Sports have a way of casting certain players as heroes and others as villains. Fans want their teams to win, rooting for their heroes along the way, and anyone attempting to impede such success is an antagonist. Local play-by-play guys will oftentimes reference “good guys” when updating viewers with the score, which only means that the other team would be the bad guys.
But what happens when one of those alleged bad guys is a part of one of the biggest trades in recent memory, shipped to a city which so mercilessly booed him just months earlier? Well, they’re asked to address those very fans before opening night, a game that just so happens to be with his old team on the other end of the floor.
“That’s the way sports are,” newly acquired Cleveland Cavaliers forward Jae Crowder says. “You’re not going to get cheered for by the opposing team’s fans. I have a history, and I’ve played these guys in the playoffs. I don’t take anything I’ve endured to this point personally.”
That history Crowder is speaking of had multiple layers. He was dubbed to be Boston’s “LeBron stopper,” a physical defender who would attempt to counter the nightly domination of the four-time MVP. Two seasons ago, however, after run-ins with then-Cavaliers center-slash-enforcer Kendrick Perkins, Crowder’s playoff run with the Boston Celtics ended as he collapsed to the floor following a backhand from Cleveland Cavaliers’ shooting guard J.R. Smith. The moment was a crescendo of a series that featured plenty of pushing and shoving and stoppage in play due to the physical nature of some stretches.
Smith was ejected and served a two-game suspension; Crowder suffered a torn MCL, twisting his knee as he crumpled to the floor underneath the rim. Crowder had hoped for an apology from Smith, but the Cavs’ wing was having none of it, saying it was “pretty ballsy to ask for an apology from another man.”
Fast forward to the past offseason and Crowder was a part of a trade that sent long-time Cavs guard Kyrie Irving to a conference foe, the same foe in which Irving would have a substantial hand in their demise in seasons past. Crowder, meanwhile, spoke softly during his introduction to the local media, referencing the loss of his mother moments before the trade, but spoke highly of being a part of an organization that has represented the conference in the NBA Finals for three consecutive seasons. The past was the past and it was clear that the fans who had spent seasons lobbing social media insults his way would soon be on his side.
A video circulated of both Crowder and Smith walking together to James’ offseason camp in Los Angeles, but it starts out as just Smith before he pans back and Crowder enters the frame as both men nod along.
“We’re professionals,” Crowder said of Smith. “Emotions run high. It was already over before that next season.”
Crowder wasted no time endearing himself to the city of Cleveland. On Opening Night, after thanking the fans for coming out and ushering in a new season, the Cavs forward immediately started accruing stats in the forehead-to-forehead category, drawing the ire or Celtics big man Aaron Banes and coercing center Al Horford into being whistled for a second-half technical foul.