Waking up Wednesday afternoon (yes, you read that correctly), there was a smile on my face that only seeing your favorite NBA team beating the Miami Heat can bring.
There was a skip in my step, a song in my head ("Ah, Leah" by Donnie Iris - don't ask) and a burning desire to see what the people on ESPN would say after the cellar-dwelling Cavaliers beat LeBron James and Co., 102-90, Tuesday night.
When the show Around The Horn came on, I turned up the volume, waiting for someone to say why this win meant so much to the fans of Cleveland.
What I got made me angry. Really angry.
What started as a discussion about LeBron skipping the pregame introductions devolved into some of the panelists ripping Cavs owner Dan Gilbert. Former Boston Globe writer Jackie MacMullan, whom I generally like, put me over the edge by saying LeBron was showing up Gilbert by missing the introductions.
She said LeBron probably was tired of taking the "high road" with Gilbert.
That's when it became clear to me.
Members of the national media don't get Cleveland, and never will.
Dan Gilbert, despite spending much of his life in Michigan, does.
Everyone knows Cleveland's tortured history when it comes to sports. But in the last 15 years, the failures have been more pronounced, the disappointments more aggravating.
When it comes to sports cities, Cleveland is the little kid on the playground who is constantly getting pushed around and always picked last for kickball. We have seen our stars leave to join the cool kids - Manny Ramirez went to Boston, Jim Thome went to Philadelphia, CC Sabathia, after a trade, went to New York.
That, combined with 47 years of losing, takes its toll on fans. But when all of those things happened, the passion the fans felt over the loss of players was never matched outwardly by the organizations they played for. When Thome and Sabathia left, then-Indians GM Mark Shapiro would respond by reminding Indians fans that they lived in a small market, and therefore it was difficult to keep stars, even homegrown ones.
It may have been honest, but it also had a level of condescension to it. Even the people who ran our franchises seemed to be telling us we couldn't be like the cool kids.
Which brings me back to MacMullan. What part of LeBron's actions over the last eight months have constituted the "high road?" His self-indulgent television special? The fact he never called Gilbert to tell him he was leaving? The tweet from a few months ago where he invoked karma and God when ribbing his former teammates about an embarrassing loss to the Lakers (even though he denied it was directed at them)?
If that's the definition of the "high road," I wouldn't want to ride on that highway.
Gilbert did send a letter to Cleveland fans where he promised they'd enjoy a title before LeBron did, accused the King of quitting in the 2010 playoffs, and carried a rage many Cavaliers' fans were feeling.
It was overblown, somewhat impractical and unbecoming of a professional sports owner.
It was, in a word, perfect.
It took me a while to understand this. As a journalist, I tweaked Gilbert for promising a title he never could assure, and for writing things that could backfire.
But after a while, I understood.
Gilbert gets it.
Cleveland fans have been pushed around, had their hearts broken, and now had seen a locally born star treat them like misplaced pawns on a chess board.
This had happened before. As fans, we fully expected it to happen again. It was business as usual.
National sports columnists on shows like Around the Horn could feign sympathy, then move on to talk about the Heat and how great they would be.
Then came Gilbert's letter.
The owner had the fans' back. He said that what happened to them was unacceptable, and that Cleveland needn't worry about being abandoned again.
After 47 years of accepting frustration as some kind of curse, Gilbert said all the things we needed to hear.
Yes, the Cavs are awful this year. Yes, I am somewhat less than optimistic about the team ever winning a title, let alone before LeBron.
But for once, someone in power stood up for the Cleveland fan. That's why Tuesday night was so satisfying.
I have some sympathy for those who work on shows like Around the Horn. They have to give quick-fire opinions, and one misstep can create columns from embittered Ohio writers like me. MacMullan may not have meant her remark like it sounded.
But the truth remains that for whatever talents LeBron took to South Beach, and whatever championships come his way, he will never escape these realities:
The high road doesn't go through Miami, and the playground will never belong to just the cool kids.
Zach Baker is associate sports editor for The A-T.
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