Monday, June 27, 2016

This is our story

Years ago a Cleveland sports personality - I think it was late broadcaster Casey Coleman - lamented the shortage of good memories among the local fanbase since the Browns had won the NFL Championship decades before.

Not to say we didn't have warm remembrances of certain seasons, or even stretches of seasons, where one team or another was playing at a championship level. Fun was had. High fives were given. A few second place banners were raised up flagpoles or into rafters.

Prior to last weekend, my most cherished Cleveland sports memory was intermingled with my worst: The improbable, near glorious 1997 Indians post-season run, which found a group of dorky Ohio State students crammed into a downstairs apartment on Chittenden Avenue, passing a souvenir Municipal Stadium bat from one sweaty hand to another as a good luck gesture for each successive Tribe at-bat.

It was a great ride, though tied to a 9th-inning Mesa meltdown that became part of the torturous lore of Cleveland sports; a seemingly perpetual way of existence where we named our failures as if they were our kids.   

Sunday, June 26, 2016

A championship and a preposterous week to be a Cleveland fan

Inconceivable.

The median age in the Cleveland area is somewhere around 38 years old, which means well over half the population has never seen a championship. 52 years had passed since 1964, and there are plenty of people who grew up just suffering through heartbreak after heartbreak, each one different than the last.

And now, today, Sunday night, June 26, 2016. And Cleveland teams have not lost in 11 days. For once, not because of bye weeks and off seasons. Since a week ago Thursday, the Cavs have won the two biggest games in franchise history, including the epic Game 7 against last year's champs in Oakland, California, and the Indians have ripped off 11 straight wins, opening up a five-game gap over last year's champs. Just an amazing week in Cleveland sports that I have not been able to wrap my head around.

I'm a child of the 80's and 90's, with the memories and scars that go with it. My orange spray-painted Webster Slaughter-inspired hightops could not help the Browns to a Super Bowl. My high red Thome-inspired socks could not help the Indians through the Braves' rotation or through a bottom of the 9th two years later. Everyone knows the refrain, drilled into our head through years of national and local media: Red Right 88. The Drive. The Fumble, The Shot, The Move, The Decision.

But the pain was so much more vast, and yet deeper than that. Who hadn't felt like giving up after a gut punch, at one point or another. Up 3-1 in the ALCS versus the Red Sox? When Mark Price tears his ACL? When the officials give the other team a replay after a play was run? When two straight Cy Young award winners leave? When the latest quarterback fizzles quietly or implodes loudly? Merely another dreadful October football performance? Every Cleveland fan had moments they could recall--large or small--and where they were at the time.

Pause for a second, and think about your own feelings about the Cavs chances after Game 2, or Game 4. Against a juggernaut that won 73 regular season games. Maybe nobody gave up, despite the haters in your office, on Twitter, or on ESPN. But the realism of winning three straight, or two on the road, versus these Golden State Warriors still felt like a faint chance. I've lived in Chicago for a few years now, yet told my boss before Game 6--if the Cavs win, I'm going to need the Sunday after Game 7 off, win or lose. Because I could just imagine the worst that could happen, and it's effect on my day-after.

But when Game 6 went to the Cavs, I decided to travel to Cleveland to watch with my longtime friends, leaving my family after a Father's Day breakfast to head to Believeland, where thousands of people had gathered to truly believe. Walked through East 4th Street as the Indians pulled off a walk-off win last Sunday afternoon, and felt like a good omen. Had a beer on the roof deck of the Metropolitan hotel in bright sunshine, and things felt well in the Cleve.

And then somehow the Cavaliers delivered.

What an end to a strange season, where the team never seemed to be as loose as they should have been, at least until Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye showed up. A season where a legendary global coach, coming off a Finals appearance, is unceremoniously dumped in the middle of the season for a 39 year old first time coach. A season where the Big 3 was barely a Big 1 for most of the season, as Kevin Love could never match his statistical dominance from his Timberwolves days and Kyrie Irving recovered from last year's injury. A season where subtweets became headlines, and Twitter unfollows were interpreted for days. A team that lost late in the year to Brooklyn and had their young coach question their guts. A team that lost a deadly last game of the season in Chicago that could had damaged their confidence deeply heading into the playoffs.

But then a team that turned it around and romped through the Eastern Conference. That was basically the script that everyone had written for Cleveland the whole year, that it would be an easy route to the Finals. But until it happened, I don't know if Cavs fans--or even NBA fans overall--really believed. The team really didn't hit a dominant stride until they finally did--with 10 straight wins and 12 of 14 to make it through the Eastern playoffs, and ample rest between series. Yet the haters remained.

And then a team that came from the longest odds. A team to come back from a 1-3 deficit in the Finals, a feat that had never been done before. A team to win a Game 7 on the road, which hadn't happened in a long time. This team delivered to a hungry city a Championship in the way it deserved--full of angst, and against the longest of odds. With yeoman's efforts from all time greats, all stars, and backups and journeymen. The final two minutes was a massive justification of the Cavs moves and the city's belief. One of the greatest blocks in NBA history by LeBron. The most clutch shot in Cavs history by Kyrie, and the epic defensive stand by Kevin coming back from that three. The Big Three that was promised.




So many memories from the week. The scene in downtown Cleveland, free of violence, just massive amount of high fives and hugs between all ages, socioeconomic status, and ages. The CPD even complemented the city---a group of people just mobbed a fire truck, but the police radio told the story: "They're not being unruly, they're just really happy."It was right outside my hotel, I stepped out into that scene, and couldn't put it better myself, if not the understatement of the millennia.

The Champion sign added to the LeBron mural. JR Smith losing his shirt in the Vegas club postgame, and not putting it back on yet. The players each with a different wrestling or Cleveland t-shirt. LeBron's epic trolling of Golden State coming off the airplane. The team's suddenly awesome social media, particularly Matthew Dellavedova, Channing "let's watch The Notebook" Frye, and of course Richard Jefferson's Snapchats all postseason with Lil Kev, which finally showed a team puzzle still wet with champagne.

Thank you Cavs. Like more than one player said on the stage at the parade, this team is now linked forever. To each other, and in our hearts.

God loves Cleveland. This week for sure.

A few tortured bloggers in the last minute of Game 7

Sometimes your team makes a game 7, one game for a title.

Sometimes old friends gather in a downtown Cleveland hotel suite to watch the game.

Sometimes someone in the room sets their phone up to record the final minute of the game.

And sometimes a miraCLE happens.

Friday, June 24, 2016

POTUS suggests JR Smith should put on a shirt, Cleveland disagrees

I would think President Obama was calling to suggest putting Earl Smith onto the $50 bill or something.


Hilarious conversation. Insights: President Obama emailed LeBron James congratulations directly. The President apparently watched the whole parade, or at least checked out photos of the shirtless team. And Obama quit playing basketball two years ago. Who knew! That wasn't news??



Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cleveland, City of Light

"It's going to be lit up like Vegas" - LBJ 6/27/03
Let’s start with the hugs and the high-fives.

Hugged old friends and old-fashioned fans, new acquaintances and never-see-you-agains, hotel employees, homeless folks in knock-off gear, Tinder gals in XS throwbacks, hot guys hanging from fire trucks, and hoards of haven’t-we-suffered-long-enough millennials.

High-fived friendly cops and future criminals, prostitutes and pawn-shop pimps, doubters that wielded pitchforks just a week ago, Hodors and Jon Snows, then, Jesus Christ, himself, resurrected right there on Prospect Ave. I may have even stuck my big-ass head through the passenger's side window of that red Hyundai from Boyz in the Hood and dared a foursome of psuedo-gangbangers to "show me u a champion." They obliged.

The whole planet shared in our joy on Sunday night, but only your fellow Clevelanders could comprehend it. This was truly the evening for no words, for locking eyes with strangers and knowing what surged through their bones. We walked the downtown streets we once thought snake-bit and laughed at the person we were just three hours ago. See, it was a collective out-of-body experience for the entire 216. LeBron would use Doris Burke's mic to scream our name, and we made sure he'd hear us shout back by overstuffing social media with Cleveland vanity vids, solely appropriate for celebrations a half century in the making.

Understand, Sundays of our past were five-star Greek Tragedies: Fumbles, drives, shots, and folding tables on dirt mounds (if you never read them, ESPN publishes the Cliffs Notes). But our Finals triumph felt like a rewrite for a new era. If you're like me and planned to retire from fandom and travel the earth in meditation once the title drought ended, you may want to hold off on your Uber to Hopkins. Because Sunday, June 19th, 2016 didn't feel like a journey's end, but rather the beginning of an East 9th Empire. One that has the fortitude to eventually spread north, and conquer the throne at 100 Alfred Lerner Way. Imagine Chief Wahoo, in his last, half-racist stand, with one dying push past the guards at The Factory of Sadness. OK...maybe scratch that thought. But winning breeds winning. Stipe. The Monsters of Lake Erie. The Larry O'Brien Trophy.

King James and The Land. Forever.