This just in from our Northeast Ohio correspondent: The Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team has become the 2016 NBA World Champions for the first time in the history of the franchise. Perhaps the enormity of this can only really be appreciated if you are geographically, socially, and culturally linked to the city of Cleveland and its surrounding towns and cities within a 100-mile radius. Or if you are a Cleveland “ex-pat” living somewhere else.
I’ve never really considered myself in any sense a “sports fan” in the same way that an overweight balding guy who paints himself in sickly orange and brown will stand in the snow at the Cleveland Browns stadium singing “Who Let the Dogs Out” while watching a bunch of overpaid amateurs lose on a regular basis, and will do the same thing week after week, year after year, yet continue paying ridiculous prices to be beaten by the same stick over and over and over again. No sir, that’s not me.
Nor do I have a small shrine in a room of my house that’s bedazzled with trophies of my high school sporting achievements from many years ago, interspersed with memorabilia and posters of half-remembered super-humans and demigods who performed some near Odyssean feats of wonder with a ball, a stick, or just their bare hands. No, my friends, that’s not me.
But last night as the buzzer went and the ball continued to fly, I found myself standing up and cheering in my living room. Yes, my own damned living room! Not even a sports bar or a stadium but the room where I usually spend time watching too much TV, too many movies, or writing too many free blog posts. My traditionally British stiff upper lip flopped around like a fish on a deck and there was a visceral and palpable surge of emotion that took over.
I’ve had several experiences over the past 20-something years that have reinforced the notion that at some level I have – as the English might say – “gone native.” Last night was a new one. I was only 7-years-old when England won the soccer World Cup in 1966, and too young and disinterested to grasp what it must have felt like to people at the time . It’s taken 50 years and another country to work it out. For a short time last night, “Ich war ein Clevelander.” For a brief period I felt part of a much larger community on an emotional level that I don’t often feel. Somehow the actions of a group of five guys tossing a ball into a hoop was about me and not them. Rationally, it really IS just five guys tossing a ball into a hoop, and I’m just an inert and passive spectator to the success of someone else. Yet emotionally, it’s very, very different.
Putting our hopes, dreams, faith, and trust in other people isn’t a new thing. In a few days time, they’ll be taking down the famous banner of LeBron James that’s hanging on a building directly opposite the basketball stadium to prepare for the coming of the RNC – the Republican National Convention. In less than a month, triumph will give way to Trump as politicians, pundits, and pressure groups will flood the city for front-row seats to the next gladiatorial spectacle in Cleveland. Simultaneously, around the country, millions of Trump supporters will be putting their hopes, dreams, faith, and trust in a man who makes them feel like I did last night.
Yesterday afternoon, I was out with my wife, daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren on their boat, cruising a local lake and quaffing cold beer in the heat of the Ohio sun. As we snacked on spicy wings and thick cheesy pizza – the perfect companions to ale – Ben told me he was thinking of buying an AR-15 semi-automatic simply because recent calls for banning such weapons is “against his right to bear arms” and “unconstitutional,” and that owning one is his right as an army Vet and American .
I have a different view. But after last night’s brief and powerful surge of emotion about something as trivial as a basketball game, I guess I can comprehend what he might feel. He’s simply a reflection of a viewpoint that is special to America – the Gun Culture. And amongst my “going native” moments is the one from maybe ten years or so ago when I decided that I wasn’t against gun ownership and that the way to tackle the issue at a pragmatic level was stricter gun control. Me. The kid from Lancashire. Pro-gun?
Actually, I’m no more “pro-gun” than I am “pro-abortion.” Labels such as “pro-” and “anti-” are often used to falsely polarize arguments into tidy “black-or-white” or “right-or-wrong” dichotomies that simply don’t exist. Anyone who uses phrases such as “you’re either for X or against X” is merely demonstrating that their level of political discourse is so shallow that you couldn’t even float an argument let alone push it. But then again, the folks using such rhetoric are frequently not appealing to any notion of Reason but firmly attached to Emotion.
Which brings me back to the thrilling finale to the 2016 basketball season and my new-found but probably temporary feeling of civic pride. I’m glad the Cavaliers won. I’m happy Cleveland has its first major league sports championship since 1964. I’m excited that Northeast Ohioan’s can celebrate a social singularity for at least a week. I’m thrilled to be wearing my brand new championship hat. And on this first day of what might be a long, hot summer, I’m just a little disheartened that I’ve been reminded how easy it is for rationality to be overcome by emotion. Ad mores natura recurrit damnatos, fixa et mutari nescia – Human nature ever reverts to its depraved courses, fixed and immutable.
 The phrase “go native” is first noted in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, where we find the sentence “Kim did not sweep the board with his reminiscences; for St. Xavier’s looks down on boys who ‘go native altogether.'” A remnant of Britain’s colonial days, “going native” was seen as a bad thing and part of a slide to becoming “un-English.” The peril of “going native” was such a problem that British Foreign Office diplomats were rarely allowed to spend more than five years in a post. Its early pejorative sense is less so nowadays and tends simply to refer to the way on which ex-pats take up the habits of their new country of residence without thinking about it.
 Oddly what I do remember is that I was into stamp collecting, and when the Royal Mail issued a special commemorative 4d (four pennies) stamp, my mum took me to the Post Office to buy one, which I proudly added to my album. Sadly I have no recollection of what I did with my old stamp albums and no longer have it. So much of our lives disappears as if it had never happened. Sigh!
 My son-in-law Ben is a great guy and perfect for my somewhat “spirited” older daughter. She (and we) had a somewhat troubled teenage period but he’s been able to calm her down to the point where she’s not the girl she was – and that’s good. He’s a hard-workin’, family-lovin’, country music singin’ kind o’ redneck who brings me pieces of dead deer and slaughtered ducks when hunting season in on. When we spent many hours putting together a wooden train-set for his son one Christmas, he was the one who went out and bought a growler of beer so “the men” could get the job done. Coincidentally, two years later he got his current job with CSX Transportation, a railroad company that presumably deemed our night of construction as perfect experience for the post! His politics lean ever-so-heavily to the right and the only reason he hasn’t got a Donald Trump sticker on his truck is because he’d have to take his “2nd amendment” gun sticker off. But here’s the thing; at the family level, we all still muddle along despite our differences. In fact, his attitude towards gays has softened since he married my daughter and then realized that he now had a lesbian sister-in-law in the form of my younger child! It’s comforting to know that once he was actually able to spend time with her and realize she had one head, two legs, and didn’t eat babies, his tolerance has improved. Now I admit, he’s unlikely to be taking part in the next Cleveland Gay Pride march nor add a rainbow sticker to the back of his Ford F-150 but it’s a start!