Cleveland fans supporting Mavericks

CLEVELAND -- Fans in Cleveland have jumped on the bandwagon during the NBA Finals, and it's not to support former Cavaliers star LeBron James.

"Cavs for Mavs" style.

Moments after learning that the most hated athlete in all of Cleveland will be playing for the NBA championship, George Vlosich felt restless and unsettled. He had to do something.

The Cleveland artist and graphic designer sat at his computer. He saw messages pouring onto Facebook from friends declaring that they were now, unequivocally and undeniably, Dallas Mavericks fans. They had no choice.

And he was struck with an idea. Vlosich quickly designed a T-shirt that embodies exactly what most every NBA fan in Cleveland is thinking: He took the old-time orange "Cavs" logo, slapped a big, blue "M" over the "C" and hung a cowboy hat off the "S" on the end.

"Cavs for Mavs".

Sure, it's more about rooting against James -- the player who so famously took his talents to South Beach less than a year ago -- than rooting for the Mavericks.

But in a city that is accustomed to heartbreak from its sports teams, a fanbase that still mourns "The Drive," "The Shot," and "The Fumble," as infamous ends to their championship aspirations in recent decades, it qualifies as a constructive way to focus anger and angst.

"Clevelanders have kind of pulled together to root against him. That's kind of a neat thing," Vlosich said. "We're rooting as hard against them as we would for the Cavs."

Over on realcavsfans.com, a thread started on the fan forum that declared, "Dallas Mavericks: America's Team." And the first post read, "Our last hope. Sigh."

Officially, in the Cleveland Cavaliers offices, the team swears it has moved beyond "The Player Who Left", as owner Dan Gilbert has referred to James over the past year.

The Cavaliers secured the Nos. 1 and 4 picks in this year's draft. They are rebuilding after a season that included an NBA-record 26-game losing streak. They vow that James' departure no longer drives every move they make -- despite Gilbert's Comic Sans declaration in a public letter last season that the Cavaliers would win a championship before James did.

"We'll joke around about something, but we really are just focused on the future now," Gilbert said after landing the No. 1 pick in the draft. "I think [the draft lottery] sort of put an end to any last, lingering thoughts. This franchise now is really positioned well. Hopefully we'll all see the day here where we're competing again soon. That's all you can ask for."

Still, that doesn't stop basketball fans in Cleveland from turning their attention and affection to the Mavericks. Dallas might be about 1,200 miles away, might be on the other side of the Mason-Dixon Line, but for these Finals, the two metropolis areas might as well be sister cities.

Cavs for Mavs.

"I've already been a 76ers fan, a Celtics fan, and a Bulls fan within the past two months -- no reason I can't pull for the Mavericks now," said Cleveland resident Andy Francis, referring to each Miami Heat opponent in these playoffs.

As hated as James is in Cleveland -- and it's true that they burned his jersey in the streets after he left and booed him thunderously when he returned to play against his former team -- he is not the most hated sports figure in town. That place of honor still is reserved for former Browns owner Art Modell, who moved the NFL franchise to Baltimore in 1995.

The city suffered through four years without professional football before the revived Browns returned in 1999. To this day, Modell has never been forgiven.

"Facing arch-enemy No. 2 in Cleveland sports history (well, maybe 1-B now that he's in the Finals), makes it real easy for us Cavs fans to get behind (the Mavericks)," wrote MoFloDeepinTheQ on realcavsfans.com.

It's like cheering for the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl earlier this year. The Cleveland sports fan's "Most Hated" list might read: 1. Art Modell, 2. LeBron James, 3. the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"It's the same principle as Browns backers everywhere rooting for Green Bay in the Super Bowl -- you support anyone with a chance to knock off your arch-nemesis," Francis said. "Let's hope the Mavericks are as successful as the Packers."

So Cavs for Mavs, it is. Vlosich said his T-shirt has "been blowing up" at his website. He's talked with local restaurant and bars about organizing Finals viewing parties so that NBA fans can gather and cheer on their new favorite team, though nothing has yet been finalized.

"I'm sure most (Cleveland fans) know Dirk (Nowitzki) and maybe that's about it," Vlosich admitted of the Mavericks North fanbase's knowledge.

Still, for now, at least, it's hip to be "Cavs for Mavs". Even on Twitter.

"It kind of has that pop culture thing where I can see people wearing it [the T-shirt] all the time, even if they lose," Vlosich said. "I think it's that type thing that even if they lose, people will say, 'Yeah we were pulling for them.'"

That's the thing about Cleveland -- the city is ready for whatever happens. They've survived The Drive, The Shot, The Fumble and The Decision.

Cavs for Mavs fans can only hope their new favorite team's change in location changes their luck, too.

"We're all hoping Dallas just smokes by the Heat, but are being cautiously optimistic about it -- given that ... well ... this is Cleveland," MoFloDeepinTheQ wrote on the Cavaliers message board.

Jodie Valade is a special contributor to ESPNDallas.com.