How the Cavs Are Just Like the Movie Hoosiers - But Not the Way You Think

HOOSIERS: Dennis Hopper and Gene Hackman, 1986 (photo: Orion Pictures)
It would be wicked easy to sit back and make the obvious analogy between the Cavaliers and the movie Hoosiers.
Undoubtedly, LeBron James is Jimmy Chitwood - the local legend who returns to his hometown team after a sabbatical and leads them to historic success.

But you expect more from Everybody Hates Cleveland than a hackneyed comparison that a fifth-grader would both recognize and roll his eyes at. That’s what ESPN is for.

To be fair, there are other Cavs/Hoosiers parallels to be made. But the one that, like Arby’s, “has the meats” is a little more obscure. And a lot more meaningful. 

There’s a poignant, powerful moment just as the film’s second act is coming to its conclusion. Jimmy has returned, saving Gene Hackman’s job, and the Hickory Huskers are on a roll. As the regular season nears its end, Hackman (OK, fine - coach Norman Dale) has an itch that needs to be scratched.

He’d already brought in Dennis Hopper (Shooter Flatch) to serve as an assistant coach, as much as an attempt to rehabilitate Shooter’s alcoholism and help him reconnect with his son as it was to tap into his vast basketball knowledge.

In a tight game, Coach Dale deliberately gets himself tossed so he could hand the reins to Shooter. “It’s up to you now,” he says, then he tells his players, “Shooter’s gonna take you home.”

And then, after a moment of fear, hesitation, and self-doubt, Shooter takes charge. He guides the team to victory, using the picket fence to set up the game-winning shot. His players mob him afterward, and he’s congratulated by members of the community who just a few weeks earlier (maybe a few minutes earlier, really) saw him as nothing but the town drunk.

That’s the Cavs. Not the town drunk, of course, but Shooter in his moment of redemption. 

More specifically, it’s the members of the Cavs who’ve been asked to be more than they ever thought they’d have to be. 

Shooter never expected to actually have to coach the team, just as Matthew Dellavedova never expected to have to play 34 minutes with Kyrie Irving on the bench in a pressure-packed Game Six in Chicago. And it’s likely a scenario neither Shooter nor Delly would ever have wanted. 

But when it was thrust upon them, they both recognized they had no other option than to man up and take the team home. They overcame whatever hesitation they might have had and assumed ownership of the situation.

Another great example from the movie comes a few minutes later, when Hickory, plagued by foul trouble, turns to last-man-on-the-bench Ollie to fill in during the final minutes of the regional final. After dribbling the ball off his foot and out of bounds and air-balling a free throw, Ollie comes through with the game-winning foul shots, propelling Hickory into the film’s climax.

It’s totally understandable that Dellavedova, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and James Jones all just expected to be primarily spectators throughout the playoffs. Any success the Cavs enjoyed would be delivered by its much-heralded Big Three. 

Many (if not most) of the Cavs could justifiably have felt they were only there to fill out the roster. To give the Big Three a chance to catch their breath before coming back into the game to lead the Cavs to the glory everyone expected to come so easily. This collection of afterthoughts were, to use Star Trek terminology, “Red Shirts.”

Then Kevin Love was turned into Stretch Armstrong and Kyrie Irving ran out of legs.

And on cue, the Cavs had a cavalcade of Ollies enter, stage left to lead them to the Eastern Conference Finals.

True, Jimmy winds up hitting the title-winning shot at the end of the movie. But he never would have gotten the chance were it not for Strap, Buddy, Rade, Everett, and Merle. And of course, Ollie and Shooter.

This is not to say that the need for such unsung heroes has passed. Even if Irving recovers from his smorgasbord of injuries, there are still holes the Cavs will need to fill. If they hope to continue to advance in the playoffs, more unsung heroes will be needed. 

In a cinematic sense, the Cavs have flipped the script. It’s no longer about the Big Three. It’s not even about Jimmy. 

It’s now about Shooter and Ollie.

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