We all have things we try to avoid in life. My top three are large sports crowds (frightening), long waits (infuriating) and standing in the hot sun (dehydrating).
On Wednesday, I joined an estimated 1 million sports fans in downtown Cleveland to stand in the hot sun and wait five hours to welcome home our NBA champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
I didn’t care that I couldn’t even see the stage at the rally. I didn’t care that the sun turned my face into an animated version of a beefsteak tomato. I didn’t even care, much, that the team took so long to wind its way through the streets of Cleveland that it was more than two hours late for its own rally.
I’ve waited since second grade for a sports championship in Cleveland. I could wait a little longer.
Besides, there’s something about living in a suspended state of pinch-me astonishment that makes the time fly.
Right now, we are an entire region of people whose toes haven’t touched the ground since that final buzzer in Sunday’s game against the Golden State Warriors. “Everybody’s friendly, no matter where you go,” the air conditioner repairman told me yesterday as he stood in my kitchen writing out the receipt. “It’s like no one can stop smiling.”
On Wednesday, as the crowd gathered for the rally, I spent much of the first three hours interviewing strangers wearing Cavs gear. Alesia Pelly’s wine-and-gold-colored T-shirt read:
“I cried when LeBron left,” she said, “and I cried when he came home. This is almost as good as having a child. Look around. Every nationality. Period. Everybody is here. That’s everything.”
It’s a wonderful thing to be here in Cleveland right now. Overnight, at the sound of the final buzzer in Sunday night’s game with the Golden State Warriors — have I mentioned that? — we turned into an urban Mayberry. If you don’t recognize my reference to that long-ago TV show, it means you’re too young to understand the emotional toll of spending decades refusing to give up hope on your teams, plural, while the rest of the world mocks you for your optimism. I’m not big on leading with one’s injuries, but let’s respect the scars.
In 1973, a reader on the verge of hopelessness reached out to E. B. White, the New Yorker essayist and author of the beloved children’s book “Charlotte’s Web.” The man confessed that he was running out of faith for the human race.
White’s response is a message for the ages, certainly, but it also speaks for the multiple generations of Cleveland sports fans who never gave up believing in something bigger than a lost cause.
“As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate,” White wrote. “Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.”
We have been winding the clock here in Cleveland since 1964, ever hopeful that it was only a matter of time before the curse was broken. Then, at the sound of that final buzzer — never mind.
At Wednesday’s rally, my friend Sue Klein, who is 50, stood next to me as we waited, and waited. And waited some more. At one point she frowned and waved her arm toward the many young adults who had summoned the energy and the will to leap onto granite benches in front of us, thus further blocking our view of the stage.
“I’ve turned into my father,” she said.
She was referring to the late, great Ralph G. Klein, who was sitting in Municipal Stadium when the Cleveland Indians won the World Series. In 1948.
“When I used to complain about not having seen a championship in my lifetime, he used to say, ‘You don’t know suffering,'” she said. She gestured again toward our millennial view-blocking fans. “They don’t know suffering. They have no idea.”
Like I said. You gotta respect the scars.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (email@example.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
Photo: Jun 5, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) shoots the ball against Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first quarter in game two of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports