I’m going to take a step back from all the seriousness of the world to turn my attention to the world of sports.
This week, the Cleveland Cavaliers defied all odds by defeating the historic and much-favored Golden State Warriors team, capturing the first NBA title for the organization. The win also secured the first major sports championship for the city of Cleveland in over 50 years (football, basketball, baseball, hockey), thus ending the Cleveland curse.
I couldn’t be sicker about it.
First off, let me preface that I actually am happy for the city of Cleveland. As a Detroit Lions fan, I can appreciate the trauma of sports curses. I danced in the street with every Bostonian in America when they finally won a world series…going through their hated NY Yankee rivals in the process. Curses, like records, are meant to be broken. To be fair though, the D has won its share of NBA (3) and NHL (11) titles…and even a World Series. But a Superbowl title has never found a home in Detroit. In the meantime, we’ve watched dynasties form in Dallas, Pittsburg, and New England. We’ve watched bitter rivals hoist the trophy (Green Bay and Chicago). We’ve even seen miserable franchises like the New Orleans
Aint’s Saints take home a title. And yet, the Superbowl has become the complete antithesis of Lions’ football. And, yes, the Lions are also cursed.
Being a Lions’ fan has also given me an affinity for underdogs. Going into this series, the Cavs were already 3 to 1 underdogs just by sheer virtue of the seemingly invincible nature of the Warriors. Coming off an amazing 73-win season, not losing two games in concession all season long, and holding on to an insurmountable 3-1 lead, it wasn’t a matter of if the Warriors would win, it was a matter of when. And yet, the Cavs persevered, refused to lay down, and fought their way back to win in historic fashion. For that, they deserve everyone’s respect, including mine.
What burns my grits about this whole thing is not that the Cavs won, but how the entire city of Cleveland became the recipients of unmerited favor. A few years ago, superstar and hometown hero LeBron James found himself in a position where felt he couldn’t win a title playing for Cleveland. So he did what any sensible athlete would do: he made the jump to a team he felt had championship potential. In a nationally televised spectacle, James infamously announced that he was “taking [his] talents to South Beach” to join the Miami Heat franchise. A couple of years later, he was celebrating two NBA titles. Though this wasn’t the first time somebody moved from Cleveland to win a championship elsewhere, this was probably the most high-profiled exodus on record. I can’t fault the city for feeling embarrassed and angry.
But instead of showing its’ true grit and proving that it wasn’t defined by one man, Cleveland – both the fans and Cavs organization alike – used this as an opportunity to show how truly despicable they could be. Instead of thanking him for the seven amazing years he gave them (both on the court and off), fans took to the streets to show their utter contempt for him. They burned his jerseys, cursed his name, and loaded up on the insults. I could’ve chalked this up to a few passionate, but idiotic fans. But then the Cavs organization chimed in and stoked the flames. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert was just as quick to offer vicious attacks on the man who quite literally reshaped his woefully bad team. Shortly after LeBron made his announcement, Gilbert went in to CAPS LOCK MODE by penning a scathing letter to the city about LeBron. It read of a bitter ex, angry that his lover moved on to do bigger and better things.
That was all the fans needed to reach down into the deep bowels of their darken humanity.
LeBron’s trips back home were welcomed by signs reading of “Witless” (a play on the “Witness” marketing campaign from Nike), “Traitor”, “LeBum”, and “We Hate You.” Chants of “Asshole” and “Akron Hates You” echoed through the building each time LeBron had the ball in his hands. The fans even went as far as to heckle him with “Who’s Your Daddy?” taunts, especially despicable because of James’ fatherless upbringing. They didn’t factor in the emotional scarring he may have experienced growing up without a father or what his children may have been going through not having their granddad in the picture. They went for the cheap low blow, and it was deliberate. I’m sorry, but only the most heartless people would dig into a very deep, hurtful, and personal place just to express their disdain over something as vacuous as a game.
But when James decided he wanted to return to Cleveland last year, everything magically went back to the way it was. He came back home and was immediately greeted by the same fans who just a couple of years prior mocked him in every inhumane way imaginable. And now everything is really well in their world because LeBron delivered them a title. He brought gifts and now everything is forgiven. Never mind the fact that they never apologized to him for being jerks. As long as the prodigal son has returned and taken the city to the promised land, everything is copacetic.
Did Cleveland deserve this title? Sure, their teams were in a championship drought for many, many years. But the city’s fanbase, I’m sorry to say, are real jerks. How they treat their sports heroes is indicative of how much they did NOT deserve this title. They didn’t offer their unconditional support to a man who made their basketball team and city relevant for the first time in decades. No. They mercilessly scorned him for having the audacity to leave for friendlier and more productive climes. They didn’t thank (NFL’s Cleveland Browns’ owner) Art Modell for pouring everything he had into that city. No. They cursed him for attempting to move a team that even his own city didn’t fully support. They didn’t put their arms around (Browns’ great) Ernest Byner for giving everything he had during the infamous AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos. They cursed him for a costly fumble that wasn’t even really his fault. That’s the M.O. of your typical Cleveland sports fan: they love you when you’re doing good by them, they hate you when you aren’t.
You didn’t see Lions’ fans collectively taking to streets to burn Barry Sanders in effigy when he decided to call it quits. You didn’t see us torching a pile of Calvin Johnson jerseys when he decided to walk away from the game. No. You saw us thanking these two guys for giving us joy while they performed to the maximum of their abilities, and us wishing them well as they walked off into the sunset. Cleveland fans, oppositely, act like spoiled, petulant children when things don’t go their way. So, no, they didn’t deserve this title. But, as Clint Eastwood pointed out, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” Sometimes a dog (or dawg, as the case may be) just has their day. So at this point, all the rest of us can do is rant about Cleveland’s undeserved favor and pray for our time in the sun.
OK, fine. I lied about lightening up with this post. Sue me.