Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Cleveland, rocks

Somehow I've ended up with lots of friends from Cleveland. Gary Schwab, who's sports editor of the Observer (plus the Raleigh paper) and my former boss. Andrea Simakis, one of the five funniest people I know and a great writer at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. My dear friend Diane Suchetka, also one of the five funniest people I know and another great writer at the Plain Dealer -- we worked together in Charlotte before she went back home. And my buddy Joe, who spent his later youth in Charlotte but his real youth in Cleveland, where his hero was Duane Kuiper, the Cleveland Indians second baseman who played 12 years in the big leagues and hit exactly one home run.

Even if you don't follow sports, you know Cleveland has a complex. It's the place where the Cuyahoga River caught fire, where the Rust Belt buckled. In "Tootsie," when Dustin Hoffman is doing his screen test in drag, Rita the producer says "I'd like to make her a little more attractive, how far can you pull back?" and the cameraman says "How do you feel about Cleveland?" The line is funny not just because Cleveland itself is a punch line, but because you knew that was a long distance -- wherever glamorous people were making soap operas, Cleveland was far, far away.

Cleveland sports add even more layers of cruel. We all think of longtime losers like the Red Sox (until 2004) or the Saints (until this year) or the Cubs (until, well, not yet), but it's worse in Cleveland. NO team from Cleveland has won a title in a major sport since the Browns won the NFL title in 1964. Not only that, Cleveland teams have lost over and over in soul-crushing fashion.

The Browns have missed out on three Super Bowls because of a late-game interception, a fumble at the goal line and a 98-yard touchdown drive led by Denver's John Elway. (Then the Browns moved to Baltimore, and a few years later Baltimore -- with a lot of those Browns players -- of course won the freaking Super Bowl.) The Indians, who haven't won a title since 1948, lost one World Series in '95 by losing the deciding game 1-0, and another in '97 after blowing a one-run lead with two outs to go. And the Cavaliers have never won an NBA title, but if you've ever watched Michael Jordan highlights you've seen him rattle in that jumper at the buzzer to beat the Cavs in the '89 playoffs. All those moments are available on YouTube but it would take a cold heart to link to them right now.

The point of all this buildup is that this year would be different. The Cavs had the best record in the league. They added Shaquille O'Neal to what was already a really good team. And of course they have LeBron James, who grew up in Akron, was drafted by his home-state team and turned into the best player in the game -- just like in those sports books written for kids. LeBron is a free agent after this season, and of course every team wants him, he can go anywhere he wants and get paid the maximum salary, but you think and you hope that his thumb is on the scale for Cleveland. Especially if they win the title.

And although it's just the second round of the playoffs, and they're in a tough series against the Boston Celtics -- tied 2-2 going into Tuesday night's Game 5 -- all they had to do was win that game at home, and they'd be in command of the series and aimed toward the championship that would heal Cleveland in that metaphorical, but still real, way that only sports can do.

They lost by 32.

Yes, they could still win. But now the Celtics can close out the series in Boston. And all of a sudden, it's possible that LeBron just played his last home game for Cleveland.

He didn't get his first basket until halfway through the third quarter, and not long after that it became clear they'd never catch the Celtics. I turned over to "Lost," even though I've seen maybe two hours of it over six seasons, and in Tuesday's episode, to make things even more confusing, CJ from "The West Wing" turned up. That was still better than the game. The game was like watching your neighbor's cat get hit by a car.

I sat down to write this because I couldn't think of a worse Pivot Game -- where a team's fans went from "We're gonna win tonight, we're gonna be champions, LeBron will re-up and we'll get multiple titles" to "We got carjacked by 32 at home and we might never see him in our uniform again" in the span of three hours.

But I forgot. It's Cleveland. They've seen worse.

Guys, I'm so sorry.


Kris said...

Thank you for this article. Being Cleveland born and raised, and now living in Charlotte in a way it makes me nostalgic for home. No other city can clearly feel what it means to have your hopes dashed so many times by teams you have rooted for, defended against to other fans, and tuned in to year after year.

Lose the Excuses said...

Like Kris, I am a Clevelander, born and raised, we Clevelanders share a strong bond based on our sports teams! LOL!

bropsyc said...

I was blessed to work in Cleveland during my internship as a doctor. I'm a Charlotte native but Cleveland really won me over. Great food, great music, great sports, and genuinely friendly people. Their sports fans are the most dedicated on the planet. I had to decide my support for Cleveland or Pukesburg (Steelers) almost upon arrival. And in spite of my insistence that tobacco road is the home of real college hoops they wanted to know whether I would be a "buckeye" or not. Wisely I chose to be a loyal fan of the local boys unless they played one of my home state teams.