off your arse.

Here endeth the lesson, baby boys and girls. Until we meet again, please do your part to …

Keep the faith, Cleaveland

Su hermano,
The Optimist