For sports in Cleveland, 2018 was the most tremendous, traumatic, tumultuous year, all rolled into one. The best of times, the worst of times, the most inexplicable of times.
But let’s try to explic.
WORST BRAIN CRAMP OF THE YEAR: The year, the decade, the century, whatever. J.R. Smith’s cerebral flatulence in Game 1 of the NBA Finals stands, to these ears, eyes and, especially, nose, as the worst in the recorded history of professional sports. Not to over react, or anything.
But given the stage and the moment — the Cavs were in position to steal Game 1 from the Warriors, and who knows where that could have led? — forgetting the score while holding the ball as the clock runs out will stand unchallenged forever in the pantheon of, “Wait, What?”
WORST DECISION OF THE YEAR: The Browns not firing Hue Jackson after the 2017 season. The one year NOBODY would have criticized Browns ownership for firing their coach, they chose to keep him. They brought back a coach who was (pick your favorite) 0-16, 1-31, 6-50. By doing so, the Browns poisoned the start of their 2018 season, and only the brilliance of John Dorsey’s draft, Baker Mayfield’s performance, and the grossly overdue decision to finally fire Jackson at mid-season neutralized the toxicity that threatened to possibly devour the franchise beyond repair.
BEST SINGLE PERFORMANCE BY A CLEVELAND ATHLETE: LeBron James’ game for the ages in Game 1 of the Finals, when in 47 minutes he scored 51 points, with eight rebounds and eight assists. LeBron scored 51, the rest of the Cavs’ starters scored 40. If he was in any way still on the fence about whether or not he would stay with the Cavs, that game, that loss, and especially how they lost, surely pushed him out the door for good.
MOST ELECTRIFYING GAME: Baker Mayfield’s debut, in the third game of the season, at home, when, after replacing injured Tyrod Taylor, he rallied the Browns from a 14-0 first-half deficit to a 21-17 victory over the Jets. It was one of the few times in history when a much-ballyhooed player got his chance and exceeded the hype. It was all on display: the instincts, the arm, the mobility, the leadership. In two quarters he changed the course of the franchise, and re-ignited the emotions of a dormant fan base.
BEST ALMOST FULL SEASON: Jose Ramirez’s rampage, when, for four months, he was the American League’s most valuable player. Through the end of July, he was hitting .298/.408/.630, with 25 stolen bases, 32 home runs, 78 RBIs, and he was threatening to do something that hadn’t been done in the American League in 109 years: lead the league in home runs and stolen bases. But then came August and September.
WORST MESSAGE SENT: Hue Jackson jumping in the lake. Even though it was done for charity, the whole event was framed as a carefree romp, a jaunty, jovial, happy-go-lucky dash into the water photo-op, laugh-fest, which missed the point entirely. The reason the event took place was that the winless Browns were the laughingstock of the NFL. But something got lost in the translation. It was almost as though Jackson was flaunting the fact that he still had a job.
BEST PERFORMANCE BY AN EMERGING STAR: Trevor Bauer’s monstrous season. Only Jose Abreu’s line drive off his ankle prevented him from winning the Cy Young Award. Sure, he’s loud, unconventional, controversial, arrogant, self-centered, and both star and villain of social media, but so what? He’s almost unhittable, unbeatable, indestructible, and a breath of fresh air in a sport that far too often takes itself far too seriously. Enjoy him Cleveland, 2019 will probably be his last year here.
MOST IMPRESSIVE TURNAROUND: Whether or not he gets the fulltime gig going forward, what Gregg Williams did as the Browns’ interim coach was nothing short of spectacular. He inherited an internal dumpster fire that resulted in two major midseason firings. The season could have spiraled out of control, but Williams somehow wrought order, accountability, and far more victories than anyone expected. A coaching tour-de-force.
MOST OMINOUS TREND: The Indians apparently having to dismantle portions of a team that has won three consecutive division titles, because they can no longer afford it. In other words, they are being penalized, rather than rewarded, for building an elite team. When you have one of the best front offices and one of the best managers in the game, and you can’t pursue excellence to the degree the team you’ve built merits — whether due to internal or external factors — that’s a tough sell.
LEAST WATCHABLE: There is no basketball tundra more barren than the post-LeBron basketball tundra. What’s left of the Cavs is not a pretty sight, and it’s nobody’s fault, really. It’s the law of the NBA jungle. Eat, or be eaten.