Monday, June 20, 2016
Being the underdog
We live in northeast Ohio.
While this might not seem significant to most, beyond noting that winter can be long and brutal, there is a soul crushing pattern in sport that has lasted for over half a century. We have slogged through decades of mediocrity only to have a few shining moments of hope, the dashing of which can be reduced to a handful of defining words: 'The Shot," "The Drive," "The Fumble." Even in the off season, when LeBron James took the opportunity to play elsewhere, the blow was dubbed "The Decision."
While some think that there is a pessimism or fatalism that comes with following sport in Cleveland, I notice a self-depreciating realism in it. A popular shirt around here reads: "Just One Before I Die!" Snark, with an undertone of truth, and a hint of desperation.
Last year, Brent was facing bone marrow transplant as the Cav's entered the postseason. We watched the games as a family, wishing good things for the city and following players that Brent and Lauren had met through Flashes of Hope.
In June, I remember things being pretty dicey for the RamerNation, between Lauren's brain surgery and Brent trying desperately to get to transplant. While I vaguely remember that Cleveland lost in the NBA finals, my attention was clearly elsewhere. It was disappointing for Brent, having so many of our players injured. For me however, it was not radically different from the long tradition of Cleveland-could-have-beens.
Bone marrow transplant in July brought only fleeting success: Brent relapsed in September. By Thanksgiving, Brent was desperately ill, with heavy disease burden, transfusion dependent, and completely vulnerable to infection. We had an exceptionally difficult meeting with his team of doctors, in which Brent selected the most aggressive but unproven treatment, one fraught with possibility for complications and deemed unlikely to succeed. But it at least offered a slim chance at coming home.
Against the odds, we celebrated Christmas full of joy, at home, with renewed hope.
By January, Brent had another relapse, which brought crushing despair. In February, Lauren appeared to have tumor regrowth as well, so we got busy making plans. With limited options, Brent again selected an aggressive treatment, one that was completely unproven, and as we were told, unlikely to work.
On Mother's Day, we received the fantastic news that Lauren had a stable brain MRI and Brent had achieved another improbable remission. I do not assume that is the end of our challenges, but it is a victory, albeit a tenuous one.
We have been thoroughly enjoying the basketball postseason this year. As Cleveland swept Detroit and Atlanta, I said that I didn't need any series to be close. Boring, I have often said, is beautiful. This applies both to sport and to health.
However, the Cavaliers ended up with a daunting challenge, one that was drummed into our heads over the past week: no NBA team in history has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the finals. I wanted to believe that just because it hadn't been done, didn't mean that it couldn't be done. For me, the parallels are pretty obvious.
Against all odds, The Cleveland Cavaliers defied the naysayers, ended 'The Drought" and brought home the NBA title in spectacular fashion, winning in the last seconds of game seven on the road. The city celebrates tonight.
The RamerNation witnessed this together.
I watched, overwhelmed in the aftermath, while LeBron tearfully expressed his feelings on the court. "I gave everything that I had. I poured my heart, my blood, my sweat my tears into this game and, against all odds. Against all odds-- I don't know why we want to take the hardest road. I don't know why the Man Above gives me the hardest road, but the Big Man Above don't put you in a situation that you cannot handle. And I just kept that same positive attitude, like, instead of saying 'Why me?' I was saying, 'This is what He wants me to do.' Cleveland, this is for you! I am home!"
Hope rises, once again. I am a Clevelander, after all. And if the Cav's can do what has never been done before, perhaps we might as well. Basketball may be just a game to some, but for us, this was an inspiring and transcendent performance, which defied conventional wisdom and previous experience.
I will always cheer for the underdog, who finds so much stacked against them, because we are that underdog on most days. We are working hard, fighting our way back, trying to extend the series.
It can be done.