Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Fan Clubbed

The stuff that dreams are made of.

--The Maltese Falcon (movie)

What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

--Langston Hughes

I once worked with a guy whom everyone assumed was a big sports fan. This is because he knew a lot about sports. Every sport. Every player. He also bet on these sports quite a bit, and everyone assumed his love of betting grew out of his love of sports. But once, over a couple of beers, he confided in me that the reason he bet on sports so much was so he could maintain an interest in sports. He found it impossible to do so otherwise. And, in the blue-collar milieu in which he lived and worked, maintaining an interest in sports was important.

I myself am a bit too angst-ridden to bet on anything other than a sure thing, so, to maintain an interest in sports, I basically root for teams with the name "Cleveland" in front of them. And even then they have to be doing very, very well. So, for instance, I was a big football fan at the beginning (Browns: Brian Sipe/Kardiac Kids era) and the end (Browns: Bernie Kosar era) of the 1980s. In the mid-1990s, I was a baseball fan (Indians: Two World Series appearances.) In recent years, I've developed an appreciation for basketball (Cavaliers: I'll get to the era that just ended in a second.) I guess you could say I'm a fair-weather fan, but it's not like I root for other teams during the dry spells. I still want the home team to win, even as I'm watching something other than sports. Rooting for a Cleveland team is like rooting for Greater Cleveland, where I happen to live. And rooting for Greater Cleveland is like rooting for...myself.

A word about Cleveland. When outsiders hear that name, they immediately think smokestacks and snowstorms. I won't lie. Cleveland has both of those (though the stacks have cut back on their smoking of late.) But there are other Clevelands. If culture's your thing, there's a world-class orchestra and some fine museums. If rock and roll's your thing, there's a hall of fame. If nature's your thing, there's both the Metroparks and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. If water's your thing, there's Lake Erie. Yes, I know it was horribly polluted at one time, but it's been cleaned up quite a bit. I dare say its' beaches are now cleaner than those along the Gulf of Mexico.

Had "The Decision" gone the other way, I could have said: if basketball's your thing, there's LeBron James.

Not long after LeBron James made his "decision", I was watching a local call-in sports show. Most of the callers were expressing their anger with LeBron. Some were even on the verge of tears. Nevertheless, there was a scattering of support for King James. Here are some approximations of what was being said in his favor:

Why do you keep calling LeBron a hometown hero? He grew up in Akron, not Cleveland.

There's too much emphasis on sports in our society.

All this anger at Lebron is irrational. Burning his jersey in the middle of the street! C'mon, it's only a game!

I think all of us in Northeastern Ohio should thank LeBron for the seven wonderful and exciting years he gave us.

I'd like to address each of these.

Why do you keep calling LeBron a hometown hero? He grew up in Akron, not Cleveland. Cleveland is in Cuyahoga County. Akron is in Summit County. The two counties border each other. They're north-south neighbors. If you're ever in Northeast Ohio, pick up a copy of the Akron Beacon Journal and turn to its' sports section. You'll notice that Cleveland teams get lots of coverage. The Cavs current home is in downtown Cleveland, but for 20 years they played in Richfield, also in Summit County. From 1974 to 1994, it was a shorter drive from Akron to a Cavs game than from Cleveland proper. Of course, LeBron was only 10 when the Cavs moved back to Cleveland proper. Perhaps he got car sick on his first trip to the new arena, and has held a grudge ever since.

There's too much emphasis on sports in our society. Well, there's certainly a lot of emphasis on sports in Cleveland, and I sometimes chafe at that. But I heard this said on a sports show. That's a little like going to a zoo and complaining that there's too many animals. I suspect from the tone of the caller's voice, it wasn't the emphasis on sports that bothered her so much as the newly born distaste for LeBron James, which leads me to...

All this anger at Lebron is irrational. Burning his jersey in the middle of the street! C'mon, it's only a game! Well, if it's irrational to be angry at Lebron for leaving, was it rational for Cleveland fans to be so euphoric when he arrived in the first place? If it's somehow wrong to burn his jersey in the streets, what was so particularly right about plunking down hard earned money to buy the jersey and proudly wearing it down that very street during, say, the playoffs? Has the game become "only" only since Lebron left?

Spectator sports, on the professional level, involves a bit of fantasy, at least on the part of the spectators, the fans, themselves. After all, what's the first syllable of fantasy? You watch a bunch of strangers play a game, and decide, or have others with a more monetary concern in the game decide for you, that your well-being, your self-worth, depends on 50% of those strangers winning that game. Whatever you hate about your life, you'll somehow hate it a little less once you see those strangers get their rings or trophies, and the coach or manager of those strangers get dunked on the head with a bucket of Gatorade.

When fans turn ugly, when they throw bottles on the field, or burn the jersey of a once beloved player, it's easy to lecture them, to scold them, about it being only a game. Sorry, but by that time it's much too late. The fans have lived with the fantasy for so long, it's now cold, hard reality. They were expected to be happy when the going was good. Well, the opposite of happiness is not equanimity.

When the signs and pennants and team logos start going up all over town, when the stores start selling, and running out of, the jerseys and bobble-heads, and when the photo of the star player ends up plastered on one entire side of a skyscraper, perhaps that's the time to gently remind people it's only a game. Of course, to do so you risk looking like the turd in the fruit punch bowl.

Fantasies don't always make sense, but they can make cents. And dollars. Hundreds of millions of dollars in LeBron's case. So, if it's any consolation to anybody upset about that jersey burned in the street, hey, it's already paid for. LeBron won't lose a dime off it.

I think all of us in Northeastern Ohio should thank LeBron for the seven wonderful and exciting years he gave us. If LeBron thinks THAT is going to happen, he's got another fantasy coming.


  1. Your closing paragraph is right on!
    I'm not much of a sport's fan, but I was when my boys were growing up. I suffered right along with them when the Jazz lost.

  2. @Kass--Glad you liked the closing paragraph. I sometimes don't post otherwise good essays because I can't come up with a halfway decent ending.

    It's sometimes easier to be a fan when you've got other fans living under the same roof.

  3. Are you kidding? People said Cleveland wasn't his "hometown" when he was from a BORDERING COUNTY? Good grief!

    My second reaction is, I didn't even know who Labron was till all this broke out. Yeah, not much of a fan. Just when it suits me.

    And finally, the time I was a fan this year was when my TX Longhorns made it to the championship game. And now I hear our QB is going to Cleveland. Not his hometown.

    It's weird, I follow several Cleveland bloggers. I wonder if you all know each other? Or is Cleveland just a blogging kind of town? What gives?

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. @Dreamfarm--I don't know any Cleveland bloggers other than myself. I did once meet Erin O'Brien (whose name I saw in your "blogs I follow") at one of those Meet the Authors events held at a suburban community center . She seemed very friendly, which is fortunate because, in retrospect, I was kind of talking her ears off.

    I remember some local Cleveland sportswriter expressing surprise that McCoy was still availiable in the third round when the Browns swooped in and snatched him. If he lives up to his reputation, I might go back to being a football

  6. As I pointed out in a recent post this is all my fault. The citizens of Cleveland can blame me for their lack of sports prowess since I left taking Jim Brown with me to California.

  7. @Tag--That's right, Tag, everything revolves around you.


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