Ring Don't Lie

Let’s Start an Oakland–Cleveland Feud Over the Cavs’ “The Land” Shirts

Before Cleveland was “The Land” they wanted to “Defend.”

Jason Miller/Getty Images

The matching T-shirts NBA teams hand out during the playoffs may be dorky, but I love them. Sure, they look terrible when worn over button-downs by wealthy middle-aged men sitting courtside, but the overall effect is worth it. Few things in sports are better than when a crowd turns into a jubilant, monochromatic sea after the home team hits a big shot. It is positively Braveheart-ian.

I mean, look at this:

And this:

Teams giving fans color-coordinated shirts is a relatively new practice. Kirk Wakefield, a professor of retail marketing at Baylor University, told the Atlantic that the Oklahoma City Thunder started the trend in 2012 when they gave out bright blue or white shirts before every regular-season game.

For Wednesday’s finals game at Quicken Loans Arena, the Cleveland Cavaliers are handing out these tees:

These are nice. The subdued coloring means fans might actually wear them outside the arena, and the design is simple and actually kind of cool. One issue is the nickname—it may confuse a few out-of-town observers who don’t read maps well, given that both finals cities share the same suffix.

Make no mistake: Clevelanders lay claim to the nickname “The Land” while Oaklanders do not, as they have other nicknames for their city (e.g., The Town and Oaktown) with which they are perfectly happy. This is not a contentious issue. However, if people in the East Bay wanted to, they could make a compelling claim for “The Land.” Allow me to explain.

According to Cleveland.com, the nickname’s “first significant reference” came in 1995, in the lyrics of the Bone Thugs-N-Harmony song “East 1999.” In recent years, LeBron James and a few of his advertising campaigns have helped further cement the nickname’s popularity in Cleveland.

But “East 1999” wasn’t the only 1995 rap hit to feature the term “The Land.” Oakland rappers Luniz also used “The Land” to describe their city, in “I Got 5 on It.” (The Numskull lyric in question goes, “I’m in the ’land getting smoked with my kinfolk.”) That song came out as a single in May 1995, while “East 1999” was first released in July 1995 on Bone Thugs’ album E. 1999 Eternal. (The song came out as a single in November.) Summer-jam chronologists agree: The timeline favors Oakland.

As such, Wednesday’s giveaway T-shirts could possibly be seen as aggressive and overreaching declarations of civic ownership … but they won’t be. Very few things have been contentious about this series so far, and that includes the apparel.