To deeply appreciate the Cleveland Cavaliers championship victory, you had to grow up in Cleveland.
LeBron James, CC0 Public Domain
This is not just about basketball. It is about growing up in a city that since I was born, has taken too many negative hits.
The Cleveland of my youth in the 1970s and early 1980s was the nation’s laughing stock. As far as sports were concerned, all I heard about was how great Cleveland was. The Cleveland Indians rocked the nation in the 1950s, then there were the Browns’ victories in the early 1960s. It was insisted that the Indians, called the “sleeping giant” would once again become triumphant.
When Cleveland became intertwined with comedians’ one-liners, I don’t know. Some say it was when the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969. Others say that it was terrible choices made by then lampooned Mayor Dennis Kucinich, now a socialist and a former U.S. Congressman.
Others say it is because Cleveland has generated so many comedians, ranging from Bob Hope to Drew Carey, whose television sitcom did not do Cleveland justice.
Whatever the cause, Clevelanders have been on the defensive for decades. To be a Clevelander is to have unmitigated devotion to an underappreciated city. If you lived in Cleveland during the late 1970s and early 1980s, you might remember Daffy Dan’s t-shirts that offered expressions like “Cleveland: You Have to be Tough.”
Or to quote from the song “My Town,” which was recorded by the Cleveland-based Michael Stanley Band, “love or hate her it don’t matter, for I am going to stand and fight.”
Cleveland has had to stand and fight for a lot of things. Just to have the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in its rightful place, Cleveland had to fight New York City tooth and nail.
As a displaced Clevelander, I still hear negative comments. “The Mistake on the Lake,” is just one of them. The only time I ever received sympathy as a Clevelander was in 1996 when Art Modell sold the Cleveland Browns to establish the Baltimore Ravens. Cleveland was and always has been a sports city, and the nation understands that.
Cleveland was and always has been a sports city,
and the nation understands that.
Cleveland’s economic demise, along with northeast Ohio, began in the 1970s when blue-collar jobs that could support families began to disappear. My father, a strong blue-collar worker, lost his job during that period. We lived off of unemployment for a time and mom went back to work. After dad found a job, we became a dual-income family before baby boomers made it a social phenomenon.
Cleveland made me what I am today, and like LeBron James, I try to give back as much as I can. As the first person in my family to graduate from college, it was Cleveland that began publishing my articles while I was in high school. Later, Cleveland gave me a radio show when I was a business reporter in the mid 1990s. Cleveland made me a tough, resilient and straight shooter, characteristics that do not generally fit well in the politically correct Washington, D.C. culture were I live today, but have made me a respected national journalist.
When the nation focused on Cleveland in 2013 after Charles Ramsey found girls held hostage and abused for years and saved them, the media was amazed by the “tell it like it is” Clevelander. To me, he was just a reminder of what I miss so much about my hometown: unbridled candor.
Cleveland is its own culture with its own melting pot. Starting off with a northern protestant culture from Connecticut in the 1700s, the so-called Reconstructionist period after the Civil War pushed often unwelcome white and black southerners to the town for work. From the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution to the end of World War II, Catholic and Jewish immigrants from Germany, Poland, Slovenia, Hungry, Ireland and Italy found Cleveland to be their land of opportunity.
Each group had its own community and sacrificed to build their centers of worship, but they also understood that to be an American, they needed to learn English and assimilate. In the 1970s, groups like the Lebanese Christians found Cleveland to be a welcome respite from the brutal realities of war.
In Cleveland, we did not need
intellectuals from on high
to tell us to celebrate diversity
because diversity is just who we are.
Our ears have become so sensitive to mentioning religion and ethnic background that we risk ignoring the cultural realities that shape who we are. In Cleveland, we did not need intellectuals from on high to tell us to celebrate diversity because diversity is just who we are.
In Cleveland, we do not ask someone about his or her nationality to be nosey, but to relate and find a shared acquaintance or place. Other uptight areas of the country, like the Washington, D.C. area where I have lived for the past 20 years, frowns upon such questions and that’s quite a shame. It is must easier to get to know someone in Cleveland than in the nation’s capital.
Cleveland should bask in its historic victory and party hard as long as possible. Eat, drink and be merry for the republican presidential convention next month presents another mood. Like Philadelphia, which is hosting the democratic convention, Cleveland has been bracing itself for an environment of protest and unrest not seen since the 1968 democratic presidential convention in Chicago.
Meanwhile, this homesick Clevelander remains an ambassador to the nation’s capital.