Were there really 1.3 million people at the Cleveland Cavaliers parade today? I have no idea. From my vantage point, it was just a sea of people. Every kind of people you can imagine. More people than I could count and it seemed like the largest crowd I had ever been in.
There’s a story I heard once about a Scandinavian King who was in the habit of wandering his capital city without guards. A reporter asked him why he went out without security. The King held out his arms and said, “I’m surrounded by my people–that’s the best security I could have.”
With the exception of a shooting at the end of the day, a collapsed bus stop (from the weight of fans who climbed on top), and an unexpected gaggle of lost children, the rally was friendly, the fans polite, and the crowd well-behaved.
On our way up the elevator in the parking garage, a drunk young man in the stairwell called through the briefly open door: “I’m not peeing in here.” Well, yeah, that was a lie. But he was good-natured about it.
The movie “Believeland” tried to explain Cleveland’s ill-fated dedication to its sports teams. It came close–but the dots felt unconnected in some cases. Yes, there was the father explaining to his son, at a diner counter, about the importance of Cleveland sports. And yes, there was the litany of sports disasters: the Willie Mays catch, the Jim Brown trade, Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot and The Decision. And, in a larger sense, the civic embarrassments. The Cuyahoga River catching fire. The mayor’s hair catching fire. Sigh.
What the moviemakers failed to convey is the fact that adversity–athletic or otherwise–is one of the few uniting factors in the city. Seriously.
This is a deeply divided city: race, economics, geography. The Cuyahoga River divides the identity so completely that people joke about needing passports or vaccines to move to the other side. We move from the West Side to the East Side eight years ago, and we still get looks of astonishment and jokes about the necessary paperwork.
But Cleveland sports? The collective optimism, dashed hopes, and “Wait Til Next Year” approach bring us together.
This year the Cavs gave me games where I said, “Who are those guys and what did they do with our team?” Followed by losses that reinforced my long-suffering stoicism.
It’s not that I watched every game–I did not. Mostly out of superstition. But I followed the team from a safe distance.
I snuggled up a bit closer during the playoffs. And then we lost to the Golden State Warriors. I went to work the next day feeling that the bubble had been popped. “Is this how it ends, again?” I wondered. And then more losses. I already felt “Next year” in my heart.
Then the Cavs rallied. Part of me thought I would not live to see this week. It’s not quite as profound as having watched the Berlin Wall fall–and realizing I had survived the Cold War. But it’s a close second.
And today we celebrated.
On the west side of the Sherwin-Williams Building in downtown, there has been an enormous mural of Lebron since he came to play for the Cavs (except for his self-imposed exile in Miami). Next Monday, it will be removed to make way for a patriotic banner for the Republican National Convention. Sigh.
But that’s a topic for another day and another post.
Cleveland NEEDED this. And the Cavs delivered.
All photographs from the author