This year just may be the one when the most notorious “curse” in all of American professional sports is lifted. The city of Cleveland has experienced a drought unlike any other city hosting multiple professional sports teams. The last championship they can boast of was when the Cleveland Browns won the NFL title in 1964, before a little thing called the Super Bowl was invented! Before that, you have to go back to 1948, when the Indians won the World Series. Although not necessarily clear favorites for the title this year, the Lebron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers are, at the time of this writing, one of the best teams in the NBA. They were the first team to chalk up 25, and then 30 wins, and with the season now more than half over, there is little doubt that this team will go deep into the playoffs, if not all the way.
Without question, the biggest sport of all in Ohio is Ohio State University football. Though not a professional sport, it is most definitely an industry, and I’d be willing to bet there is at least one OSU alum on every single NFL team. The Buckeyes have won their share of national championships (as recently as 2002, in fact), and when that happens, Cleveland fans cheer as loudly as anyone in the state outside of Columbus, (where the stadium is located). Still, having a local champion to shine rays of light on the beleagured citizenry (the skies above Cleveland are generally unremittingly gray) is a matter of intense longing for Clevelanders, who have so often been denied. Cleveland has names for its heartbreaks, and the star villains of these episodes are some of the biggest names in pro sports. “The Catch”, by Willie Mays (in the 1954 World Series), “The Drive” engineered by John Elway to win the 1987 AFC Championship game, and “The Shot” by Michael Jordan (a buzzer beater that ended the playoff run of the Cavs in 1989) are a few among many stories of unlikely episodes that dashed the championship hopes of Cleveland’s pro teams. It’s bad enough that the city has lost over half its population from its peak of nearly a million in 1950. Bad enough that it is referred to as “The Mistake on the Lake” and has the Kent State Massacre and the burning of the Cuyahoga River to live down. Clevelanders can put up with that. There is pride in the city that, although it might seem unmerited to most Americans, is deeply felt by its residents. But, to go so long without a championship, to have come so close and fallen short so often, is a thorn in the city’s side it would dearly love to extract.
Enter Lebron James. There are two things about him that mark him as a city saviour right out of central casting: he’s great, and he’s local. Born and raised in nearby Akron, for the last ten years, beginning with his stellar high school career, he has been an icon of Northern Ohio sports. By a happy set of circumstances that seem almost ordained, the formerly woeful Cavaliers were able to sign James right out of St. Vincent-St. Mary HS, and the man-boy even had the temerity to promise the city a championship when he signed. Even in a superb year for rookies (that included Carmelo Anthony, considered by some to be the greatest college baller of all time), Lebron stood out. He was the cream of his class in scoring, and, at the tender age of eighteen, put up all around offensive numbers that most seasoned veterans can only dream about. Rookie of the Year seemed deserved enough (though “Melo” Anthony’s fans may argue), as this bright new addition to the Cavs helped the team’s record improve from a dismal 17-65 the previous season to a much better 35-47 in 2003/4.. Cleveland was ecstatic! If “The Chosen One” (he actually has this tattooed across his impossibly broad shoulders- all the better to hoist a city with?) continued to progress along the trajectory his career had charted thus far, could a championship be far behind?
And yet, and yet. The Lebron James Era is now seven years old, and the Cavs have yet to achieve that which Cleveland covets above all else, that elusive championship. No one can deny that with James leading them, the team has ascended to the highest echelon of the NBA, alongside the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics. They overachieved their way to a Finals match-up with the San Antonio Spurs three years ago, and were summarily swept off the court in four games. The current version is much improved over that team. Still, up to this point Lebron can’t even add to his stellar resume a Finals victory, much less a championship.
But wait. It gets worse. For this is the year when Lebron’s current contract runs out, and he can opt, if he decides that his chances of winning a championship (or multiple championships, which he needs to be considered among the all time greats) to take his superhuman ability elsewhere, leaving Cleveland without the championship he promised it, and scant prospects for one any time soon. So, Cavs owner Dan Ferry and his back office minions have done everything they could to create a Cavs team with a genuine chance of going all the way this year. How could King James walk away from the best team on the planet, after all? The biggest (and I do mean BIGGEST) change to the team is the addition of Shaquille O’Neal, who has been on four championship teams in his career, as many as anyone still on the court today. Shaq is a giant, a guaranteed Hall of Famer, and probably the strongest man to ever play professional basketball (he actually brought down the entire framework, down to the floor bolts, of a basket during a slam dunk once, and walked away after bringing the shot clock down on his back as a result). But the Shaq of 2009/2010 is clearly past his prime. His formidable presence is not what it once was, by a long shot. Had these two physical specimens, Shaq and Lebron, shared the floor when they were both in their prime, they would probably have been an unstoppable force such as the NBA has rarely seen. But Shaq is still a monster. Furthermore, recognizing his diminished powers, he has magnanimously stated that his goal is to win “a ring for the King (James)”. He’d definitely like one more of his own, too. Particularly since this is probably his last season, and that ring, were it to happen, would almost surely be plucked off the finger of Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, his former teammate who also has four championships to his credit, as a Cavs championship is likely to go through the Lakers (best team in the West) this season. Kobe still has some good years, perhaps many good years, in him. So Shaq would at least like to be the first of them to get a ring for each finger. Lebron wants to get his first, badly. And Cleveland? This City of Broken Dreams wants something of even greater value, the lifting of a curse, and, even if its for just one lousy year, something to brag about.
Hi WTS – I do NOT follow sports much, but I do follow Cleveland – and Youngstown, Akron, etc. I actually LIKE Cleveland, warts and all, and most of the folks I know in Ohio are huge sports nuts about all things Cleveland. My ex was a sports fiend who now teaches at Youngstown SU, and he has a major rule – he roots for ONLY teams that come from deindustrialized, struggling cities. No sunbelt teams for him, thank you. So Cleveland fits right in beautifully. I know he’s hoping for a breakthrough for the Cavaliers.
I, however, am emotionally detached. I grew up near Chicago and loved the Cubs. I believe it teaches loyalty, patience, fortitude to support teams that rarely if ever win. Cub Fan Slogan: “there’s always next year”. If the Cavs don’t win, so be it. There’s always next year.
Well said, Choicelady. Cleveland fans are the same. They even have a website called “Wait Until Next Year!” or something like that. So you know that, even if the Cavs come up short and Lebron moves on to bigger things, the people of Cleveland will be all right. They are joined together through wins and losses.
I know your pain, I have been a SF Giants fan since my first game way back in the 5th grade. When I met my husband, he asked if I wanted to go to a baseball game. We were driving and I realized we were driving past the bay bridge. I asked him how we were going to get to Candlestick? He said we’re going to the A’s game. I just looked at him and said, that’s not baseball LOL
He has since changed his allegiance to the Giants. He, my brothers and I are very familiar with, “just wait until next year”.
I love the local flavor in this. Just to let you know, it will be all your fault if one day I write about the tragedy of losing the Sonics and how pissed off I still am about that. Or, the bogus calls against the Seahawks in the Superbowl that still make me cry East Coast conspiracy! The thing with my teams is that they’ve often come close, but never made it to the next step. I can relate with mediocrity or being good but never quite getting past a certain bar. Unless they’re playing the Blazers or Suns, I’ll root for the Cavs – LeBron is entertaining to watch. Oh, and better luck with Shaq than the Suns had. I take it you don’t call him the “big cactus”?! 😆
Nope, not the Big Cactus. Nike did their “Witness” ads with Lebron, so this year he’s “The Witness Protection Program”.
Just think how San Diego feels. They choked again yesterday
Another stellar article and illustration! Way to go O-H-I-O guy. 😉
Although it isn’t sports related, Cleveland does have another claim to fame — Ralphie and his family in “A Christmas Story.” They lived on Cleveland Street somewhere in Indiana, but the movie was shot in Cleveland…thus the museum. Oh my goodness – the guy who came up with the museum idea? Pretty much set for life.
Hey Boomer! Best Damn Band in the Land, eh? Thanks for the flashback!
and thanks for the kind words.
I had no idea there was such historical drama in this game for this team, this year. Wonderfully spun, wts. I will have to watch. In case you giggle at that, I followed college ball one year… UNLV with “The Shark”. He’d be always chomping on his wet white towel when the game got exciting, I think even when the game was not so exciting!
Had no idea Shaq was still playing, but then again I didn’t know Bloomberg was elected Mayor of New york again…and I live in New York.
I think it’s funny, wts, that you made the ghoulish monster look positively sweet. But where is Rosie? I see you. Isn’t Rosie your version of Al Hirschfeld’s “Nina” and in everything?
Can I help, wts has gone out into the cold Tokyo night. Rosie is there on what would be his right shoulder, her eyes wide open staring at the sky I think.
Good to see you Q, will answer last email soon, have been sooooo busy in the “Junk Room.”
Hi Q and K. About Rosie, you’re both right. I actually drew her in, on my shoulder, but then thought I might be overdoing that and painted over her. However, it’s possible that Kalima is picking up on the lines which are still there. If so, I’m impressed. So she IS there, in spirit.
I didn’t realize my Curse was “sweet”, but hey, you know what they say about curses being sweet (do they say anything about curses being sweet…?)
Here I am thinking that my eyes are useless and what do you know, I have ex-ray eyes. What’s next for me, a Wonder Woman costume?
Either you have x-ray eyes or you like Cubism and Picasso!
I do but I think it’s probably just a little last minute burst of energy in my brain before I sleep. Been waiting for Mr.K, he’s not home yet. 🙁
Talk about “hidden talents”!
You can be the very first one to say anything about curses being sweet.
I thought that could be Rosie that you turned into a white owl… which would be cool.
Junk the junk room!
Dump the Junk Room!
How cool would it be for the Cavs to finally break the curse?
Cuz no one else is going to do it.
Ain’t that the truth? The Indians need pitchers more than college students playing drinking games. And the Browns? Fuhgedaboudit!
Patsy, ask the folks in Cleveland if they’ve seen this, the “hastily prepared Cleveland Tourism Video”.
That was hilarious. Still, sorry, ain’t no sympathy from me. Did you know we have one big building?!
My favorite Ohio boy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJYBx5NJULY
Nine Inch Nails! Yep, and Marilyn Manson is from Ohio too. Maybe Pat Robertson can blame Cleveland’s sports woes on those two.
Brilliant illustration as always wts!
Forgive me if I’m not all that enthusiastic about sports but I did read the article even though I don’t know who you are writing about, being an ignorant European and all that, it sounded good, as though you know what you are talking about, well done!
My days of playing football with the boys ended unfortunately when I turned 14. My mother got tired of patching up the “wounds” the black eyes and the bruises. She asked me to behave and act like a girl. I can honestly say that over the years, I have tried my best, but still hate to wear dresses, would never buy anything with bows or ribbons and wouldn’t be caught dead wearing lace. 🙂
I doubly appreciate the effort that a non-sports fan made to get all through the article! We could never get our sister involved in all the sports we played as kids. “Knee Football” was one we used to play to mom’s chagrin, as it was played in the living room (hence the need to play on our knees and make the “field” longer). Plenty of black eyes and bruises for me, my brothers and the neighborhood guys.
You are welcome, it wasn’t as painful as I thought, reading through your article on sport I mean. 😉
No balls for me in the house after breaking my grandmother’s treasured coffee pot when I lobbed a tennis ball at the house wall and it flew in through an open window knocking the pot right off the table. I caught it for that one, it was a wedding present from her sister. 😳
Ouch! And similar stories. Me and my brothers actually used to “race” golf balls down the stairs. We pushed them off and who’s ever reached the bottom first won. We didn’t think to remove the large chinaware urn at the bottom of the stairs……
That actually sounds like fun but I’m sure that your mother didn’t think so at the time. Golf balls are quite heavy and I had to replace the one hubby gave the cats to play with after one of them flicked it with a paw from the second floor and it managed to hit another one waiting to catch it on the head. It was quite a nasty bump and required a visit to Uncle doctor and a boring ex-ray too. No damage done thank the Lord, but exchanged the offending golf ball for a Ping-Pong ball and they still have it when it hasn’t rolled under the sofa that is.
Btw, I just love it when I have to look very closely and find you and Rosie there, great fun. Does she know how famous she has become?
Does Rosie know how famous she has become? Hmmm….that’s one I’d love to know. If you see my avatar at Huffy I’m using her picture. She’s widely known!
Do you mean to say that you still frequent the “dark side?”
I don’t go there, but might, just to take a quick peep. 🙂
Actually the NBA has imported a ton of European players lately and it’s a growing professional sport in Europe. I guess because you can play it indoors unlike football more European kids are playing it during the cold months.
That’s nice K but it still doesn’t make ball games any more interesting for me now, too many boring golf games on the TV I suppose, you can blame the hubby for that.
When I was in school I loved tennis and netball. Netball is just like basketball but only played by girls and you can’t run with the ball, you have to pass it. I wonder if that is where your basketball originated from?
I will be going to Cleveland next week
I grew up in Cleveland Heights
Nice tower you got there WTS
We called it the Terminal Tower when I was young.
Have you ever been to Cleveland Museum of Art?
Yes, once, long ago. The Terminal Tower (what’s it called now?) was the tallest building in the world outside of New York at one point. Wow! In Columbus we have the Lincoln Leveque, a smaller building but with a similar architectural style. Both buildings look like they could be plopped down in lower Manhattan and fit in nicely.
Thanks for the kind words!
Tower City Maybe?
I’ll let you after next week
Seriously, your work is Awesome
Love it !
Me so happy!
Well said! We all do deserve a championship. Actually, my home town is Columbus and alma mater is OSU, so I have seen the Buckeyes win some really big games. But Cleveland, what can I say? They are hurting for a title, and they are an underdog in so many ways it’s kind of hard NOT to cheer for them.
Whoops! Meant to appear below KQ’s comment.
I hate when the happens.
I use to travel to two paper mills in Ohio near Columbus all the time in Chillicothe and Conhocton. The folks at the mills were great. One time I was waiting to trial one of our products for a week because temps were literally 10 below for like 4 days we were just stuck in the hotel. Boy did I have fun with the folks in the lounge every night and an expense account of course.
Sounds great! I wonder why so many Ohio cities start with the letter C? There’s Cleveland, Cincinnatti, Columbus, Chicago (just kiddin’), Canton, Chillicothe, Conhocton, etc. Maybe have to do a visual essay on that subject!
Probably because most of the names were stolen from native tribes. Like every lake in upstate NY ends with “A”.
BTW love those Columbus Blue Jackets at least your folks picked the right side unlike where I live in GA.
The Blue Jackets have become an obsession in Columbus. Wow! Our first professional team! And they’re halfway decent!
I love when they fire the cannon after ever time the score at home.
it’s a big deal!
Nice chatting with you all, folks, but I must go off into a cold Tokyo night.
Dress up warm wts, it’s quite nippy outside.
Another fabulous illustrated essay WTS. Bravo again. It must be nice to be able to create wonderful art rather than just cut and paste it. I love the detail. I can’t believe you even added Lebron’s tattoo. Though the demon is scary because it reminds me of someone I know.
Ah Cleveland, I can relate my friend because I grew up in NJ and until the Devils came alone we were 0 for infinity and a laughing stock of the country. I was actually lucky enough to attend Seton Hall when they had their incredible run to the NCAA Basketball finals only to lose in OT to Michigan on a bad foul call.
I’ll be rooting for Cleveland this year just for you because every one deserves a championship once in a while.