by Kevin Tasker

Every watering hole in Cleveland had their TVs on last night to see LeBron’s first game back with the Cavs. Even Tremont’s highfalutin Spotted Owl Bar toted out a wall-dominating screen for easy viewing. Surreal to see the spectacle of drunken sports loons blown up a mile wide in an underground locale already infamous for drinks with names like the Rabbit as King of the Ghosts. On East 4th street, the central hub of the downtown district, the bartenders of noted movie bar The Greenhouse Tavern turned in their well-worn copies of Uncle Buck and X-Files for a finicky pseudo-feed from TNT which seemed to be about ten seconds behind the live broadcast. And of course the sports bars had screens smiling down from a thousand directions at once. It was tough to bowl coherently in The Corner Alley given the amount of maniacal TVs whose conflicted screaming gave the place the antic aspect of that thing Hobbit-y Booth Jonathan constructs in season 2 of Girls. But, heck, why not join in on the madness? Why not pledge allegiance to the gods of chaos that govern sports fandom? It was a time of near Dionysian celebration, after all. Cleveland’s long-dormant dream was coming to fruition, and we were a part of it. As Hunter Thompson once wrote, “you could strike sparks anywhere.” At least until the game began…

Flash to the aftermath. You would have thought that Christ Himself returned from on high and whispered, “It was all a beautiful dream.” The flood of beleaguered fans down East 4th street post-buzzer was nothing short of purgatorial. A McCarthian march of the doomed, except that everyone was dressed to the nines in Cavaliers regalia. I’d rather listen to Death Cab for Cutie’s “I Will Follow You into the Dark” on repeat for six days straight than gaze into faces like that again. Perhaps worst of all, these hollow men and women were also filmed from a platform hoisted aloft hours earlier. Four diligent ESPN anchors up there lent an air of stark reality to the otherwise oneiric scene as they delivered the post mortem with chilling clarity: our King came home, and he blew it.

Obviously, that’s reductive. It was the whole team; it’s always the whole team. Of course it is. But it wasn’t the failing of the team so much that disillusioned the droves of rabid fans so much, but what that team represented, what ever sports team in history has ever represented: the synecdoche of our civic pride… dashed now upon the rocks. What we all craved, nay, needed in our very marrow, was a victory right out of the gate. It’s what we’ve been praying for and tweeting about in equal measure since Mr. James’ most recent illeism-laden decision summit. A good ol’ W. What we were given instead was a middling game. A lackluster other team squaring off against our apparent legion of athletic geniuses, and both teams turning in relatively lukewarm performances. Cleveland fans needed to see a crushing, but were awarded a slap-fest instead. And the cameras caught every second.

All of that spectacle:  the garish courtside pans of Jay Z, weirdly Mennonite-hatted Justin Bieber, even Spike Lee resplendent in crimson glasses as he furtively studied  the court– to say nothing of the digital theatrics of the pre-game court glowing and rising and shedding itself in pixelated symmetry–wasn’t enough.  No amount of pyrotechnics equals a resurrection, otherwise Michael Bay would have saved the world ten times over by now.  It all felt, in fact, a little…well, touristy. What came up on all the screens wasn’t Cleveland as it actually exists. As David Foster Wallace put it, tourists are, as a whole, “economically significant but existentially loathsome.” In light of the game’s ending, this was the feeling that lingered. Our town’s heart was opened and examined and placed back in the cavity with a peculiar detachment.

Will we rally? There’s no question. This is, after all, just the first game. But I’ll just say this. I’ve had a lot of gut-squashing, skull-blasting hangovers in my life. Today was the worst one yet, and I didn’t touch a drop last night.

Kevin Tasker is a Cleveland-based writer.

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