When you grow up in Cleveland, there are two truisms in life. First, always care, but never believe anything until you see it. Second, nothing — and, I mean, nothing — is ever easy or simple.
Some might call this fatalistic or pessimistic. And maybe they’re right. But this is the kind of thinking that Golden State Warriors fans need to understand if they ever want to make sense of what happened at Oracle Arena on Sunday night.
It was truly the stuff of storybooks, of legends. The Cleveland Cavaliers, led by native son LeBron James, defied all the odds to conquer Steph Curry and the Warriors in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Not only did they win, but they won at Oakland, where boys in blue and gold racked up a record number of victories during the regular season. And they won coming back from a 3-to-1 deficit in the series — a feat accomplished by no other NBA team.
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The 93-89 score was enough to snap my hometown’s 52-year championship drought, impressive mostly because Cleveland has three professional sports teams. It was enough to bring James to tears.
“Just knowing what our city has been through — Northeast Ohio has been through — as far as our sports and everything for the last 50-plus years,” he said after the game. “Our fans, they ride or die.”
It’s true. We don’t bandwagon. Because of that, James knows this story, this legend, he helped write for Cleveland is about so much more than basketball.
It’s about challenging the twisted belief Clevelanders have had for too many years about being cursed — with horrible sports teams, a flagging Rust Belt economy and bad weather. You name it.
Mistake by the lake, you say? Burning river? Whatever. We thrive on gallows humor. We don’t get depressed about insignificant details.
Yet, at times, Cleveland’s defeatist attitude has been paralyzing. This NBA championship could begin to change that thinking.
Maybe the grit and strength that come from losing repeatedly aren’t things of which to feel ashamed, but proud. These things can be harnessed. The Cavs obviously figured out how.
Thousands of miles away, I could feel it as I watched the seconds tick down in the fourth quarter, my eyes locked on the score unwilling to believe it until the game was over. Cleveland never wins anything, I thought, while also screaming at the top of my lungs in a Sacramento bar and inviting side-eye from Warriors fans.
If the Warriors and the Bay Area represent the hope and grace of our country, raining beautiful three-pointers from afar, then the Cavs and Cleveland represent the struggle and grit, unapologetically elbowing people in the paint. Both are equally valuable and both are needed.
A NBA championship won’t change Cleveland’s struggling economy. It won’t change tension between police and the black community; it won’t bring back Tamir Rice. It won’t stop protesters wreaking havoc at the Republican National Convention next month.
What it has done is turn Clevelanders into something we thought we’d never be: winners. Cavaliers, you made a believer out of me.