Goodnight, Kyrie

Kyrie Irving wanted to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers, and yesterday he got his wish.  The Cavs dealt Irving to the Boston Celtics in exchange for up-and-coming guard Isaiah Thomas, a forward, a center, and a number one draft pick.

636020081040379218-usatsi-9349709When a player wants to leave a team, as Irving did, it’s not uncommon for fans of the team being spurned to be mad and call the player an ingrate.  I hope Cavs fans are classier than that when it comes to Irving.   He’s still young, and he wants a chance to be, in Reggie Jackson’s immortal phrase, “the straw that stirs the drink.”  Irving indicated that he wanted to go to a team where he could be the go-to guy and have a chance to really emerge from LeBron James’ colossal shadow.  That’s really not so hard to understand for a player of Irving’s obvious skills and talent.

I’ve always liked Irving, with his flannel shirt personality and willingness to accept a lesser role in a quest for a championship.  Cleveland fans will never forget that it was Irving that hit The Shot that put the Cavs ahead for good in game 7 of last year’s championship series — the one that miraculously produced Cleveland’s first professional sports championship in more than 50 years.  How can you dislike a player who is a key part of busting up a lifetime of sports futility?

So I say, thank you, Kyrie.  Fare you well (except when playing the Cavs).

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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.

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.

The LeBron Effect

The new-look Cleveland Cavaliers open their season tonight, playing at home against the New Your Knicks.  When I was driving home from work tonight, one of the local radio stations announced that it would be carrying the game.

“That’s odd,” I thought.  I don’t think any station carried the Cavs games last year.

And then I remembered:  LeBron is back.

If you ever wondered about the impact of one player on a team, a franchise, and a city, consider the LeBron Effect. When LeBron James announced that he was returning to Cleveland, it energized the city and the Cavaliers franchise, produced huge ticket sales and set the roster dominoes to falling.  Now the Cavs have a changed lineup and a changed attitude — and so do their long-suffering fans.  My friends up in Cleveland say that the Cavs are by far the toughest ticket in town.

With LeBron, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love, the Cavs expect to contend for an NBA championship — which would be the first championship a Cleveland sports team has earned in 50 years.  Those expectations are a heavy burden, but LeBron James is used to the pressure.  It’s all just part of the LeBron Effect.