Saturday, June 11, 2016


Dear Spike:

My heart is unexpectedly heavy for Cleveland tonight.

I'm not quite sure why. I don't recall ever visiting the Metropolis of the Western Reserve. As a matter of fact, I'm not even so sure I've ever been to Ohio at all.

But when I was just a few years older than you, and basking in a period of time in which it seemed Bay Area sports teams were simply destined for championships, I also came upon the realization that not every sports fan has it so easy — and that Cleveland fans, in particular, had been waiting a particularly long time for a championship parade.

I wouldn't have known this at all had it not been for two things.

First, my Babe Ruth Baseball team was called the Indians, and I spent just about every waking moment in my blue and red Chief Wahoo hat. It's actually quite embarrassing to recall, now, because the Cleveland Indians logo is really nothing short of a racial caricature, though at the time, having been told that some small fraction of some small fraction of my bloodline was Potawatomi, I mistakenly thought I was bearing some part of my heritage. Also, our team was quite good.

Second, the movie Major League came out, which was my first introduction to Charlie Sheen and Weslie Snipes (and also to such insults as "f**k wad" and "stick it up your f**king ass" — I'm still not sure why I was allowed to watch that movie.) The plot centered around the woebegone Indians and their villainous owner's attempts to move the city's baseball team to Miami. At the point that movie came out, no Cleveland team had won a championship in a quarter century.

Another quarter century has come and gone since then, and Cleveland's still waiting.

Last year seemed like it might be the year the curse would end. LeBron James, who started his career in Cleveland before taking his talents to Miami (where he won two NBA championships,) was back in the City the Rocks and the Cavs were up against a Golden State Warriors team that just about everyone seemed to think was not as good as its regular season record. With several Cav players injured, though, Cleveland fell in six games to the Warriors.

I'm not sure anyone outside of Cleveland thought the Cavs had a chance this year in what turns out to be a repeat of last year's series against a Warriors team that only got better, setting a regular season record with 73 wins and just nine losses. But hope springs eternal, and after falling hard in the first two games in Oakland, the Cavs dismantled the Dubs in Game 3.

Then tonight's happened. The Warriors dropped 17 three-pointers on the Cavaliers en route a 108-97 victory. And while the series certainly isn't over, no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals.

Why am I telling you all of this? I suppose to set expectations.

You see, I never had to wait long for a local team to hoist a trophy. The year I started paying attention to professional sports, the Oakland A's had the best record in baseball and, although they were upset in the World Series by the dastardly Dodgers, they once against posted the best record in the show and returned to the series the following year. There, they defeated another Bay Area team, the Giants, in a year in which the San Francisco 49ers had the best record in football and destroyed the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl.

The following year, the 49ers did it again — the fourth of five Super Bowls that team won between 1983 and 1995. God Bless Joe Montana, Steve Young and especially Jerry Rice.

In 1991 the Bay Area got a hockey team. In 1996, we added a soccer team (your grandfather helped start that franchise — and I got to be there for the first game in Major League Soccer history.) It took a while for the Sharks to get good, but the Earthquakes won their first MLS Cup in 2001 and added another in 2003, God bless Landon Donovan.

In 2010, the Giants won the World Series. In 2012, they did it again. In 2014, they did it again. God bless Buster Posey, forever and ever, amen.

Then, last year, Stephen Curry and the Warriors destroyed everything we knew about basketball. And this year they destroyed what they had already destroyed. Meanwhile, the once hapless Sharks are playing for the Stanley Cup.

So then, back to expectations: This sort of stuff can happen in sports cities, but it usually doesn't. Your town usually doesn't go 50-plus years without a championship, and it usually doesn't win ring after ring after blessed ring, never waiting more than a few years from one to the next.

If you latch onto the teams around here, for instance, you'll likely be waiting a long time for a parade. The Utah Jazz have made two appearances in the NBA Finals (both losses, both long before you were born) and haven't gotten close since. Real Salt Lake won its one and only star in 2009 and, much as I'd love to say otherwise, putting a second star to the right is probably a dream worthy of Neverland.

Whatever happens to your teams will happen very much irrespective of anything you do. You can wear the hats and fly the flags and only wear your lucky bra on game days, but ultimately sports fandom is a lot like the rest of life. We don't deserve good teams or bad teams — we just sort of luck into them.

Take it, then, for what it's worth. Fandom is joy and pain, and usually more of the latter than the former. You'll know that going in, of course, but it won't really change anything.

And yet we do it anyway. Because there's always next season. A hope for a winning season. Of a run deep into the playoffs. Of a championship parade.

And hope is a beautiful thing.