Thank You, Cleveland

“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.

“I cried.”

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.

Imagine that.

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37 thoughts on “Thank You, Cleveland

  1. Imagine that, Pilgrim. This is a masterpiece and every word a gem. I never thought about any good in Cleveland, but at your fine hand, I realized in today’s world a Clevland win is a win for everyone. So well done.

  2. I watched the last 6-7 minutes, which means I didn’t see the Warriors score very many. They lie and die by the three, and this time was on the short end. To me, game 5 was the tipping point … a suspended player, a major injury, and then a return to Lake Erie. The writing was on the wall at that point.

    • Yes, there was a turning point to be had and Game 5 was it. And I’m glad for Clevelanders that the tipping point went their way this time. Payback was a glorious thing to behold, and seeing all those fans in Cleveland- not knowing HOW to celebrate- was genuine and beautiful.

      Lebron might have won a couple three more titles in Miami, who knows. But one thing I do know, the one title he just won in Cleveland is worth more than all that. I’m definitely not speaking for the South Beach peeps when I say this, but as a Miami Heat fan, I was very happy with how things shook out.

  3. This is you at your finest, Cayman. As I said to you earlier, you have the unique gift to take two totally different stories and meld them together to create something beautiful. On the surface, this is a post about basketball. But it’s not about basketball at all. It’s about how the human spirit can persevere and find grace in the least likely of places in the darkest of days.

    The resilience of the human spirit. The ability to persevere. The will to come back stronger. The underdog defying odds and doing what They said couldn’t be done. The never forgetting, yet the refusing to be defined by tragedy, refusing to be paralyzed by the past. These are the themes that led me to you, they’re the pretty words (that aren’t just words) that bonded me to you.

    Somehow you turned me into a basketball fan. And They said it couldn’t be done. And while I know I had absolutely nothing to do with Cleveland’s triumph, I like to smile and think that maybe–just maybe–I did.

    See, that’s the beauty of Cleveland’s win. That for those 60 minutes of those past three games, and especially for those last few minutes of Game 7, whoever was watching the games or even hearing about the ultimate victory later, their own troubles were set aside or at least minimized. During the last minutes of Game 7? I wasn’t thinking about Orlando. I wasn’t thinking about Prince. Or my day to day stress. I wasn’t even thinking about Game of Thrones. Well, not much…. I was totally wrapped up in the game. That’s one of the many beautiful things about sports.

    I too cried happy tears, like J. But mine came from you. So, thank you, Cayman.

    If they ever make those “fucking trees” that grow Idols and Icons? I want one. Or four. K bae?

    You rock, Cayman, and so does Cleveland.

    • I remember a little birdie suggesting there was a basketball post to be had. And THAT was all the way back when i still thought Durant had a chance to win it all.

      Hey, listen. . . let’s not tell anybody (especially not Clevelanders) about how I was rooting for Durant to win a title, coo? I mean, it looks way more prescient if the reader thinks this Miami Heat fan was rooting for LBJ to bring the hometown folk their first title since the other LBJ was kicking.

      And yanno, I was always skeptical about how sports really mattered a wit in the grand scheme of things. And then I watched a city get swept up in the Mets and Yankees after September 11th. I watched as a city in mourning turned the darkness away for a couple hours a night and focused on something other than heartache and despair. And I realized, after the Yankees blew Game 7 in Arizona, that it didn’t matter. The ending. It occurred to me that the Yanks had given us a ride, a much needed one.

      You’re a sports fan, through and through. I’m glad I nudged you into watching. Loved the back and forth texts as I sat on the edge of my seat through Jon Snow’s charge to Winterfell as the Cavs and Dubs threw down on the tube. Two spectacular events melded (good word) into one big Sunday night.

      I want one of those trees too! Tuck it between a mango and avocado tree….peach! And yes, that too. A quartet of sweet and salty and sexy and forever. If you want more than that, then you just greedy.

      You’re right, it wasn’t about basketball so much as it was about the world we’re living in. Because the nights ARE dark, and full of terrors. So let there be light, please and thank you to Cleveland.

      Love you C

      • WHAT is up with that little birdie? All up in your business…geez….
        I’m sure the little birdie waited until OKC was out. Seems like resilience and tenacity and rising up in the face of, or after, defeat are themes that would’ve worked then, but worked even better now. Hmmmm. Imagine that.
        Sunday was a helluva night. I’m still trembling from all of the excitement and nerves. That night was explosive. Wow.
        A “quartet of sweet and salty and sexy and forever.” Sounds purrrfect to me. Count me in.
        Oh we don’t have to share how you were rooting for Durant. No worries. But also remember, way back when, YOU called it when you predicted another Warriors/Cavs matchup in the finals. YOU know things too.
        And you know I love you too.

  4. I love the Cavs because they brought you back to our little WP space – I have missed you and your writing.
    What an eloquent way to marry tragedy with triumph – it’s what we do in this country and you gave beauty and words to the nuance. 9/11? Katrina? I can think of national instances in each where we came together at a sporting event – not to forget, but to cope and rise above the hate and disaster. When we were in Minnesota, the Twins had an entire between-inning set dedicated to their favorite son – imagine singing Purple Rain with thousands…goosebumps, baby!
    And, like Christy, somehow you’ve made me a basketball fan – this season felt different than any other I’d experienced before. I know it was partially due to the teams, but mostly due to you and your magic. Xo

    • Hey mama,

      I just referenced September 11, because yes, I always come back to that time when I think on tragedy and sports. It was such a surreal period for the city and state, the entire country really.

      An entire set dedicated to Prince? AND a baseball game? Can’t beat that, huh? Must have been amazing!

      All apologies but I think the Warriors learned what the Royals are currently learning. Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. It’s so easy to understate just how difficult it is to win ONE title, much less two or three! The Warriors were one minute away from being back to back champions with a 73 win regular season. They didn’t play their best and they still almost won. Great champions indeed. As are your Royals, who have a run in them I’m sure.

      Peace and baseball mama. And Cleveland, of course.

      • Peace, LOVE, and baseball fo sho 🙂
        I enjoyed this basketball season through my sons eyes, too. He’s a wrestler which means he usually only likes a basketball court when it’s covered wall to wall with a mat. So, it was fascinating for me to see him embrace the Warriors as well as the whole sport this season. Between you and him, I found myself enjoying a sport I haven’t watched since Larry Bird and Kevin McHale played on that crazy looking parquette.
        As for my Royals…well, I’m just happy to see them still sharing chemistry and bringing in some young (very cute) blood….I think they just lost to the Mets tonight….
        Peace to you, brutha!

        • The old Celtics, yes. I hated them back in the day because I rooted for Pat Riley and the Showtime Lakers. Seems I have always liked the polarizing characters in sports, but hey, it’s fun. But I do miss those old Celtics NOW. Funny how that works.

          The Dubs are an historic team who will be back, no doubt about it. On the outside chance they do sign my man Durant (I think he stays in OKC), then Imma have a rooting interest in the team by the Bay. And the Royals are going to make a run again. Too good, too cohesive not to.

          Peace back atcha sistah

  5. Damn, Cayman. I didn’t understand half of what you were talking about, but the words, oh, baby, your words. This entire piece is filled with such passion, and the way you tie it to a universal human truth — it moved me. I was thinking you should do this for a living. I can’t talk to you about sports because I am clueless in that department, but the need for joy, after so much heartbreak, speaks to everyone. I love the way you get that.

    • Christy let me know you had commented on this post. She even sent me a text of your comment, to which I replied with something like “I love Mary. Coming from her that is high praise.” Which it is. I am nothing if not earnest, and thankful. So yes, I think I’m gonna have to agree with you.

      I was knee deep in the middle of a Lovely Fire post when she texted me your comment. A post which will be going up tomorrow, by the way. Not to mention listening to Tom Waits whilst writing it up, which is madness squared and I love it.

      Thank you Mary.

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