You may recall that I recently got tickets to last week’s Cleveland Cavaliers home opener, the “hardest-to-find Cleveland ticket since the last good sports thing happened here 20 years ago.” Well the game was last Thursday, and it went exactly like you’d expect if you’ve lived in Cleveland any time during the last 20 years: A full day of hype, followed by ten minutes of hope, followed by an evening of crushing despair.
But it’s OK, because the day was never about the game itself. It was all about…well I was there, and I’m still not sure, but it was about SOMETHING. A lot of something. Here’s what I’ll remember about the night.
Miles of sweaty bodies
Deserae and I went to the Winking Lizard downtown for dinner at 4. We got a table at 4:15, and by 4:30, the aisles were clogged with so many people that the only way to go to the bathroom was to crowdsurf there. Outside, the streets were packed with more people than live in the city of Cleveland. People were hanging outside of apartment windows and peering out of parking garages. Nobody was quite sure what they were looking for, but at least they were smiling.
“You dropped this!”
The entrepreneurs of Northeast Ohio were out in full force. Some were selling t-shirts that seem to have been hastily created in Microsoft Paint. Others were AGGRESSIVELY hawking counterfeit tickets to the game. Many were handing out coupons and flyers.
Upon seeing one such coupon flutter to the ground, Deserae helpfully picked it up and returned it to its owner.
“I think you dropped this,” she said.
The guy glanced down at the coupon, then gave Deserae a strange look and edged away a little. “That’s not mine.”
“Really? I thought I saw it fall from your pocket.”
He shook his head vigorously.
Deserae had yet to look at the contents of the coupon she was holding. I glanced down to see it was for a strip club. “Hon, I don’t think it’s his.”
“ARE YOU SURE?!” She called after him as he backpedalled away.
A cast of characters
One of the least effective ways to make money seemed to be dressing up and charging people to take pictures with you. I snapped a picture of one such transaction involving a cartoon LeBron just before it got ugly.
Of all the characters I saw – the cartoon LeBron, the white Barack Obama, the unicorn, the life-size Wheaties box – none compared to this magnificent specimen.
Get. On. TV.
By far, the biggest concentration of people downtown was on E. 4th St. That’s because Sports Center was broadcasting from E. 4th, and humans have no urge more primal than the urge to get on TV.
Nike incites a riot
An hour and a half before the game, we started making our way to the arena. We passed some very sweaty, very muscular young men walking away from Nike’s event with nice basketballs. As we got closer, we noticed several 10-foot towers full of the $30 Nike basketballs. People who were gathered around the towers excitedly informed us that Nike was randomly picking a tower and releasing all the balls at once from it. If you could grab one, it was yours.
I was all in. Deserae looked around worried. “Wouldn’t people get trampled?!”
No sooner had she asked that than a guy who worked for Nike ran up to the tower. His face was white. “We’re not releasing any more towers!” he yelled to the crowd. “It’s for your own safety! Please disperse!” Nobody moved. “PLEASE DISPERSE!”
The confetti thief
At our seats, we found all sorts of goodies: an extra large t-shirt, a LeBron poster, light-up sticks and a pouch of “confetti” that we were supposed to toss when LeBron did his chalk toss thing at the beginning of the game. Deserae had her confetti; I didn’t. The person next to Deserae explained that THAT guy – she pointed to a shifty-looking character wearing headphones in the next section – was stealing everybody’s pouches, but skipped us because he saw our neighbors watching him.
I opened Deserae’s pouch and laughed. It was a handful of tissue paper that some intern had chopped up with a paper shredder. Nice job, bub. Enjoy your stolen tissue paper.
I stopped laughing the next day when I visited eBay.
The Hitler commercial
Practically the entire arena was seated 45 minutes before the game. After 45 minutes of sitting, the crowd was ready to cheer ANYTHING. Especially this:
By the end of the video, everyone was holding their fists up in the air.
I thought the commercial was kind of cool because it’s Cleveland, but I do acknowledge it’s the corniest thing I’ve ever seen. Deserae’s take was less kind. “I don’t like it. It’s like the Hitler salute.”
Next came the best national anthem I’ve ever been a part of. At this point, on a scale of 1–10, the crowd was at a 19. When the PA announcer asked us to stand for the national anthem, everyone inexplicably started chanting USA! USA!
Then, the crowd finished the national anthem with Usher, who was loving every second of it.
Baby, Baby, Baby, Ohhhh!
In Cleveland, we are not used to seeing celebrities at our sporting events. So when the jumbotron started showing celebrities sitting in the crowd, we went BONKERS. Celebrities are listed in order of the quality of the cheers they received.
1. Bernie Kosar: Despite the fact that Bernie last played quarterback for the the Browns 21 years ago, his cheers were were twice as loud as anyone else’s.
2. Joe Haden: Browns cornerback Joe Haden loves to be seen at Cleveland events. Clevelanders love him for it.
3. Usher: Usher apparently owns like 1% of the Cavs, although he hasn’t been to a game in four years.
4. Michael Strahan: ??
5. Geraldo Rivera: ?!?!?!?!
20,562. Justin Bieber: When Bieber’s face popped up on the screen, the crowd didn’t know what to do. A few people started cheering. Then boos. Hearty boos. The type of boos previously reserved only for Brandon Weeden.
Maybe it was the hat. Maybe it was the jewelry. I like to think it was because the city was so thankful for everything we’ve received this summer, that we felt like we needed to give something back to the world. Whatever it was, I’ve never been prouder to be a Clevelander than the moment I joined in to boo Justin Bieber.
The Cavs may not have won the game, but Cleveland won the night.
LIFE LESSON #43
Sometimes, you’ve just got to be there.