I’m from Sandusky, Ohio…which is almost exactly between Toledo and Cleveland on the shores of Lake Erie. Toledo is about 50 miles west of Sandusky and Cleveland is about 55 miles east of Sandusky. Sandusky’s claim to fame is Cedar Point, the best amusement park in the world. If you’ve been there, you know why. If you haven’t been there, don’t come trying to feed me your bullshit about other amusement parks.
Cedar Point is a peninsula stretching out from the east side of Sandusky, pointing westward so that one could see it from any bank of Sandusky’s shore on Lake Erie. In the daytime, it rises above the murky water, looking like a playful giant’s erector set. In the night time, Cedar Point is lit up like a jubilee of multi-colored lightning bugs mating with the darkness of the night sky that creates its backdrop.
Sandusky, Ohio is one of the great ports of freedom. Sandusky is one of the last vestibules on Harriet Tubman’s famous “Underground Railroad”. Sandusky is located near a series of islands that span across Lake Erie where slaves would find easy passage, or easier passage, or even just accessible passage, into Canada. Although Ohio was a northern fee state, being in Canada almost ensured a slave’s freedom during those dark days. In the summertime, passage was provided by a sympathetic white man’s boat. It the wintertime, passage was provided by the sympathetic freezing of the lake. Both had their dangers, but both were worth taking.
I don’t know if they still have them today, but when I was still living in Sandusky, there was a historic house tour where one could go into the houses of slave-hiders and see the hidden antechambers, hidden hallways, and hide-rooms where free men and women…who were, by some deranged factor of human existence, considered property…hid and staved off capture until they could make their way to freedom.
This is my favorite thing about Sandusky, Ohio. We are rich in righteousness. Rich in freedom.
Well, there goes my paragraph about Cedar Point.
From west to east, Toledo has Klinger from “M.A.S.H.” talking incessantly about his Mud Hens minor league baseball team. They also have Jimmy Jackson, NBA superstar at one point, who went to Macomber H.S. in Toledo, and whom I’ve played against at Sandusky’s old Central Park, which is no more. There will be other posts about Central Park…one of the most unheralded hooping meccas of the gangster-rap late ‘80s.
Then comes Sandusky, complete with Scott May, member of the undefeated 1976 Indiana Hoosiers NCAA basketball team. And let’s just add: STILL…the last undefeated team in NCAA history. And let’s add: 2nd pick in the NBA draft and part of the all-rookie team and NBA
veteran for 7 years, which was only cut short due to injuries. We also have #1 draft pick in the NFL draft, starting left tackle for the “Greatest Show on Turf” St. Louis Rams, Orland Pace, who, while in college, coined the term (or had the term coined for him) “Pancake Block”, whereas he would drive a defender straight into the fucking ground. Let’s just add: NFL Hall of Famer Orlando Pace. And let’s just also add: Orlando Pace played hoops at Central Park with me and my brother. Then we had the McCloskey brothers…the only two white dudes allowed to play at Central Park, when they were in their infancy of high school, but in their height of basketball “fuck yous”. The brothers who, when they go back to Sandusky till this day, brothers know. Basically these two white dudes didn’t know what they didn’t know so they didn’t show what they didn’t know so they just went down and played the un-race-biased language of hoopin’ on fools…the un-race-biased language of basketball. And it worked. Harriet Tubman would’ve been proud with their run towards a different kind of racial freedom.
I would be remiss if I didn’t interject that Charles Woodson, one of the best NFL defensive backs to ever to play the game, was right in the general neighborhood, in Fremont, Ohio, which is less than a quarter-tank of gas from both Toledo and Sandusky.
Then…we come to Cleveland. The starved city. The factory of sadness. Where Jim Brown looms. Jim Brown is only second in athlete-to-awareness ratio to Muhammad Ali. Jim Brown, who many consider the finest football player, if not athlete, ever to play a sport, any sport. Where, if you’re in the know, Danny Greene looms. But this is about sports. Look up Danny Greene if you want, or just watch “Kill the Irishman”. But I digress. Where Otto Graham was a Quarterback for the Browns back in the day and won 7 championships between 1946 and 1955, competing in every championship game over that 10 year span. Think about that shit. Seven titles in ten years! Where Cleveland also has Bob Feller, a freakishly ferocious pitcher who threw 3 no hitters and helped the Indians win a World Series in 1948. He was considered the fastest throwing pitcher ever, until Nolan Ryan came along. And even that is debatable. Where, just down the road from Cleveland, the patch of earth know as Canton, Ohio houses the Pro Football Hall of Fame. There are many other greats, to be for sure. These are just some of them.
Many of us all today, if not all, were not in Cleveland to witness winning. We had a couple of Cleveland Indians teams make the World Series, only to lose. We had two heart-breaking Cleveland Brown losses to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship games during the 1980’s, We even had The King himself, LeBron James…Lebronavision, as I like to call him, because he is must-see TV…lose…get swept in his first NBA finals.
I was a born in the 1970s, so when people ask me who my favorite NFL team is, I answer, “I was born 55 miles west of Cleveland, so naturally, I’m a Pittsburgh Steelers fan”. Which I am and always will be.
Now we have this.
I’m just gonna start from the “now”, not from the past, which I understand is a hypocritical stance to take after my last several paragraphs.
LeBron James made good…not on a promise…not on a need of his to assuage the media…but on a need of his that burns to the core of his very soul. His hometown. His Cleveland, which his true home of Akron is an attachment of. He delivered something that transcends sports. He delivered hope and joy to millions of people who have been ridiculed and derided for having neither. He didn’t just bring the championship home to Cleveland…he eradicated the debt of millions of thoughts and prayers that actual hard working people put into their daily lives. LeBron made an entire region of earth feel like their hopes and dreams were worthwhile. This was done in dramatic fashion. The most dramatic fashion ever, in fact…overcoming a 3 to 1 deficit in a “Best of Seven” series for the first time in NBA Finals history…against the team that won more regular season games than any other team in NBA history. I’m fairly sure he didn’t mean to do it that way. But, in hindsight, he did it the only way it could truly be done for “The Land”. With Cleveland holding history close to its heart without wavering and being rewarded. With Cleveland having a strong history in sports that is undeniable and being rewarded. With Cleveland having blue-collar, die-hard fans living and dying with their hopes of righteousness and being rewarded.
With the King of today’s basketball taking us on the greatest rollercoaster ride any of us have ever been on.
With LeBron James helping the runaways of northern Ohio sports fans find their way to the promise land, holding their fandom in his hidden chambers, protecting them, shielding them, and then giving them a grand tour…until that last, penultimate moment…when he released them to the exultation of their much deserved, once dormant freedom.