Yesterday I did something for the first time that anyone who is younger than 52 also did for the first time.
In case you are reading this far into the future–an alternative future–when Cleveland sports teams consistently both make it into and sometimes win championship series, yesterday’s Cavs win was an anomaly.
People kept coming up to me and saying, “Congratulations!” as if I had individually done something praise-worthy like win an award, or, judging by what gets the most engagement on social media, get engaged. And it didn’t feel out of place. I immediately responded with, “Thanks!” as if I directly had something to do with a basketball team winning the finals.
It makes sense when you realize that to Clevelanders–and ex-Clevelanders–a victory like this one does feel shared. It does seem as if, somehow, each one of us played a part in getting the team to this goal. We’d been waiting so long, and wishing so hard, that when it finally came true, it’s only natural to experience it like it were a personal accomplishment.
Unless your city has had a championship drought of at least 50 years, you may not be able to imagine what it feels like, or how surreal it is to have made it past a point that, for your entire lifetime, has seemed just out of reach.
But you can probably imagine how we don’t know what to do now.
After years of focusing on one thing, now that it has finally taken place, I think I speak for others from Cleveland in expressing confusion. For now, most are still caught up in the celebration, but later, once the confetti has settled, I don’t think many of us will be sure what the next step is. Our identity as losers was solidified based on reputation and assumption, which you can probably also easily imagine, because unfortunately there are plenty of examples in other arenas like education.
We hoped and dreamed for this day, but we didn’t bother thinking about what would happen if it actually came true. Cleveland was never going to win, so we didn’t need a game plan for that possibility. In fact, our potential was so regularly doubted and questioned that there was no way to untangle the story repeated over and over–we’re a sorry sports town, etc.–from the actual events. Did we keep losing because our teams didn’t play well enough? Or were we just living out what was expected of us?
Today, we’re going to bask in the glory of proving everyone (including ourselves, if we’re being honest) wrong, but soon, we will need to move forward and figure out whether our legacy will be the one created for us by society, or the one we create for ourselves through perseverance.
I’m sure we’ll figure it out; it’s not the worst fate to be a newly christened championship team.