There is so much wrong in this country (and in the rest of the world) to be outraged and passionate about. Crimes that go unpunished, the skyrocketing unemployment rate, poverty, you get the idea. But for many sports fans - and everyone in Cleveland - their ire is directed at one LeBron James for signing with another team as a free agent. Has there been any recent period of a time in which so many men were in touch with their raw emotions? It was the definition of "cathartic": providing psychological relief through the open expression of strong emotions. It’s easy to imagine Cleveland’s pain if you live in Miami and Dwyane Wade left for the Chicago Bulls this past summer. "But this was worse," they would say. LeBron was one of them. To some it was unthinkable that he went to Miami, of all places. Bandwagon fans, half-empty arenas, the Estefans. Where’s the sports culture? Where’s the passion? For some perspective, there is another city out West who could help explain the mysteries of the land where Riley’s latest diabolical masterpiece is currently unfolding.
Mmm. San Diego. Drink it in, it always goes down smooth. Discovered by the Germans in 1904, they named it San Diego, which of course in German means ‘a whale's vagina.’ - Ron BurgundyA sunny metropolis with gorgeous year-round weather, beaches, boats galore and a laid-back disposition to following professional sports that those in drearier cities perhaps will never understand. The curious thing about San Diego as a sports town is that it's also just like Cleveland. They’re both losers. Cleveland hasn’t won any type of championship since 1964. San Diego simply hasn’t won anything ever. Their combined franchises have played 88 full seasons without being #1. Not even the Clippers wanted to play there. From an excellent 2007 article about San Diego’s sports culture:
"People here would rather recreate than spectate," says Rick Schloss, a longtime sports public relations consultant who has lived here his entire life. "That's the way this place is." "It's a laid-back culture and a laid-back sports culture," says Steven Ungerleider, a leading sports psychologist based in Eugene, Ore., "and you're not going to have as high expectations to win. That can send a message to athletes and owners: 'We want to win, sure. But it's not the end of the world. We're also interested in other things. We're interested in having fun.'" And there it is, the great intangible of sport: expectations. The Padres have never won a World Series. The Chargers have never won a Super Bowl. The Rockets never won an NBA Finals while they were in San Diego, and the Clippers never came close. But, truth be told, how many people really care? The theory goes like this: People in snowbound, blue-collar cities invest more emotional capital in their sports teams and consequently derive more self-identity from their successes. San Diegans care less and thus expect less.While Miami may not be as laid-back as San Diego (a city with this many passionate Hispanics in it simply can’t be) there is some truth to the fact that there is plenty to do here in Miami that doesn’t involve putting their heart and soul into local pro teams. Truth be told, the lower bowl of AmericanAirlines Arena isn’t exactly filled to the brim with the most knowledgeable and animated Heat fans in the greater Miami-Dade area. For some reason, outsiders like to think this is an accurate cross-section of Heat supporters when in actuality die-hard Heat fans have been priced out of most, if not all, the good seats in the arena. Talk to any real Heat fan and the perception is that the arena has long been sold out and even if there were tickets they just couldn’t afford them. Sun Sports has been a beneficiary of this with record-breaking viewership this season. But those lower bowl seats are the ones visible to the rest of the nation during telecasts and when those "fans" (mostly filled by people that could just as easily be in those same seats for a Billy Joel or Jimmy Buffet concert on another night) arrive late and leave early it doesn’t exactly endorse Miami as a great sports town. There’s also another trait that Miami and San Diego share because of the weather. Again, from the same San Diego article:
Quick question: How many native San Diegans over the age of 50 do you know? Another way the weather may impact San Diego's ability to win a major championship is the hundreds of thousands of people who move here for it. They don't bring the East Coast weather with them, but they do bring their allegiances to sports teams. (Ever notice how many Chicago fans are at Petco Park for a Cubs game?) "How long does it take you to find a fan of another team in San Diego?" asks Sarver, the former PLNU baseball coach. "About two minutes. How long would it take you in Green Bay? There are just so many other (sports) cultures here that it contributes to the softening of our own culture, because you don't have everyone on the same page."This isn’t just an excuse, it’s a reality. I’m not sure I know even one adult who was born and raised here in Miami. All of this helps to contribute to the sports climate. Home games against the New York Knicks or Boston Celtics get plenty of natives out of the woodwork to cheer on their original home teams. For teams as young as the Heat (1988), Florida Panthers (1993) and Florida Marlins (1993) this is what they must deal with until their original and/or current fans have children who have grown up always cheering for the home team. And then those fans will have kids of their own one day. This simply can’t compete with the hundreds of collective seasons that other franchises in older cities have instilled on their community. The only notable exception in Miami? The Dolphins, the only team that’s been around long enough to have generations of sports fans and is the oldest professional team in all of Florida. Founded in 1966, just two years after Cleveland last won a championship, the team benefits from playing the country’s most popular sport but their fan-base is as spirited as any other team in the NFL. Perhaps Cleveland will never let LeBron off the hook for what he did. Maybe deep down they like their "lovable loser" reputation, something that everyone can collectively hang their hat on. But remember this: you are not alone in your losing. San Diego understands what you’re going through but they don’t even have grumpy old fans who remember what it was like to have their favorite team hoist a trophy. Neither does Sacramento, Orlando, San Jose, Columbus, Charlotte, Nashville, Memphis, Jacksonville, Buffalo and Salt Lake City. Many small market teams in all major sports will likely never know the feeling of winning it all either. Those in larger cities are going through it as well. Fans of the Chicago Cubs and White Sox get your frustration. Red Sox fans had to wait 86 long years before they got to taste victory again. Spain just won their first World Cup despite long being underachievers since the tournament was founded in 1930. Knowing all of this may not help Cleveland’s feeling towards LeBron. But it might be comforting to be mindful of the fact that you’re really not all that special when it comes to sports heartbreak. My advice? Take a vacation to a sunnier locale where you can take your mind off of your plight. You have two great options to choose from.