Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Thursday, April 07, 2005

March 30, 2005 Is Cleveland worthy of Phil Jackson?

Red Right 88

If the title of my column made you chuckle, then you understand where I start sport-wise. If not, be patient as more will be explained in future columns. The first installment of “Red Right 88” is running here on the editorial page this week only. Starting next week, you will find it regularly in the sports section.
Josh Ronschke instant messaged me last week. I first met Josh when I coached against him in the eighth grade Lutheran schools league. He was a lanky kid who wore goggles. Ala Reggie Miller, he scored eight points in about twenty seconds to close out the first quarter. That was one of only two times I yelled at my team all season. When I finished my tirade about letting a kid in goggles show us up, I yelled at the cheerleaders for letting the other team’s fans make more noise than our own fans in our home gym.
It was brutal game -- ask me sometime and I will share how one of my players got knocked cold by the pop machine and the ref tried to choke my assistant coach. But it ended happily as we held Josh scoreless for the fourth quarter and won the game.
Over the years, Josh attended my open gyms and youth group events. I took him golfing and to Tribe games. We even made a few trips to watch LeBron when the Chosen One was still in high school. Even then, we both knew he was the real deal. Now that Josh is in college and has his own car, I don’t hear from him all that often.
Anyway, his most recent instant message was simple: “Will Phil Jackson coach the Cavs?”
My short answer was blunt: “NO!”
Josh wanted to know why. And so I explained. I can’t be as eloquent here because of space constraints, but my jist was Cleveland wasn’t good enough for Phil. Yes, he coached in the cold weather of Chicago, but that was before he was PHIL JACKSON. He has tasted the bright lights of Hollywood and I dared to say Cleveland wasn’t big enough for him. Plus I explained how it could only hurt his legacy and not help it. If he came, it would not stop the complaints that he needed superstars to win. As in Michael/Scottie, Shaq/Kobi, LeBron/Michael Redd or whatever free agent Jackson’s stature would attract. I had more and when I finished Josh meekly replied, “That makes sense.” He signed off promising to call me to go golfing soon.
The truth was I was trying to convince myself more than Josh. I wasn’t always this way. I am too young to have become Mike Trivanssano or Dick Fegler. But sometimes I wish that the Sin Tax had never passed. I recall as a youngster lining up at the Stadium’s gates before they opened on a Saturday, then rushing down to the front row of general admission next to the foul pole. It only cost a buck and I was in the front row. My dad would bring the hotdogs in a thermos and we would wrap them in the Millbrook Snoopy bread we bought day old from the factory on West 117th.
In high school, I worked at the Stadium. I saw Dave Steib’s no hitter, Cecil Fielder drill three homers and then get walked intentionally when he went for his fourth. I saw the baseball stitch marks on the guy stupid enough to taunt Albert Belle. I saw Webster Slaughter go ninety-plus on a pass from my beloved Bernie and I laughed as fans pelted that poor photographer during the Oilers game (sorry Larry.) We may have never won but I always truly believed that next year we would. A true believer.
Then I went to college. They built the Jake, expectations went through the roof, the place filled with more people wanting to see Slider than sliders. The Browns owner (no, I still can’t say his name) got jealous and left town. That unconditional love the fans had is long gone. It now seems like a bad marriage gone horribly wrong. Like many of you, I expect bad things to happen.
I often give my dad grief about his father picking here to settle and forcing on me a lifetime of sports nightmares. But the truth is Cleveland was a paradise for my father’s father. I never meet him because he passed on before I was born. But it turns out that gramps gave grams an ultimatum, “Marry me or I reenlist a third time.” She didn’t know it, but he decided he would rather be shot at than work in a coal mine. They left the hills of Pennsylvania to honeymoon at Euclid Beach in Cleveland. It was only then that he told her they were staying as he found a job working for the city of Lakewood trimming trees. Little shacks in Birdtown was the good life for gramps. And I can imagine my grandfather in a tree breathing fresh air saying, “It doesn’t get any better this.”
So while “Cleveland, better than coal mines” isn’t going on any Chamber of Commerce T-shirts, I suppose it offers perspective. It is only games, right? Just sports, right?
But then again, why shouldn’t we expect the best? Why can’t we be the elite and expect good things to happen?
Please come Phil. You have to coach somewhere. Why not here? I want to believe again. I need to believe again. I have always thought that believing you were going to win was actually more powerful than winning itself. I would like to find out, firsthand. And, I’m sure, a lot of other Clevelanders would, too.