“There is prodigious strength in sorrow and despair.”
― Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
I got to talking with J yesterday morning. We have absolutely nothing in common outside of work. He’s young, lives on social media and he tends to date men he works with. I think he’s wrong on that last count. Romance in the workplace is wrought with complications in a world that’s complicated enough.
We keep things uncomplicated by talking up the one thing we have in common. Our love of basketball. He’s a Cavs fan and I’m all about the Heat, and so we have Lebron in common. And for all the things I don’t know about the kid, I have to say I do love his spirit. He’s got some Cleveland in him, and I happen to think that’s a pretty good thing to have.
Topical involvements such as this cancel out the deeper, darker conversations. So we’ve never talked on Orlando, and the forty nine human beings who were lost on a night that is never going to go away for too many families and friends. Too many kids just like J were lost that night. Kids with their whole lives ahead of them. Kids who simply wanted to hold onto the weekend just a little bit longer. Kids who deserved the chance to see where their dreams might take them.
So what to do about a world that takes so very much of the good? Of a year that started with Bowie and Frey going away in the leadup to Prince. And then Ali, as if we can afford such losses with all the terror this world gives us. As if musical icons and the all time greatest fighter who ever laced ’em up just grow on fucking trees. What do you talk about when the world gives you tragedy and heartbreak and losing?
Cleveland. Of course. So we talked about the Cavaliers. About Lebron, naturally, because he just so happens to be the best player on the planet no matter what sports writers might believe. But mostly Cleveland, because it’s a town that’s been used to losing since the Beatles came to America.
For a few minutes, the world went simple and belief didn’t seem like such a silly thing as we thought on the fifteen rounder that played out Sunday night. The mighty Warriors showing us why they belonged in the conversation with history’s greatest while Lebron reminded us why he’s already there.
I told him how my house sounded like Cleveland as me and my son screamed at the TV and clapped when the Cavaliers hit a big shot and cursed when the Warriors answered back. We’re not Cavs fans, me and the boy, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell. Not last night.
When the Warriors tied the score at 89 with 4:39 to go, those would be the last points they would score this season. Lemme repeat that since I still can’t wrap my head around it my damn self. The Golden State Warriors went scoreless for more than four and a half minutes. With the season, with history and all that legacy stuff on the line. With the ’96 Bulls looking on, no doubt. The Warriors- a team that scores faster than Charlie Sheen at the old Playboy Mansion,-got shut down.
Anyone who saw that coming should get to Vegas. Stat. Then again, anyone who saw a game 7 as being even remotely possible was either lying or from Cleveland. And if they were from Cleveland, they probably realized they were lying to themselves but they did it anyway. They watched conspiracy theorists lay waste to the Cavs and James despite a hard fought runaway win in Game 5. The haters were out in force, never minding Lebron’s cold blooded 41 point game that helped Cleveland stave off elimination.
“It would have been a different story if Draymond was out there.” They said.
And so, it was fitting that Lebron welcomed Draymond Green back for game 6 by dropping another forty one points on the champion Warriors. Still, there’s the whole thing about great power carrying great responsibility on its back, because despite those two Herculean efforts, Lebron was still expected to lose a game 7 by the bay. And the haters were not alone in this assessment. They were joined by just about everybody else. Outside of Cleveland. A place that believes in itself in spite of itself and always will.
The Cavs had forced the issue and good for them. They had pushed the mighty Warriors to the brink and they had put a damn good scare in them by doing so. But still, this Golden State team hadn’t won 73 games by accident. And with forty eight minutes standing between them and the kind of history that only happens once in a generation, they would show why their coronation was divined. Right?
And then the game started feeling very much like a script I’d read before. You know the one, where the Mariners tow 116 wins into the postseason, only to get knocked out by the Yankees. The one where the New England Patriots were minutes away from a perfect 19-0, before the Giants changed everything. Where Buster Douglas took down Tyson. The script that had Goliath as chalk while Davey warmed up in the bullpen. That script.
Still, the Warriors were back in their crib for the deciding game. A place that has felt like Westeros over the last couple seasons. The Iron Throne of forever after legitimacy to its crown was right there for the taking. And if THAT wasn’t enough, they were playing a team from Cleveland. A town whose specialty is sporting heartbreak. From The Drive to The Fumble to the Browns leaving town (and worse, coming back!) to Jose Mesa to The Decision . . . a place where whatever can go wrong usually does.
So when Lebron went down hard and immediately clutched his right wrist with ten seconds left and the Cavs up by two, I think I spoke for every single person who ever had their heart broken by a team on the Erie.
“Are you fucking kidding me?”
Inside those nerve wracking moments, I imagined another shit for eulogy getting ready to make itself known. I envisioned James breaking his wrist and being forced from the game, after which Golden State would throw down a couple threes and win the title. And after the game, Lebron would announce his retirement from the game and move back to South Beach to become part owner of the Heat. Because . . . it’s fucking Cleveland. And God bless them for believing in miracles but how in the fuck did they do this for fifty two years without going insane?!
But then James got up and made one of his free throws and then Westeros began to recognize that the King on its court wasn’t their King. Nope, he belonged to the snake bitten kingdom a couple thousand miles east. And then Curry missed the shot he’d been making all season long and then there was a long rebound and then I stopped watching the clock and I just focused on Lebron as he jumped into Kevin Love’s arms and then I watched as a fifty two year void finally, mercifully disappeared.
I asked J about the end of the game and he admitted to me that he hadn’t watched it. He couldn’t. Not after all the bad endings to promising seasons, no. So it was that he waited for his phone to bring him the news from California in the form of 83-79. And Final.
And then he told me what he did when he saw it and he knew.
Tears of joy. In a world that’s pretty greedy when it comes to the giving of those kinds of tears. Here was a kid who had the right to cry. The right to be happy. The right to believe that anything truly is possible. Even if its just a game we’re talking about in this instance. It still counts.
And yanno, of all the places in this crazy world, Cleveland brings us joy.