Wanderlust: Expat Life & Style in Thailand The Relationships Issue - Page 66



Far from home , rooting for the home team — and figuring out what it means to be a sports fan in a globalized world
By Jimmy Lepore Hagan

I told my Uncle Jeff I was moving to Thailand . “ But you ’ re going to miss the Cavaliers ’ run for the title !” he said .

As devoted sports fans living near the American city of Cleveland , Ohio , we ’ d watched almost every major sporting failure of our community together . And though sports weren ’ t at the top of my priorities back then , he did have a point .
I ’ d certainly contemplated the problem . It was October 2015 , and I was on the cusp of packing up and making Bangkok my new home . But how would I handle being away from my beloved teams and their beloved , if often ill-fated , efforts ? Should I just ignore them all and enjoy my travels ? I decided to go for it and enter into a far-flung fling with my hometown teams .
I thought about what I needed to do to maintain my long-distance sporting dalliance . I investigated time zones and tip-offs , internet streaming packages and 24-hour sports bars . We were gonna make it work , I told myself . Right ? Well , maybe . Throughout my adult life and that of my uncle ’ s , our little part of the world known as Northeast Ohio had never won a major championship in any sport . Not in baseball , American football or basketball . In fact , our baseball team , the Indians , hadn ’ t won a World Series — the sport ’ s pinnacle accomplishment — since 1948 , just two years after King Bhumibol ascended to the Thai throne .
Northeast Ohio is the kind of place where sports are , you could argue , even more important than they are in other regions . Part of a section of America known as the “ Rust Belt ,” for decades it was a haven of metal and mettle and manufacturing . Today , though , like so many swaths of the country that built their reputation on building things , its identity is wrapped up in a continuing struggle to survive — and to prevail . Sports — all about survival and prevailing — helps to sustain that dream .
Just as I was preparing to leave America , things in the world of sports seemed to be looking up for Northeast Ohio : In June 2015 , under the guidance of LeBron James , known as “ The One ,” The Cavaliers made it to the NBA Finals . The hope was real but fleeting : Outgunned and outmatched , the Cavs lost in heartbreaking fashion . The scorching defeat left me in tatters , right there on Uncle Jeff ’ s balcony .
And then I left for distant shores .
The first test of our long-distance love affair arrived when the Cavaliers returned to the NBA Finals once more last year . By this time , I was well settled in Bangkok , far from Uncle Jeff and my sports-fan friends .
LeBron , born and bred in Northeast Ohio , returned to our forgotten part of the world to bring home the championship we all wanted so much . And win he did .
I shared the improbable victory in typical Bangkok fashion — surrounded by strangers . The magic of that moment overwhelmed me . I called Uncle Jeff immediately after the final whistle , but all I could hear was elated cheering on the other end of the phone . Though nothing could diminish the tingling euphoria of finally winning a championship , I wasn ’ t a part of it in the way I ’ d envisioned since age 6 . Something was missing .
But the Cavs were one thing . Cleveland ’ s baseball team , the Indians — well , that was something else entirely .
My childhood was bookended by gloriously desperate baseball letdowns . I ’ d watched the Indians ’ improbable World Series runs cut