Sorry, But You Don't Know What It's Like to Be a Cleveland Fan

This piece was originally published on The Cauldron @ Sports Illustrated: 

Since the Cavaliers won the NBA Championship, more than a few people have suggested that the victory over the Golden State Warriors is to Cleveland what the 2004 World Series was to Boston.

I understand why the comparison is made, but please trust that I mean no disrespect to Boston fans when I say, there really is no comparison.

Yes, I am aware that the Red Sox went 86 years without winning the World Series, and I’m sure that sucked. But during those 86 years, the Celtics won the NBA Championship 16 times (!), the Bruins brought home five Stanley Cups and the Patriots won the Super Bowl three times. Before the final buzzer sounded in Oracle Arena, Cleveland had been the only city in the country with at least three professional sports franchises not to win a national championship — of any kind — in over 50 years.

That was 174 consecutive seasons that Cleveland fans watched and rooted only to have their team’s season end with some version of disappointment.

And you know what? As much as that sucked — as ridiculously heartbreaking as so many of those disappointments were (the Drivethe Fumblethe Shot…) — the worst part about losing was the fact that it just seemed to reaffirm all of the terrible things the rest of the world loves to say about Cleveland. Because, in case you didn’t know, growing up in Cleveland means accepting the fact that the rest of the world thinks your hometown is basically the worst place on earth.

Yes, I am aware that Cleveland is not the ONLY town that gets made fun of, but you have to admit, that’s a little like saying family members other than “yo momma” are subject to insults.

(And yes, I’m not technically from Cleveland, I grew up in a suburb of Akron. But I have to say it didn’t exactly make us feel good to know the world universally looked down on the bigger, cooler version of where we lived.)

Think I’m exaggerating?

A comedian actually joked — during Ronald Reagan’s televised Inaugural Gala — that the best way to prevent the Soviet Union from invading Poland would be to change Poland’s name to Cleveland. (Because, you know, no one would ever want to go there.)

How many times has a sitcom gotten a cheap laugh by announcing that one of its characters has won an “all-expense-paid trip to Cleveland!”?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer was set in a fictional town and yet, even it never passed up an opportunity to mention that there’s another hellmouth in … guess where? Cleveland.

Hell, insulting Cleveland is so commonplace, that The New York Timesactually published an essay earlier this week, detailing how much winning the NBA championship means to the city of Cleveland, under the headline Is This Heaven? No, It’s Cleveland.”

And don’t get me started on all of the stories that have been written this week speculating where LeBron James “might take his talents” now that he doesn’t “have to” stay in Cleveland. I mean, when else has anyone ever seriously suggested that a superstar player might leave a team that just won a historic championship against one of the greatest teams of all time? (Not to mention, why would James risk losing all the goodwill he’s regained since the first time he “decided” to leave Cleveland?)

Now, it’s true — I haven’t lived in Cleveland for awhile, largely because my career has taken me elsewhere. But I would be lying If I said that all of the hateful things that people have long said about Cleveland didn’t make an impression on me.

I’d also be lying if I disagreed with LeBron when he says his presence in Northeast Ohio makes it easier for the people who grow up there to take pride in their hometown. (I know, he was referring to 3rd graders, but I think it applies to those of us who already did our growing up there, too.) At minimum, thanks to King James, people now know what I’m talking about when I say I’m from Akron. And yeah, I have — on more than one occasion — proudly called it the “Home of LeBron James.” (It sure beats the smirks I used to get when I explained Akron was just south of Cleveland.)

Being a Cleveland fan is rarely easy, but if our fandom is defined by anything (apart from our support for Cleveland teams), it’s the belief that there is nothing more dishonorable than a fair weather fan. And you know what? I’d argue that’s not true in spite of the years of heartache and hate. It’s true because of it.

Win or lose, I think anyone who plays for Cleveland knows the people of that city have their backs; that as long as they are willing to stand up for us, we’ll stand up for them.

Cleveland shows up — even when it sucks.

Which is a big part of why, despite those 174 consecutive seasons of losing and the rest of the world calling us losers, celebrating a championship feels pretty darn good. Don’t worry, there’s little danger of it going to our heads anytime soon.

I just wish I could have been there to celebrate with everyone.

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