by Dan Gladman
As a sports fan from Toronto, I don’t have to remind you what it feels like.
Cleveland wasn’t always Believeland. It wasn’t always a city of champions. It didn’t always have LeBron.
Which brings me, early, to a point I’d like to make. Clevelanders, in general, are humble and know how to kindly bestow that humility on visitors, even as they are metaphorically kicking your city’s ass on the sports field.
As the TV broadcast producer for the Toronto Raptors, I have the unique opportunity to attend, watch, and work at all their games throughout the NBA season, including the playoffs. It’s a responsibility I take seriously, and as a company man, making the NBA Finals would be the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
[Catch a glimpse of Gladman's weekly TV show The Hangout on NBA TV Canada here: https://youtu.be/LnCEp7qU2kI]
But LeBron keeps getting in our way. This year, he did it in a style that was becoming of humanity’s greatest athletes. His basketball acumen, ability, and intelligence continue to be unmatched. Clevelanders know all this because they see him play every night.
I also know. I live in Toronto.
For the third consecutive month of May, LeBron and the Cavaliers eliminated the Raptors from the NBA Playoffs, although this year was more of an evisceration than an elimination. LeBron had an answer for every attempt the Raptors had at winning.
It was during my time in The Land during the weekend of Games 3 and 4 that I came to love this city once and for all. Its sights, its sounds, and its kind and thoughtful people.
I’ve been coming here twice a year for nearly 15 years as a Raptors staffer, and often once per summer to catch a concert at Blossom Amphitheatre in Cuyahoga Falls. You all know, that shed is one of the sweetest places to catch live music in America, right?
What stood out for me this time was the people’s attitude toward the sporting competition. Everyone knew the Raptors were good this year. They finished with the best record in the East, and the Cavaliers had a subpar regular season. Not only that but the Indiana Pacers had stretched them to 7 games in the first round of the playoffs.
So, the Ohio fans may have been nervous but they knew history was on their side. They knew LeBron and the Cavs would win this series, and they let you—all of us—know it. But they told us in a way that made us want to be friends anyway. These Cleveland people have heart. They know.
I stayed at The Metropolitan at the 9. The staff couldn’t have been more kind and courteous. I bought some groceries at Heinen’s. Awesome store, terrific people minding the place. I went to the annual Cleveland VegFest (https://clevelandvegansociety.org/) and didn’t have enough time—I had to report for work at Game 3. I could have stayed all day, especially to eat the goods from Urban Soul Grille (www.urban-soul-grille.com/) and Helio Terra Vegan Cafe. Do you know how good your vegan scene is, Cleveland?
On the night in between Games 3 and 4, all the Toronto sports media folks descended on Johnny’s (www.johnnyscleveland.com), that little corner tavern on the east side of downtown. This is a yearly tradition for us. There were a couple of Clevelanders there. Some flight staff from Oakland, strangely enough. And then us … 30-40 strong, celebrating living, commiserating a sure sweep, singing. Mostly, we all just felt at home, away from home.
So consider this a thank you note to Cleveland and its citizens. I’ll even wish you well in the Eastern Conference Finals against Boston. You have LeBron so I’m not sure if you’ll need it. Thank you for a real good time. And thank you for understanding that even if our team isn’t the best right now, we might be one day. You know what that feels like.
Dan Gladman is the Toronto Raptors TV Broadcast Producer. He has worked for and covered the team for 17 years. He goes to a lot of live rock ‘n’ roll concerts during the off-season.
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