“We did it!” my wife bubbled, high on Pepsi and jumping on the couch Sunday night as the Cleveland Cavaliers were crowned the NBA champions.
I couldn’t help but get caught up in her excitement. Let’s get one thing straight: I’m no basketball fan, apart from playing endless pick-up games at college 100 pounds ago. In fact, the five finals games I watched with Lisa in the last couple of weeks constitute the most NBA action I’ve ever sat through.
For me, the Cavs’ rise was about face-watching.
See, I have the luxury of having lived here long enough — 14 years — to see Cleveland’s long persecution complex and recent championship fever as both an insider and outsider. I’ve been an Ohioan long enough to understand what it means to lose and lose and lose. Yet I hail from New York, where sports fans are used to winning because they can afford to buy the best players year after year. And, through a quirk of NFC rivalry (my Dad was a die-hard Cowboys fan and my mother a Redskins fan), I chose to root for the 49ers in the mid-1980s, just as they started the Steve Young/Jerry Rice dynasty and started collecting Super Bowl rings.
So watching Cleveland’s love/hate relationship with the Browns, seeing the Indians fall just shy of any real shot at October greatness, and watching LeBron James make “The Decision” to leave for Miami and then return has been a real education in sports curses. And seeing people crying in the streets Sunday after Kyrie Irving sealed the deal with that trey — I think I truly get it.
But very little of that emotional outpouring has to do with sports, I believe.
When I heard the fireworks start to thunder at 9:37 p.m., when I saw the video feed of screaming faces outside The Q, it wasn’t just about basketball. It was about everything Northeast Ohio has suffered in the past 52 years. I saw people beaten down by the loss of steel jobs and those who lost auto plant work. I saw folks tired of their city being a punchline on sitcoms; sick of Cleveland being known for pollution and a river catching on fire; embarrassed to be known as the city where three women were enslaved in a basement for a decade; where Tamir Rice was shot to death by police; where the skies are grayer than Seattle’s.
I saw people tired of being told they live in “The Mistake on the Lake.”
No, the reason I think the reason there has been such an emotional catharsis from Ashtabula to Amherst, from Wellington to Warren, is because people needed any kind of victory at all. And for delivering that win, I thank LeBron and company. Hopefully it will lift Cleveland’s fog of depression for years to come.
The trick is not bragging too much. We’ve lost so often for so long it’s going to be a challenge to be good winners. And after the Cavs high, the young Ohioan in me is cautious — because in about two months it’ll be time to be a Browns fan again.
Hey, who’s our new quarterback this year?
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