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The Cavs’ Championship Hangover Is Coming

But given the party in Cleveland since June, fans don’t care a bit

Getty Images/Ringer illustration
Getty Images/Ringer illustration

Like any male in his 20s with a basic-cable subscription, I learn all my life lessons from Bar Rescue’s Jon Taffer. When I put milk on my cereal, I do so the only way any true Taffer disciple would — by pouring at a 90 degree angle for 3.5 seconds. I do my personal budgeting through my 2TouchPOS system, I don’t (usually) get drunk on the job, and all the doorways in my house are exactly 30 inches wide so they can serve as butt funnels. Tafferism is my religion of choice, and Taffer Tips are my Ten Commandments. The most important of these, of course, is the Golden Rule of Tafferism, a tip for avoiding hangovers that changed my life so much that I had it tattooed on my heart: “Space your drinks with a glass of water for a more enjoyable experience.”

I say that to say this: The Warriors blew a 3–1 lead in the NBA Finals. And while the Cavs have certainly earned the right to celebrate one of the most memorable NBA championships in league history, it should be noted that they have definitely not been spacing their drinks with glasses of water. Since clinching the title on June 19 to end the most notable championship drought for any city in major American sports, the celebration has been so intense that it’s reverberated throughout Ohio for months. As someone who has lived in the state for 10 years but didn’t grow up an Ohio sports fan, I have no shame in admitting that I jumped on the Cavs bandwagon. It’s been impossible not to. Seeing so many friends and family members have Cleveland sports go from a source of constant sorrow to a source of overwhelming joy has been intoxicating.

Here’s how the last few months in Ohio have looked: In June, half the damn state seemed to be at the championship parade. In July, every other kid I saw playing Pokémon Go was wearing a Cavs title T-shirt or hat. In August, the Cavs kept dominating most conversations, whether it was friends swapping stories about where they watched Game 7 or an acquaintance telling me how much the title meant to his grandfather. In September, the voices inside the heads of Browns fans that lead them to drink were instead reminding them that it doesn’t matter the Browns are the Browns since the Cavs brought glory to Cleveland. And now October is here, the Larry O’Brien Trophy is still being paraded around, and everyone is acting like the Cavs’ championship had something to do with the Indians’ run to the World Series.

Every NBA title is treated like a massive deal by fans of the champs, but given the circumstances it’s fair to say that none have meant as much to a fan base as this one has to Cleveland. This raises an important question as the new NBA season approaches: Will the Cavs experience a championship hangover? The Indians and Browns were supposed to be Taffer’s proverbial glasses of water for the city of Cleveland. In any other year, both would have sucked in ways that would’ve brought Cleveland fans back down to earth. Instead, the Indians are on the verge of winning a title themselves, while the Browns are so inept that even diehard fans are choosing to pretend they don’t exist.

For the first time in a very long time, Cleveland is the envy of the sports world. And fans have been partying like they know it.

Cavs fans’ extended stay on cloud nine all offseason shouldn’t matter since they aren’t the ones expected to produce on the court this season. In a perfect world, the players would have joined in the celebration for a month or so and then got back to handling business as usual. The concern, though, is this isn’t a perfect world — it’s Cleveland. And in Cleveland, championship celebrations apparently make some people so delirious that they will literally eat shit.

Some might watch that clip and see a young man in front of a crowd, presumably under the influence of something, doing the kind of thing that young men in front of crowds and under the influence of something do. (And by “doing the kind of thing that young men do,” I mean, “THIS IS NOT NORMAL BEHAVIOR FOR ANYONE ON ANY AMOUNT OF DRUGS SO IF YOU FIND YOURSELF EATING HORSE SHIT PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP.”) But it makes me get existential. I think about what it would be like to deconstruct that situation from the perspective of the Cavs players. Wait, I have the power to make someone voluntarily eat shit just by putting a ball through a metal ring? Am I a superhero with the weirdest superpower imaginable? Am I … God?

That’s what the last few months must have been like for the Cavs. Most fans they’ve come across since winning the title probably aren’t willing to celebrate the championship by biting into a horse turd like it’s an apple, but if you plotted their willingness to eat a horse turd on a scale from 0 to 10, where 10 is actually chewing on the turd, there would be a disturbing number of non-zero answers. Just imagine if this were your daily experience: You interact with countless strangers who could potentially be talked into placing a turd to their lips because they love you so much. Would you be anxious to get back to the NBA grind? Of course not, right? You’d soak in this shit-eating experience for as long as you possibly could.

Kyrie Irving became an immortal in Cleveland when he hit the title-winning 3-pointer over Steph Curry in Game 7, and then he followed that up by earning an Olympic gold medal in Rio. Tristan Thompson is on such a high that he’s now rumored to be engaged to a Kardashian and seems oblivious to the fact that this is basically career suicide. When Kevin Love isn’t walking around with WWE belts slung over his shoulders and a cigar in his mouth, he’s probably continuing his transformation from a farm boy to a chubby white guy with a chinstrap beard to a lumberjack to a model who is wondering how much longer he has to hold this uncomfortable pose to a stone-cold fox to a guy who wears hemp jewelry to a yoga instructor named “Blaze” to whatever the hell he’s got planned next. J.R. Smith’s entire existence has been a perpetual cycle of draining 3s and laying pipe, so I can only imagine how wild his life has … actually, never mind. J.R. celebrating a title probably hasn’t been all that different from his everyday life. But LeBron’s experience in Cleveland this summer is as close as anyone in American history has ever been to feeling like a literal god. If I were LeBron, I would have skipped preparing for the upcoming season and instead spent the last four months traveling around Northeast Ohio, basking in the glory with my arms spread out like I’m about to ascend directly into heaven.

But then again, I’m not LeBron, which is why I guess any championship hangover speculation is irrelevant. Because here’s what we know: The Cavs still have LeBron, they still play in the Eastern Conference, and the Warriors are probably going to win the title this year anyway. LeBron has mastered the art of putting the regular season on cruise control to conserve energy for the playoffs, when he inevitably morphs into a mythical creature who uses the tears of critics and opposing fan bases as sustenance. So if the Cavs struggle out of the gate, there will be no way of knowing whether it’s all part of LeBron’s master plan or it’s because they forgot to stop partying at any point since mid-June.

Plus, it won’t matter what the culprit is, because playing in the East means the Cavs could throw the regular season and end up with the no. 8 seed. In that case, they’d still be the favorites to make it to the Finals. And once they get there, conventional wisdom says the Warriors won’t let the Cavs off the hook for a second straight year, even if the Cavs should be even better this season now that they’ve improved their bench depth and have presumably worked out the chemistry challenges that had experts worried they would fall short in the playoffs, where instead they were the beneficiaries of the Warriors blowing a 3–1 series lead.

The kicker to all of this, though, is that it doesn’t matter one bit to Cleveland fans what kind of season the Cavs will have in 2016–17. The goal was to win one for The Land. The impossible has already been accomplished. The Cavs killed the curse and the Indians are in the process of disposing of its body. People used to be embarrassed to be from Cleveland. Now residents from all over Northeast Ohio are acting like they’re from Cleveland, including Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer, who actually grew up an hour away in Ashtabula. For the first and quite possibly last time, Cleveland is the epicenter of American sports, which is why the Cavs could go 0–82 and Clevelanders would still keep munching away at their turds.

So yeah, the Cavs and their fans haven’t been spacing their drinks with water during the offseason, and a brutal hangover might be looming. But either way, they’re still having a more enjoyable experience than they ever thought possible.