The morning after the Cavs lost in Boston to finally excuse themselves from a series they didn't appear to want to play in the first place, my friend Scott Raab called. Scott is a native Clevelander who has since moved away and moved on to bigger and better things — he's a writer for Esquire now and lives in New Jersey. Native Clevelanders need not rattle off their credentials to defend or establish Forest City cred — it's something we hold on to long after we move away, something in our bones — but Scott's ticket stub from the 1964 NFL championship would be exhibit A should anyone ever question him. It's also why I can excuse him for ordering sparkling water when we go out to eat instead of drinking down the refreshing waters of Lake Erie.
He's been in town off and on over the season, working on a possible book about the team and this season and a feature on Shaq for Esquire. We've commiserated over all things Cavs, as well as the Tribe and Browns, at Slyman's, Melt, and Phnom Penh, because Scott knows this is a damn good food town no matter what Joakim Noah and Sam Smith say. And it was at one of those lunches that I asked him if the Cavs were in a position to clinch the championship in L.A., would he fly out to be there, not just for the book or a story, but just to be there. I asked because Scott was at that 1964 championship game, the last time any Cleveland pro team won a title, and still has the stub — hell, he doesn't just have it in a drawer or something, he carried it around in a ziploc baggie his first few trips here this season, showing it to Ferry, Mike Brown, even Jim Brown. Look, he might say, look how long it's been and how much we care. Do you understand? Clevelanders have been carrying around this championship drought luggage in a metaphysical way for 46 years; Scott has been carrying it literally.
So Scott called the morning after the Cavs lost and we talked like two Cleveland fans would, saying the things that Cleveland fans say when our teams lose in predictably catastrophic ways — same script, different words. Not much can be said in the heat of the moment, the morning after our souls took another shot, that could approach insight in any sense of the word. It's all emotion. It doesn't happen always, but sometimes there's truth in that though, like what Scott wrote for Esquire's playoff blog in 2007 when LeBron donned a Yankees hat at the Jake:
But I've gotta say, seeing that gap-grinned global-icon wannabe on national TV, wearing that loathsome cap — sitting in the Indians' park, at the series opener against the one team that I (and every other homey I know) was raised from the cradle to hate, by a father who hated them, too — well, my visceral response was powerful. Overwhelmingly.
It was a huge "Fuck You" to the entire town and every fan, and that's the Truth. And Bron-Bron isn't stupid enough not to know it.
Truth is, my eight-year-old son, God bless him, went upstairs, plucked his retro-orange #23 Cavs jersey off the hanger, and tossed it into the kitchen trashcan.
As far as I'm concerned, LeBron James is worthless scum. The sooner this son of a bitch hauls his ass out of Ohio, the better. And any Cleveland "fan" who pays to see the bastard play after this should follow him out of town and straight to hell.
Lots of people were upset about that last part, even the ones who had the same initial, visceral response to seeing the interlocked N and Y on the King's head in the palace of the Indians. But here we were, at the moment when the Cavs season was over and the clock began ticking in earnest for LeBron's possible departure from Cleveland, the moment when that "worthless scum" could really be leaving for good, and I found myself going to back to something LeBron said — actually, two things LeBron has said. First, that he was going to light up Cleveland like Vegas, which is what he declared after the draft that landed him in his hometown. Second, that he knows what Clevelanders have been through and he would bring a championship to them.
He didn't. Not yet, at least. And to this humble Cleveland fan, unless he sits at a press conference in July and says, "I promised I would bring you a championship. I did not. I'm staying here until I do," then he can go to hell. Not for giving less than maximum effort in the Boston series, not for coming down with an elbow injury at the most inopportune of times, but because he always played the role of the insider, one of us, or at least as close as a global icon could be. He was Akron, he was Cleveland. He was the hometown boy playing for the hometown crowd. That story arc was thrusted upon him from the start, but he also brought a lot of it on himself, and he couldn't be distancing himself from it and Cleveland more quickly if he was in his Maybach and Cleveland in a Taurus , which is actually more truth than imagery.
When Scott and I were talking, I thought about him and that 1964 ticket stub. Turns out he was too. Here's what he wrote for Esquire:
Watching Cleveland teams lose isn't merely second nature to me; it's every bit as defining a part of my experience of life as breathing air or jerking off. But I honestly can't recall another case of a Cleveland team devoid of heart, guts, and soul under pressure. Give Boston credit, not only for playing a fine series but also for imposing their collective will on the Cavs. But nobody robbed the Cleveland Cavaliers of pride and courage except the Cleveland Cavaliers. They disgraced themselves, betrayed a city, and gave up.
By the way, I hereby rescind the offer to wager on LeBron's free agency. I'm pretty sure he's gone; if so, good riddance. And I'm also pretty sure that I won't live long enough to see another Cleveland team win a title; it's more likely that in five-to-ten years, the Browns will be the only major league team still playing in Cleveland. But I'll always have that fucking stub — clutched forever in my cold, dead hands.
A few months ago, when I asked Scott if he would go to a possible clinching game in L.A., just to be there, I said, "How cool would it be to possibly be the only guy to have seen the last two Cleveland championships be won in person?" Admittedly, it was a foolish statement, like when I say I'd trade ten Cavs championships for one World Series title, as if Cleveland fans are really in a position to bargain with imaginary chips.
He said, "I hadn't thought of that."
I'm sad I ever did.
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