To the city of Cleveland, sport is more than a game, and 2016 will be remembered forever as one of the best years in Cleveland history. Sports are a way of life, a tradition of fandom passed from parent to child, a pillar of hope for decades. But for decades, that is all it has been, just hope. Hoping and truly believing that “next year is our year” and watching teams disappoint in the most heartbreaking fashion, year after year. It is “the shot” “the fumble” “the drive”. It is heartbreak, it is passion, and it is at its core, an attitude. Let down year after year, the butt of joke after joke, Cleveland has been called everything negative under the sun, but one thing never wavered: Belief. Belief that next year is the year, belief that hard work earns success, belief that no matter the circumstance, with the right optimism and grind, things will turn around. 2016 was the year Cleveland saw this beginning to come true.
So when I look at 2016, the championship that was delivered to the most deserving city and fans in the country and the almost World Series Championship, I am reminded of the lessons that Cleveland sports have instilled in me; mostly due to the fact that my dad wouldn’t allow me to root for any other team, or any other city. The most interesting part about these lessons is that they are so ironic in how they have come to fruition.
The first lesson that comes to mind is loyalty. By suffering through losing season after losing season, it is easy to jump ship when the times are hard. Three things remained constant when it came to the lesson of loyalty from my dad: loyalty to family, to friends, and to Cleveland sports. No matter who got traded, or that the Indians couldn’t hold a 3-1 lead in the ALCS, or that Art Modell moved the Browns, the loyalty remained. When I look at this championship it is ironic that the word loyalty comes to mind. Fans suffered through “the decision” and saw loyalty to a city they love, a city that built this icon, be broken. He had every right to leave; people just were not ready for the loyalty to be “broken”. But just like the feeling of hope, loyalty to your home and your roots remains. No matter where you go, loyalty is a pillar of the people who love Cleveland and who are from north east Ohio. This loyalty was resurrected in LeBron’s letter ending in 3 famous words “I’m coming home.” A kid from Akron, loyal to the streets that made him, ready to fulfill the hope that the city has been holding for 52 years, came home to make it happen.
The second lesson it has provided is thick skin. When you continually lose or fail at something it is easy to give up, it is easy to throw in the towel and find the easy way out. It isn’t easy to be laughed at every sports season, hearing sports anchors and common fans alike rip the city you love to shreds. But just like the city itself, being a fan of Cleveland is built on this toughness; this thick skin that defines who you are: “In Cleveland Ohio where nothing is given, and everything is earned.” It is a blue collar attitude, where you put your head down and grind until the job is done. This is an attitude that you truly don’t understand unless you live there or have family that has lived there to pass these traditions and characteristics on. Being down 3-1, to the best regular season team the sport has ever seen, it was pretty much all but etched in stone that the series was over. But that is what made the story so iconic and perfect for the city. This team had thick skin to block out the outside noise, those saying they couldn’t do it, and just out worked their opposition to get the job done. “The man above won’t put a task in front of you that you can’t achieve” LeBron followed through, against all odds on that task. The same mindset the city holds, and finally something to celebrate: a championship delivered. This same thick skin came through with the Cleveland Indians playoff run. A team without 2 of their top 3 pitchers, without their best player and former MVP candidate, rolled through the playoffs until they ultimately hit a better team and ran out of magic. But the thick skin of not buying in to every “expert” counting them out in each series of the playoffs held true, and kept the city’s hope alive.
The third is patience. Patience and understanding that it will happen, and that the only question was when. “Good things come to those who wait”. Some have to wait a hell of a lot longer than others to receive these good things. Cleveland has taught me that. The importance of understanding the process and the patience to be optimistic when it all seems to be going downhill is a lesson that could not be as well heeded without Cleveland. LeBron stated after the best moment for Cleveland in 52 years “The game always gives back to people who are true to the game”. I think that this concept can be applied to Cleveland: The city gives back to those who are true to the city. Those who were patient, those who understood that our time would come, those who had an attitude that hard work and perseverance leads to success, and lastly that loyalty trumps all. Now we saw what a tremendous feeling it was to see patience be rewarded through the Cavaliers and almost through the Indians (Cubs fans congratulations), and as always the true test of patience is the Browns but hey it isn’t called BELIEVELAND for nothing.
The people and fans of Cleveland know that sport is more than a game. This idea that LeBron James would be the savior to this city through a championship mission never diminished. The mission was more than a game, and the irony that the film that followed his story in high school to a championship was titled “More Than a Game” could not be more fitting. The man who everyone thought would deliver a championship to the city when he was drafted in 2003 at age 18. The same man who was ridiculed because everyone felt that he betrayed the loyalty to the city in 2010. The people who still had hope when the times were tough until he came home; they know it is more than a game. The people who rallied together behind an Indians team representing all the city and people were built on. The same people that cried with LeBron when the confetti fell in Oakland, and cheered with him throughout October baseball, everyone understood that this was how it had to happen. As he yelled out “CLEVELAND! THIS IS FOR YOU!” the emotion that every fan felt was delivered to the world in that scream.
This year did more than lift a curse; it did more than relieve Clevelanders everywhere from being the butt of every sports joke. This year unified and rejuvinated a city. The celebration was colorless and the only colors people saw were wine and gold. Strangers were hugging strangers, everyone was in complete jubilation, and it all came full circle in a parade that lasted almost 5 hours with 1.3 million people all happy at the same time. Cleveland was the epicenter of happiness for the whole world for one day (or for 14 more games that the Indians won in a row following game 7). The celebration and belief continued through October and into early November, with a terrific game 7 that Cleveland unfortunately ended up on the losing end of. But there wasn’t a feeling of being cursed; there was genuine belief and celebration of success and a feeling of reassurance that next year we will be back again.
Cleveland: build LeBron a statue outside the Q as a testament to the promise he followed through on. As a reminder that good things come to those who wait. As a sign of hope for years to come. As a reminder to always believe. It is a testament to the mindset he always had no matter where he went, a mindset that Cleveland has instilled in him. A mindset of always refusing to listen to the critics and doubters, believing that he was a fighter and a winner, and delivering that winning feeling back to The LAND. No longer are we the mistake on the lake, we are a city of champions. We now have a positive version of “The Shot” “The Block” and “The Stop”. All in 216. All in 2016.
So, thank you dad, thank you LeBron James, thank you Kyrie Irving, thank you Dan Gilbert and David Griffin, Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber and Jason Kipnis, thank you Terry Francona and Chris Antonetti, and thank you Cleveland, for the lessons of a lifetime. These same lessons my children will learn from me. It’s more than a game; it’s more than a city. It’s a lifestyle.