As a player, I can’t even imagine it: up by four; a two possession game. The championship on the line. An entire city’s hopes and aspirations riding on the back of a few men under the age of forty. A beautiful abomination of sorts; a catastrophe in the making.
As a fan, as a Clevelander, as a person, there is nothing quite like being on that edge: screaming at the screen, knowing deep down that those other humans can’t even begin to hear you, three thousand miles away. Doesn’t matter. Everything falls into place when you put your heart into something.
Now, I’m only 27 years old. As I’ve said before, I am an expert on nothing but the art and craft of writing a song. That’s it, brother. I’m the kid who got cut from his 7th grade basketball team: I could shoot, but I had no confidence, no swagger on the floor. I didn’t remember plays. And, in the end – the end of my sporting career – when I sat the bench Freshman year (and only made the team because there weren’t any cuts), openly cursing the coach for what, in my mind, were his most apparent faults, I came to a close – in my athletic career and as a young man – and whispered to the heavens: “Lord, who am I? I want to be fucking Michael Jordan. No one loves a player more than one on a basketball team. I want it all. A music snob just isn’t enough of a thing to be.”
But, I digress. Because what came to happen was that I, Michael McGuire, 27 year old nobody-yet still cries at the replay of that game the Indians played against the Mariners, August 5, 2001, when we were losing 14-2 heading into the bottom of the 7th. And my all-time favorite Cleveland Indians Lineup, which was, as I recall:
3. R. Alomar
4. Juan Gonzalez
6. Ellis Burks
7. Marty Cordova
8. Will Cordero
9. Einar Diaz
proceeded to not claw their way back, but sprint, curse, spit, dive, make mistakes and get past them and somehow, someway…No, you know what? Not somehow, someway. They won that game because they fucking had to. They were Cleveland. These fans, me, we do it because we aren’t supposed to.
It’s something that should, indeed, make you cry. And you know what? This one – the Cleveland Cavaliers – is both so much better, for obvious reasons, and almost bittersweet for me. Because I do wish it were the Indians. But I fear even putting that down on paper. Because, though I wasn’t at that game — in fact, I was a 12 year old, alone, listening to the radio — I remember leaving a note outside my parents’ bedroom door so my Dad would know what had happened the minute he woke up…
No, tonight was different. I was at Jukebox, and I was sitting to the side of a giant screen constructed on the best patio in Cleveland, amidst over a hundred people, cramped into the tiny bar inside as well…people ordering six drinks at once. Ridiculous. But there was a part of me – fuck, ALL of me – which loved it completely. It’s like that Hold Steady lyric: “I like the crowds at the really big shows: people touching people who they don’t even know, yo…”
It was awesome. But the game itself is what made it what it was. I mean, christ, the only team to ever come back and win a Finals down 3 games to 1? Please.
But, then…of course. What could be more quintessentially Cleveland? We get pushed, as a city. And sometimes, we overcome all the odds. Fuck! That’s too cliché for this. For this, my friends, is unprecedented.
The energy was palpable. I was screaming at the screen, yes, knowing full well that those young men couldn’t hear me, and I was one with those hundred, 200, 300, who knows how many people, and we were all in it together. Us against the world. Cleveland. Down and out. A national joke in and out of the sports world. The joke people you met at college told, letting you know that they were from infinitely cooler places than Northeast Ohio.
“Cleveland?” they said, incredulously. “Yessir,” I always said. Cleveland.
Sitting there, standing there, then jumping there – and screaming there – with those people, we were one. And across the world people could’ve been from Cleveland, in that moment. Cleveland. Always the David to their Goliath.
We got to see the hometown hero, the most reviled person in Cleveland for four long years when we had to watch him win it all, twice, as he copped to the very strategy everyone from Cleveland fucking hates: Buying into a team of superstars instead of a unit. And it was “Fuck you, man. Fuck you ‘King James’. That’s not fucking Cleveland. We’re a grower, man. You flat out gave up on the very people you set out to conquer with Goodwill, and, yes, greatness. Hell, we knew you were great when you were in High School, man.”
But in true fashion of the epitome of what Cleveland has become, Mr. King James made himself a man through sheer determination, attitude. He came back – because HE CAME BACK – with the swagger of someone who had been there, done that. He had been the driving force behind a winner and in the crazy reality of a “cursed” and once forgotten, but no longer forgotten, yet, still perpetually ridiculed city, he went to work.
And I’m not gonna lie to you. I fully expected the Cavs to win 70 games either one of the last two years. And instead, the Warriors won the championship; the Warriors went about setting regular season records. And the Cavs seemed left with supposedly shivering team chemistry, and an ousted head coach, fired mid-season even though they were first in the conference.
This team IS Cleveland at its most impeccable. Down 3-1 against the best team in history, they became sprinting, spitting, fighting, trash-talking overachievers. Until with seconds left, the man, Lebron, appeared to break his wrist before proceeding to put the nail in the coffin of the Warriors, at the free throw line. Lebron, you are Cleveland. There’s a reason this all happened like this for your city.
For me, personally? I am forever left with the feeling of the evening: The color of the sky pointed out by Allie; the full moon; it being Fathers’ Day; of talking to an older gentleman, Dave, about that comeback the Indians made against their Best Team Ever. Together, we lamented that the Indians winning the World Series would be that much sweeter. But when the Cavs let the clock run out on the greatest achievement in basketball history; when Lebron James fell to the ground, weeping for what he had just led to the finish line, and, finally, holding up the only trophy his team had ever won – the first trophy for a major sports team in Cleveland since 1964 – I hugged that man, high-fived strangers, kissed the love of my life after having held her so close as a major life moment – a typical Cleveland nail-biter – collapsed into and through my heart beating. In that moment, I was infinite. We all were. All of us at Jukebox. All of us in Cleveland. All of us who know, deep down, that we are just as good if not better than those punks in 7th grade who we knew we were just as good as, if not better than. We as a city, we made it known through a 48 minute basketball game that whenever someone tells you that you aren’t good enough, that there’s always gonna be something holding you back, even if it isn’t a dramatic gotcha moment like The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot,and, yes, folks, The Decision…our team, our hero, showed that there are no absolutes in such conditions. You can be down so far that it looks like it’s the end. And, in true, Cleveland fashion – true Human Passion – you can always decide to simply allow your swagger to evolve, becoming the person you can be. And do it with Greatness. With muscle. With flat out Determination, attitude, and presence. We can be and are Lebron James in one form or another. We are the Cavaliers. We have all spent time with crushing pressure from a nervous and impatient judgment. We all have wanted to rip off what defines us, like He did with his own jersey after the last game he played as a Cav the first time around. And, as Clevelanders, as People, we will all return from dismissal and treat our fans to the feeling we all feel right now in the wake of such a beautifully Cleveland act of defiance.
Best team ever? Welcome to the real world. Where Cleveland and her James are King.