Cleveland has never asked for much, and has received much less: Don’t laugh at us. Don’t move our football team to Baltimore. Forget about that time our river caught on fire. If you’re leaving town, fine, but don’t commission your own ESPN special to announce this to everyone. Give Pere Ubu the respect they deserve. If you do move our old football team to Baltimore, please give our new football team a franchise QB. Keep Donald Trump out of town. And let us win a goddamn championship once a generation or so.
These seem like reasonable, modest, Midwestern-polite requests, and all of them have been cruelly denied. Until, of course, a couple of weeks ago, when LeBron James stopped trying to carry us up the mountain, and just picked us up and threw us atop the mountain. The Cavs are NBA champions. It is thrilling and surreal to even type this. The drought is over. The curse is lifted. It is morning in Cleveland at last.
As a sheepish expat native, the “Believeland” moniker always struck me as absurd — mere proof of our charming naïveté, our admirable refusal to accept reality, gritting our teeth and insisting on the imminent arrival of a higher power as we winced at our fair city’s disturbing pop culture profile and raged against its various (and ongoing) sports disasters. “Of course we’ll fuck this up,” I’d think, whatever it happened to be, and there was grim solace in always being right, until I wasn’t. Turns out LeBron was that higher power — but so, too, was the boundless (and often groundless) optimism of people who just knew this moment would come, and had spent the intervening years making this one of the strangest, most star-crossed, but most singularly fascinating cities in the country.
And now, very quickly, before it is burned down this week by Republican National Convention protesters and/or counterprotesters and/or Tim Tebow, let us celebrate The Little American City That Couldn’t, Until Finally It Did. It’s an unlikely tech and whiskey and greeting-card hub. The nostalgia-soaked locus for one of the most beloved Christmas movies of all time, not to mention one of the best baseball movies. The inspiration for some seriously idiosyncratic and transcendent R&B and hip-hop and TV. And the current home, at least, for a few other notable professional athletes not named LeBron. It deserves, if not your respect, then at least a little less disrespect. God bless Cleveland, however belatedly, for indeed the place glows a little brighter these days, and not because something that isn’t supposed to be on fire is on fire. For now.