My father always reminded me that “fan” is short for “fanatic”. You’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere where that is not more apparent than Cleveland, Ohio. During the five years that I lived in that incredible city as I pursued a college education, I saw continuous examples of people who were devoted to their sports franchises in ways that even the most pious priests are not to their religion. They can recite the histories of teams, players, owners, mascots, stadiums, tailgating parking lots, businesses next to these areas, and much more. Ohio is a passionate place for sports, as anyone who has followed my posts during football season can attest, yet nowhere is this reverence for athletics more fervent than in the northeast. When I first arrived in Cleveland, I perceived it as irrational, and now I know this to be true, but even though I’ll never quite get it, I kinda do. It’s hard to explain, but since Cleveland has been through so many negative sports experiences from losing seasons to painfully close defeats at the crux of the postseason, the fans there have an odd mix of realism and pure fantasy. Rationally, they know that you’re not going to win every game (although as their football fellows in Detroit know, you can lose every game), and they are additionally aware that not every season will end in a championship. However, even when their teams have endured previous seasons of failure and they are coming out of an offseason from hell, most will be prophesying that this is finally the year they win it all. Eventually these same people are the ones holding up the sign that reads “There’s Always Next Year”, sometimes as early as the third inning of opening day.
Not anymore. This finally is that year. Cleveland, after the course of 52 years, has finally won a championship. For the first time since the 1964 Browns took home the title in the pre-Super Bowl era, and for the first time in the lifetimes of many, including myself, my friends, and almost all of our parents, a Cleveland team won a major professional sports championship when LeBron James made good on his promise to bring home a trophy for the long beleaguered fans in northeast Ohio. Forget the pains of the past, Cleveland is on top of the world right now. The Cleveland Cavaliers are the NBA Champions after winning one of the greatest sports playoff series ever played against one of the greatest teams to ever play basketball. Not to mention that the Cavs were down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series to the defending champs who bested them last year, and those guys are led by a player who had one of the most unbelievable individual seasons anyone has ever had. Yet while Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors had the record-setting year, the Cavaliers and the people of Cleveland finally have that sweet victory they have craved for so long.
This does not mean the Indians will stay atop the Central and win the World Series, or the Browns will be led by their latest quarterback to the Super Bowl, or that the Cavaliers will repeat as NBA Champs. LeBron James may not even stay in Cleveland. It is of course within the realm of possibility that any or all of these things come true, but I know that it is highly unlikely, and so do the fans in Cleveland. Yet that will not stop them from hoping for it a little too hard. They don’t call it Believeland for nothing. And that is the beauty of sports: you do not know who will win. No matter how good a team is, on any given day another can be better when it matters most. The best stories are when the unlikely happens, and David topples Goliath, and this is especially compelling when the city and people who had for decades been unfairly the butt of many jokes and quips finally receive their validation as more than the Mistake on the Lake. Now, thanks to LeBron’s chasedown block on Andre Iguodala and Kyrie Irving’s dagger three-pointer over Curry, the rest of the world knows that Cleveland belongs at the top. Just as life is worthwhile because it does not last forever, and there is beauty in the ephemeral, the win that comes after so much heartbreak and time is the grandest of all. So celebrate, Cavs fans and Clevelanders! You fuckin’ earned it.