My Heart Is In Cleveland

I’m sitting at a computer here in Columbus, Ohio, but my heart is in Cleveland right now.

If I were physically in Cleveland, I’d be cheering my brains out, and drinking another beer, and buying a round for the bar, and wanting to stay out forever and talk about the game, and my town, and my teams, so the night would never end.

usa-today-8677789-0I’d want to think about LeBron James’ clutch block, and Kyrie Irving’s killer shot, and the nails defense that the Cavs played in the last quarter — because those plays had finally pushed The Drive, and The Fumble, and Red Right 88, and the ’97 World Series to the background, where they belong.  Bad thoughts have finally — finally! — been exorcised and replaced by happy ones.  And these are happy thoughts that we will always have.  I’ll never forget it, and I doubt that any true Cleveland sports fan will, either.

The people of Cleveland deserve it.  They really do.  They not only deserved to win, after so many years and so many heart punches, they deserved to win in historic fashion, with the northern Ohio kid who came home, with the first NBA team to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win it, with the impossible three-game winning streak — including two victories on the road — against the best regular-season team ever.  No one will ever forget this NBA finals, and it went to the Cleveland Cavaliers.  LeBron James will never have to buy a drink in Cleveland, for the rest of his life.

When LeBron James fell to his knees and wept after the final buzzer sounded, I knew exactly how he felt.  My emotions were so close to the surface, I’m not sure if I was laughing or crying or cheering.  All I know is that 52 years of frustration was finally coming out, in whatever way it could.

Deep down, I think, I never really thought I would know what it felt like for a Cleveland professional sports team to win a championship.

Now I know.

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UJ At 60

Today is my brother Jim’s birthday.  He’s now 60.  60!  It’s hard to believe.

60 probably isn’t quite the milestone that it used to be.   Some people — mostly, people who are about 60 — say that 60 is the new 40.  In UJ’s case, that’s actually pretty accurate.  He’s always had that trim, youthful look that causes people to underestimate his true age, and his hair is still, for the most part, as black as it has always been.  He doesn’t seem to have the wrinkles or creases that are the old age giveaways, either.  Even though he’s my older brother, he looks younger than I do, and that’s been true for a while.

13325437_998034090251689_3557608014176405478_nEven if 60 is the new 40, though, 60 years is a long time.  UJ is part of my earliest memories.  We shared a bedroom in the first house I can remember living in.  We played together all the time, and when we moved from our modest home in Akron proper to the more wide-open suburbs of Bath, where we again shared a room, we were part of the same roving gang of boys that played football and built dams and forts and caught crayfish in the stream that ran through the woods near our house.  We went bowling and to Cleveland Indians Bat Day doubleheaders and on trips to Washington, D.C. and Ocean City, New Jersey and on Sunday drives to the Blue Hole in Castalia, Ohio with Grandma and Grandpa Neal.

We moved to Columbus, and finally we each got our own room.  Our paths began to veer away from each other in other ways, too.  We ran with different crowds in junior high and high school, and went to different colleges, but Jim came to some of our college parties and got to know Kish and my other college friends.  Our careers went in different directions, too, but the sense of connection is still there, and always will be.  When Kish and I moved back to Columbus, Jim and I decided to get season tickets to the Browns.  After Dad died Jim and I — well, mostly Jim — managed Mom’s finances.  Jim and Richard and Russell and I have taken trips together, to Hen Island and New Orleans and to amusement parks across the land, to get in a little Webner male bonding.

Even though we’ve spent countless hours together, I don’t remember ever getting into a fight with Jim, or even a significant argument.  We’ve disagreed about things from time to time, but he’s always been a good brother.

Now Jim is retired, and he hangs out at the pool at his condo with his friends like those in the picture above.  He likes to plays the slots at the Hollywood Casino from time to time, and enjoys an occasional drink made with Captain Morgan spiced rum, and there’s usually a toothpick in his mouth.  He seems to like his life, and I’m happy for him.  It’s just hard for me to believe that he’s 60.

Happy birthday, Jim!

Daring To Hope

This is for the Cleveland sports fans out there.  Anyone else is welcome to read it, but they won’t really fully understand it.  They can’t.

I know how you’re feeling.  You want to buy in to the Cavs, full-bore and without reservation, and go into the game tonight with supreme confidence that LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, Tristan Thompson, and the other members of the Wine and Gold can win and pull off the most improbable comeback ever and, for the first time in NBA history, bring a team back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA championship.

141204-clenyk-11But something’s holding you back.  We Cleveland sports fans don’t like to admit it, but it’s fear, and also guilt.  Fear, because we feel like we’ve seen this story before, and when we open our hearts to one of the Cleveland teams, our hearts always get broken.  I don’t need to recount all of those instances to you, because they’re engraved on our very souls.  The saying is “once bitten, twice shy,” and we’ve experienced that a hundred times over, to the point where we’re cowering in the corner when our teams do well or hardening our hearts by predicting failure in advance, thinking that if we do so and failure does come it won’t hurt quite so much.  That doesn’t work, by the way, because even under the hard, calculated public veneer there always lurks a delicate blossom of hope, fresh and unguarded, ready to be crushed anew.

Everyone — even non-Cleveland fans — can understand the fear component.  What they don’t get is the weird sense of guilt.  Every Cleveland sports fan I know personalizes the losses and believes, deep in the pit of their being, that they honestly are the cause of 52 years of misery.  Maybe it’s because they watched the game on TV, or because they didn’t.  Maybe it’s because they didn’t wear the right shirt, or because they didn’t go to church, or because they feel that they haven’t always been a good person.  I guarantee that, as I write this, hundreds of Cleveland fans are doing nice things for their spouses and kids and friends and are hoping that their good deeds might cause the cosmic tumblers to click into place for the Cleveland sports team, just this once.

It’s the professional sports version of the Butterfly Effect.  We know that we can jinx the Cavs because we have jinxed the Cleveland teams in the past, over and over again.  We routinely get accused of jinxing by our friends and family.  (I’m looking at you, UJ!)  I’m probably jinxing things by writing this, or I would have jinxed things by not writing it.

So we live our lives by these curious rules that make us watch games from a particular chair or eat a particular snack or send text messages to particular friends, hoping that we don’t do or say anything that brings it all crashing down around our heads.  We’re so bound up by our superstitions and fears and guilts that we can’t just enjoy it, ever.

I can’t change you, any more than I can change myself.  It’s just how I am, and it’s how we all are.  Because we’re all in this together, aren’t we?  We Cleveland sports fans are linked together in ways that fans of successful franchises can’t possibly imagine.

So, I wanted to wish all of my fellow Cleveland fans well, and tell you that I’m all in.