Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Cleveland and life ... Pain, hope, love, grief (repeat)

A peculiar thing happens whenever somebody asks Dina and me where we're from. Dina says she's from Los Angeles. I say one of two things: 1) I'm from Cleveland, or 2) I'm from Cleveland, but I've been in L.A. for 18 years.

Once you're from Cleveland, you're always from Cleveland.

We all know the Cavs' playoff run will soon end in heartache. Of course, that is extremely pessimistic. But as Cleveland sports fans, we're conditioned to that type of thinking.

Could this be the time we crack through and have our first championship in my lifetime? Oh, Jesus, I hope so. But is it realistic to think it will happen? Not based on my sports experiences, but so what? I will be loving every minute of these NBA Finals.

Earlier this month, ESPN ran a documentary called "Believeland," which chronicled the sports pain of my beloved city. It was spot-on about the heartbreak that has created the painful sports culture and mythology of Cleveland.

Being an actual optimist in life, I must say that "Believeland" also brought back positive memories of Cleveland sports. It's just too darn bad that none of the incredible teams we've assembled have sealed the deal and won a championship.

See, many people not from Cleveland cannot fathom the love — love, love, love — we have for these teams. These teams are like an extra friend always there for us at family gatherings, after work, in the car on the radio, everywhere. The city of Cleveland is evolving and thriving in many ways, but for some stretches of time, all we had were our sports teams, a depressed economy and miserable weather.

I don't think any team, perhaps in any sport, can get closer to a championship than the 1997 Cleveland Indians. They lost in 11 innings in Game 7 of the World Series after leading with one out in the bottom of the ninth.

When manager Mike Hargrove was asked how long it took him to recover from that crushing defeat, he said, "I'll let you know when it happens."

A quote came out during "Believeland" about this and similar losses: "What did you expect? We are who we are. Star-crossed. Cursed. Ill-fated. We always end the year in tears."

Personally and literally, the Tribe's loss in 1997 in extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series was the only Cleveland sporting event that ended in tears for me. I was living in Brooklyn. I was 24. The loss was cruel.
Of course, we can look at Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Art Modell's immoral and ridiculous move of the Browns or LeBron's move to South Beach as other sources of pain.

Or we can look at the lengthy inadequacy of the Indians in the 1970s and '80s as pain, or the continued incompetence of the Browns for the past 20 years, but come on, how didn't one of our behemoth Tribe teams of the '90s not win it all?

Plus, to lose it to the freakin' Florida Marlins? In their fifth year of just being a team? Well, life sure ain't fair, and Cleveland sports is about as fair as Cleveland weather (It snowed on May 15 this year!).

But now, we turn our sights to the Cavs/Warriors rematch. This time, these current Cavs have one year of experience with this grand stage. It would be nice to finally exorcise the demons of 52 years and give the Cleveland the championship it deserves — yes, deserves!
However, here we go again. The Warriors set the record for most wins in the regular season, and they got a guy who's most likely proven to be the best shooter to ever walk the planet. Add to that the fact that the Warriors recovered from a 3-1 deficit to oust the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. And, egads, it's obvious that the Cavs are not playing the freaking Marlins.

First, the awesome Cavs teams of the '80s run into Michael Jordan. Now, this?

I am opting to believe again. I'm joining my Northeast Ohio brethren believing this could be it. This could be the one. The script could finally change.

Believeland. All In.


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