On October 27, 1997, Professor Cohen began his first-year Contracts class at the University of Virginia Law School by finding the Cleveland boy in the classroom. “I’m sorry,” he said simply to my classmate Scott, who within a couple of years would become my husband.
What else could he say when the Cleveland Indians, who haven’t won a World Series since 1948, entered the ninth inning of Game 7 with a one-run lead and — it’s almost needless to say — lost. Lost the game, lost the series, lost the title that was almost in their hands.
Cleveland always loses, and generations of Cleveland childhoods have been watered with the tears of loss after loss. Until Sunday, of course, when Cleveland ended its 52-year famine and satisfied its aching hunger for a win, champions at last.
I am, of course, a Clevelander by marriage, which is the worst sort of Clevelander, if you’re the kind of person who scoffs at old industrial Midwest cities. Who would choose such a place?
If you’re a fair-weather sort of person, you left a long time ago. You were looking for glitz or flash or maybe just a city that your friends would say, “Oh, cool!” about when you told them where you moved. You went looking for a city that was already done, ready for you, packaged neatly, something pretty you could buy. You were looking for a winner.
Clevelanders, though? Clevelanders see what can be built or made or, damn it all, toughed out. We see what they call “good bones,” a green city on a blue lake with an immovable backbone of cultural resources, genuine neighborhoods, and people brimming with heart and personality.
We are the underdogs, the cursed, the survivors. We stayed — or came — because we value the messy authenticity of real life and real people, and we wanted to build something beautiful out of the ordinary, the everyday, even the ugly of the world.
Near downtown, this transitioning Rust Belt city of mine is still home to a steel mill, a muscular complex of gray buildings with fire streaming from its stacks. “Isn’t it beautiful?” I once said to a visiting friend as we drove by, who looked at me in puzzlement. But it is. It’s strength, and reliability, and hard work. It’s our history, and it’s us still. And although, yes, we need to watch those emissions so we can all breathe well, and we need to continue the good work of modernizing our economy, we wouldn’t want to erase our industrial past like it was an errant gray smudge on a canvas. No, it’s the beginning of our work of art, the bones of our modern city.
Cleveland knows how to build. We know how to create, to cultivate what we have, and to be patient. Most of all, we know how to work our tails off. Cleveland won the NBA championship in such a Cleveland sort of way — behind 3–1 in the best-of-four series, making it to Game 7 against all odds. We toughed it out from a 7-point halftime deficit, and put it all out there on the floor in a Game 7 that was, of course, down to the wire. It should have surprised no Clevelander to see our star LeBron James writhing in pain on the floor after a tough hit with 10 seconds to go in the game. That’s so Cleveland. We get no advantages, we get no breaks, and we do it the hard way.
Our city exploded in jubilation Sunday night, the shouts of joy spilling into the streets, the fireworks popping. It’s not the same as a championship in any other city. We wanted it more, and we waited and worked for it longer. Make no mistake –this isn’t just about sports. It’s about our city, reaping at last what it has so long sown in heart, guts, and determination. My favorite image from the night was an on-court photo of LeBron James, captioned simply, “EARNED.” It’s ours.
52 years of struggle, and victory at last. Isn’t it beautiful?