Not since 1964 have Clevelanders been able to celebrate a champion. His T-shirt highlights that year, a season in which the Cleveland Browns won the NFL title. His T-shirt highlights 1948, the season in which the Indians last won the World Series.
But all the other years he has written on his T-shirt have ended with frustration. Since ’64, the Indians reached the World Series twice: in 1995 and 1997; they lost both times. The Browns haven’t sniffed the Super Bowl, and the Cavaliers made the NBA Finals in 2007 but lost.
Talk about a loser’s complex!
The city of Cleveland has it. Its image of a dreary, luckless place has found infamy in a popular YouTube video that pokes fun at the city. NBA analyst Charles Barkley’s remarks in the vein piled on more hurt.
So as the Cavs waited for the Orlando Magic to eliminate the Boston Celtics, fans here have been nervous about whether LeBron James and the Cavs will add to the city’s reputation as a loser.
It doesn’t matter that James is the best player on the planet; Clevelanders still obsess over will he leave as a free agent after the 2009-10 season. It doesn’t matter that James and his gang have the best record in the NBA; Clevelanders wonder aloud if their team is rusty from sitting too long and watching.
That’s the typical Clevelander, though. He totes a 10-ton chip on his narrow shoulders because Barkley picked the Magic to win the Eastern Conference finals, which start Wednesday night in Quicken Loans Arena.
“They have a right to choose who they want to choose,” said James the other day of Barkley’s prediction. “We don’t care if people pick Orlando.”
You might think James’ reassuring words would allay people’s fears. Not so with Clevelanders.
They are overly worried about Barkley’s prediction in the face of this stark reality: Their Cavaliers have been playing the best basketball in the NBA since late February.
But Clevelanders wouldn’t be Clevelanders if they didn’t fret. They have steeled themselves to the hard knocks their hometown has taken. They know all too well how disappointment feels.
So instead of the cockiness (some would say arrogance) that Bostonians and New Yorkers exude, Clevelanders worry. With Game 1 still to be played, they search even now for ways to sculpt a possible disappointment into something they can stomach.
Will this Cavs-Magic series land an ignominious spot on the my friend’s father’s T-shirt, a cotton litany of the city’s history of losing?
“The team that executes the most is gonna win the series,” said James, putting the proper spin on things.
And what team has executed the best this season? I think that’s a question the words on a T-shirt are unsuited to answer.