Artwork by me; poetry by AdLib
Artwork by me; poetry by AdLib
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 in 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 among 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.
Keep you doped with religion, and sex and TV;
and you think you're so clever and classless and free;
but you're still f**king peasants, as far as I can see
- John Lennon, "Working Class Hero"
Who Wants to Be a Revolutionary? Oh, there's anger out there! America has got to be one of the most royally pissed off countries in the world. It doesn't matter if you're a leftie or a rightie, if you're an American, there is a good chance that something has got your blood boiling now. It might be stolen elections, Kenyan birth certificates, Katrina, terrorists, bank bailouts, wars for oil, telecom spying, CEO's salaries, religious fundamentalism, misleading food labeling, the slow death of the American automobile industry, the quicker demise of the American middle class or any sordid combination of the above. If you haven't thought at some point in the last ten years or so that things are seriously FUBAR, that the system doesn't work, and that it definitely doesn't have YOUR best interests in mind, then I wonder about you. Where have you been?
Yes, the mood is ugly. It's Tea Party ugly. It's Ron Paul angry. It's the stuff of which revolutions are made, the fire next time that burns like a thousand California wildfires that somebody, no doubt, blames Obama for (and somebody else probably blamed Bush for). Yes, there is revolution in the air!
Except, there isn't. The American people are NOT going to revolt, folks. The country isn't going to split apart either. The country probably isn't even going to sweep a true maverick like Paul into power anytime soon. Why? People are too comfortable! A second American Revolution is no more likely to occur than a rebellion of the brainwashed, mutated denizens of Huxley's "Brave New World", and for the same exact reason. The Powers that Be have got us, folks, right where they want us. Docile, overfed, overstimulated, undernourished and undereducated, and most of all, hyper-entertained. Which has led me to wonder, what WOULD need to happen for Americans to rise up like the Founding Fathers, taking to the streets with eyes blazing and teeth gnashing? Something the Powers that Be would never be so stupid as to do; take away our televisions!
You'd see a revolution then! Without Monday Night Football and American Idol and Jeopardy and Lost and Jay and The Simpsons, without Wii and PlayStation, without commercials telling us what to buy and what meds we need to be taking, people would flat out lose it! You want anger? You ain't seen nothing yet!
And see it you won't. Nobody is going to take anybody's television away. Television has done what no tyrant nor terrorist has ever come close to accomplishing. It has reduced a once proud and powerful nation to a land of dazed zombies, wearing a groove in the rug between the couch and the fridge while their warden, the glowing rectangular object in the Living Room, goads them to ask the question no revolutionary has ever asked; "What's on after this?"