Being a Cleveland sports fan requires a lifetime commitment to Prozac. The underdog city's teams have a habit of fostering great hopes before losing in some spectacular, nail-biting way. It's a bruising, emotional roller coaster that would make Rihanna and Chris Brown wince. Yet we keep coming back for more.
Now that the Cavaliers are in the Eastern Conference Finals, it's strange to experience this phenomenon from the distance of South Florida. I lived in Cleveland for three years before moving here, long enough to morph from a sports novice to an avid fan and long enough to fall hopelessly in love with LeBron James. To the rest of the world, this man is just another absurdly talented athlete. To Clevelanders, who watched their once-proud city descend into a jobless, foreclosed depression long before the rest of the nation joined the party, he's the next Messiah.
When the Cavs won the Eastern Conference series against the Pistons two years ago, bringing the Cavs to the NBA finals for the first time in franchise history, Clevelanders acted as if they'd won World War III. Downtown streets were clogged for hours with honking, cheering fans. The bar where I watched the game was so packed that it ran out of toilet paper -- hell, it nearly ran out of beer. And for days, the city was filled with a rare, pre-Obama optimism.
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As the Cavs prepare to take on the Magic tonight in Game 4, I'm haunted by the nagging fear of potential heartbreak. Sure, LeBron gave us a taste of his trademark heroism with his buzzer-beating three-pointer in Game 2. But all the games in the series have been close, and the Cavs lost Game 3. I'm all too familiar with this pattern.
It's comforting to know that at least many South Florida fans are on Cleveland's side. Thanks to the Heat-Magic rivalry, I've found many locals -- who I assume have never braved a Lake Erie snowstorm -- willing to cheer for LeBron's every miraculous move. But tonight, something more is required.
There was a slogan for a while in Cleveland, a ridiculous P.R. trick dreamed up by Chamber of Commerce types. It ordered us to "Believe in Cleveland," which made most of us want to do the opposite. But now that my city is once again on the brink of national sports stardom, I find myself wishing it on all my friends and neighbors. Please, believe in Cleveland. A city of Prozac junkies will thank you.