I grew up in the Cleveland area, which means I am a Cleveland sports fan. Yes, that’s right. I admit it. I am part of a rare breed that loves their Cleveland teams, no matter how bad a season they are having. Our motto is “there is always next year” and, despite terrible odds, we go to sporting events hoping that somehow our beloved Cleveland team will win their game. When they don’t win, we still love them and we come up with reasons why they should have won. Such as: “They were robbed,” “We had bad calls” or “They are still rebuilding.” Only in Cleveland would fans hold a parade for the Indians after they lost the 1997 World Series. Yes, we are the only town that adores our teams and is proud to be number two. Going to a Cleveland sporting event is always an amazing experience.
Imagine my excitement when I had the chance to see a Cleveland team with a winning record and a good chance of winning the game! The Browns had just beaten the Steelers in an amazing game the night before. My husband went to the game and I was a little jealous that I could not go, too. I had to watch the game from home. Everyone in Cleveland was on a euphoric high. Once again, we had a reason to be proud to be Cleveland fans and I was going to see the Cleveland Cavaliers play Portland at the Quicken Loans arena.
If you follow basketball at all, you know LeBron James. Clearly one of the best basketball players of his time, LeBron is one of those players who people will always remember. LeBron is a local hero. He grew up in Akron, which is about 30 minutes from Cleveland. Not only would I watch him lead the Cavaliers to a victory in a close, exciting game, but also have the opportunity to go to the locker room for the after-game press conference.
The whole basketball experience is intense. It is almost like a concert with special effects. It is certainly an entertainment event. There are fireworks and a jumbotron, and halftime entertainment. The announcer encourages the crowd to be involved. The jumbotron shows images of the players asking the crowd to cheer. At one point during the game, LeBron appears on the jumbotron screen and asks the crowd if they want to win. Then he says that they can win with the crowd’s help. He asks the crowd to get on their feet and cheer and the fans obediently obey their leader, their legend.
Now here is the one problem, I was not supposed to cheer. I was representing ESPN The Magazine and I was not supposed to show my bias. I was not supposed to “stand up and cheer for your Cleveland Cavaliers”. So as the Cavs scored, I smiled to myself, but did not clap or cheer. I did a pretty good job of not showing my bias. But it was hard. In fact, some fans sitting by me asked me for whom I was rooting. I told them that I was writing a story. They then asked where I was from. I told them the Cleveland area and they said, “Oh, then you’re a Cavs fan.” They knew. They were part of the Cleveland sports fan club. They kept asking me my opinion on calls and I would just smile. “Come on,” they pleaded, “you’re a Cleveland fan. You hated that call, too.”
I realized that most people in the press area were really working hard. Could you imagine this being your job? They were very serious and were typing away intensely on their laptops as those around them were enjoying an exciting game. I am sure that many of them are fans and that they love their jobs, but they were very disciplined.
After the game, I had access to the locker room. Yes, I would have a chance to see LeBron up close. First, Coach Brown gave his after game interview while the players showered and got dressed. I stood right in front of Coach and heard all of his thoughts on the game. He talked about the team coming together and how they worked together as a team to the game. Then they opened up the door. They checked everyone’s press pass twice to get into the locker room. It made the experience that much more exciting to be included in an elite group that had access to the locker room. I felt almost out of place. I was surrounded by the media, professional writers and sports anchors. I tried not to stand out. I tried to look as if I knew what I was doing. I followed the crowd and tried to look like I belonged.
Once in the locker room, everyone ran over to interview LeBron. He was sitting on a bench in front of his locker. I looked around. All of the players’ names were above their personal area. I was surprised how comfortable they were. The players did not seem to mind that women were in the locker room, despite the fact that some of them were only wearing towels. Many of the players were not there. Varajo had a great game that night and I am sure the press would have interviewed him as well, but all the reporters were surrounding LeBron. He was much more soft spoken then I expected and, to my surprise, he was a person, not just a legend. Somehow, seeing him in person made me realize that he was an amazing athlete, but he was still just a guy. I almost felt sorry for him as the questions continued. I could tell he was tired as he was icing his knees. I know it is part of his job, but can you imagine working really hard and being really tired and then having to answer questions? I have worked trade shows and I knew the look. You are so tired and just want to go back to your room, but you have to smile and continue to be pleasant. You have to be on until you close your door. I am sure he was ready to go home. But I was intrigued, so I stood there with everyone else wanting to hear his thoughts on the game. I did not take very many pictures during the game because I was waiting for the interview. I did not realize that you can’t take pictures in the locker room, and actually pulled out my camera. Well, at least I went in the locker room—unlike my husband.
All in all, the experience was amazing. A Cleveland team winning an exciting, close game and the chance to meet a Cleveland legend all in one night. What more could a Cleveland girl ever want? Except maybe the Browns/Steelers game, too?