(Note: this is how bad sportswriting perpetuates itself and someone like Bill Plaschke becomes famous enough to land a spot on Around the Horn. Exciting stuff.)
But in Posnanski’s case, he does seem like a pretty great writer, so I really can’t fathom why he chose to willfully court the SI Jinx and risk putting his city on the cover. He’s got a job, right? It’s not as though he has something to prove? But that’s exactly what he did. Jinxed his entire fucking city.
Because to be clear, the Sports Illustrated story was not a Lebron James story or an NBA Playoffs story, but more like a city’s memoir, with sports anecdotes interspersed. I’d just finished watching the Roast of Bob Saget on Comedy Central when I read the story, and I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between Cleveland and its lone “star,” Drew Carey.
Let’s imagine cities as comedians. I’d say Chris Rock is Brooklyn. Woody Allen is Manhattan. Dennis Leary would be Boston. Dave Chappelle? Washington D.C. Bob Saget reminds me of Pittsburgh—dirty and irrelevant, but proud of it in some way that makes it okay. Dane Cook would be… Orlando, because both are completely fake and suck. Jeffery Ross would be Milwaukee, as both are irrelevant, but nonetheless underrated if you’re into completely unhealthy behavior. Sarah Silverman would be L.A. just because I think she’s hot and needed to mention her. But Jay Leno is probably a better fit for L.A.Think about all of those people and then look at that picture.
Every city has its own personality, and Drew Carey really does seem to fit Cleveland perfectly. He’s not crass in any way, and he’s not exactly hilarious, but at least from what I know of the guy, he just seems like kind of a goofy, kind-hearted oaf. He had a brief turn in the spotlight, but even then, it’s not like he ever hit the jackpot on celebrity. Nothing special, nothing horrible.
And that’s Cleveland—except that instead of being allowed to reside in the comfortable obscurity that Drew Carey occupies, they have to masquerade as a big city, a role that doesn’t exactly suit them. I’ve only been there once, but what I remember are a bunch of really kind people, attractive, suburban-type neighborhoods, and a downtown area that’s biggest attractions were two stadiums.
Which is the other problem. In its awkward attempt at being a big city, Cleveland’s most convincing claim to relevance is that it has 3 major sports teams—the Indians, Browns, and Cavs. All of them suck. And as a “city” otherwise, Cleveland sucks, too. It’s a place built on industry in a time when domestic industry really doesn’t make sense anymore. So there’s something depressing about it all if you’re looking for the any of the attractions you’d typically find in a place like Chicago or New York or even somewhere like Houston. If you’re looking to raise a family, go to Cleveland.
That’s why it’s so easy to make fun of Cleveland. It’s sort of a depressing place, and yet everyone that lives there insists that it’s the greatest city on earth. Because if you grew up there, it probably is. But to anyone that grew up somewhere that doesn’t have a dying economy, a high crime rate, horrendous winters, and three sports teams that haven’t won a championship since 1948, “mistake by the lake” sounds about right.
And from a writer who’d grown up there but moved on to broader horizons, the SI story provided almost a hybrid of nostalgia and broader perspective. Some excerpts:
Cleveland was America's punch line. That was not long after the Cuyahoga River caught fire, not long after Mayor Ralph Perk's hair also caught fire at some ribbon-cutting ceremony. This was when Lake Erie was so polluted that people talked about walking across it to Canada, when Mayor Dennis Kucinich had to wear a wee bulletproof vest to throw out the first pitch at an Indians game because of death threats, when Cleveland became the first city since the Depression to default on loans. The efforts to save Cleveland then were earnest and touchingly misguided. I remember when the city's image makers decided on a new slogan: New York's the Big Apple, but Cleveland's a plum. ...
Then, for a burst in the late 1980s and early '90s, Cleveland had a renaissance. America's comeback city. Construction. New restaurants. New sports stadiums. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame opened. People were flocking to downtown, the scene on the Flats -- a bar and restaurant district on the Cuyahoga -- was hopping, the Indians were winning, Cleveland comedian Drew Carey was starring in one of the biggest shows on television. Cleveland rocked.
Now things have turned again. Downtown fights for breath. The Flats are dead -- "A Scooby Doo ghost town," according to a gag "Hastily Made Cleveland Tourism Video" you can find on YouTube. Cleveland, like many other cities in these times, is being ravaged by foreclosures and unemployment. ....
I pull my car off to the side of the road and look out at the empty spaces where Richfield Coliseum used to be. The sky is Cleveland gray -- even now, I find that I feel happiest on gray days -- and rain falls on the windshield. Cleveland has never been a basketball town. Even as the playoffs rage, the talk-radio shows go on and on about Browns quarterback Brady Quinn and Indians manager Eric Wedge. ...
But maybe not -- maybe not this time. I think about the Hawks game, when LeBron had the ball on the baseline. He looked at his defender, and his face had this beautiful expression. It looked as if he was saying: "How do you want me to do this?" Then he looked left, cut right, spun, found himself under the basket, came out on the other side, scored.
Let them tell their Cleveland jokes. Right now, we are Hemingway's Paris, we are Shakespeare's London, we are Caesar's Rome. James runs back up the court to cheers that sound like rock and roll.Isn’t it sort of heartbreaking to read all of that and then think of the utter collapse the Cavaliers have undergone in this Orlando series? Hemingway's Paris? Caesar's Rome?
Note to editor: Please put Cleveland on the cover of Sports Illustrated. That's exactly where my hometown belongs.
Like, they were the clear-cut favorites to win the NBA Championship. There’s really no debate about this. And suddenly, everyone on their team except Lebron got tight sphincters, their fans started to panic, and the whole thing mushroomed to the point where Hedo Turkoglu now strikes fear into the hearts of Cleveland's fans and players alike. What the hell happened?
Making a Cleveland joke at this point is just plain cruel. Like making fun of deaf people or something. Because from everything I’ve read, and the people I’ve met, the people of Cleveland seem to be genuinely decent. Again, kind of like Drew Carey, just a ho-hum bunch of people that are not out to ruin anyone’s fun, but just genuinely love their sports teams that much. Because as a city, that’s really all they have.
So anyway, who cares if Cleveland pretends to be a big city and its people get defensive any time you make fun of their home? “Mistake by the lake” is accurate in some sense, but it still seems like an awesome place to grow up. They definitely deserve some of the ridicule. But not this.
So here’s hoping that Lebron and his Cavs teammates (a group that I’ve been conditioned to HATE after 3 years of Wizards losses to them in the playoffs) can pull it together over these next few days and snatch victory from the jaws of yet another soul crushing Cleveland collapse. Watching the Lakers bowl over the Magic would just be depressing, especially because they’re not that great of a team.
At least if Cleveland wins, we can watch Lebron and Kobe go at each other’s throats for 5 or 6 games. Right? I don’t know if I can handle another six games of Mark Jackson and Mike Breen salivating over “Kobe doin work.” If Cleveland can pull this off tonight, and then win Monday, we get the matchup we've wanted all year long, and NBA fans can rejoice right along with a city that desperately needs some semblance of athletic success. Wouldn’t this be a good thing?
(Actual quote from last night: “That’s just Kobe doin work.” Mark Jackson. And he said it in normal conversation, not joking. Not as if that was just the title of heavily promoted ESPN movie or anything. That’s just Mark Jackson torturing me.)
But I’ll be honest: I don’t really care. Mostly, that article just made me feel really guilty after making fun of Cleveland for the past 10 years of my life. So go Cavs, ya know? Lebron, win this series, and make the rest of us feel less guilty for making fun of your dirty, depressing city. Do the impossible, 'Bron. Make Drew Carey cool.