Joe Burrow’s Journey to Cleveland LeBron Kid Cudi Browns More
CLEVELAND — NBA star Donovan Mitchell He had just settled into his new digs in Cleveland when a direct message on Instagram caught his eye.
It was a note from Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow welcoming Mitchell to Cleveland. Since the two weren’t following each other on Instagram at the time, Mitchell isn’t even sure how he saw the message. But he knew how it felt when he did.
“For me to get it, it was a great welcome to the city and it shows how much Cleveland loves its sports,” Mitchell, who was traded from Utah last month, told ESPN. “I was a Cleveland fan growing up, and even though it’s in Cincinnati, I’m still excited to be a part of it. I think it was pretty dope.”
The city of Cleveland, which is three hours north of Burrow’s hometown of Athens, Ohio, has been a major influence on Burrow’s athletic and musical interests. The Southeast Ohio native grew up a huge Cavs fan and has a photo of him in a tight fit. lebron james t-shirt that went viral to prove it. He has become good friends with Grammy-winning musician Kid Cudi, the Cleveland rapper whose music Burrow grew up listening to. And in high school, Burrow even had a brief stint as a fan of the Cleveland Browns — the team he’ll face on “Monday Night Football” (8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN2).
The game represents Burrow’s dual loyalty. The man molded by Cleveland is now building his legacy with the city’s intrastate rival.
Of all the things Burrow has accomplished in his career, there is one thing that has eluded him: a win over the Browns. Cincinnati lost both meetings in 2020, and Burrow’s only appearance against Cleveland in 2021 was a 41-16 shutout in Week 9.
“You can bet he’s aware of it and wants to change it,” said Jimmy Burrow, Joe’s father. “It’s one of those things that hopefully he’ll check off his to-do list.”
MITCHELL WAS FINE familiar with Burrow’s exploits when the Utah Jazz traded the three-time All-Star to Cleveland on Sept. 1. He saw Burrow, in his second season, lead the Bengals to Super Bowl LVI, where they lost to the Branches of Los Angeles 23-20 on February 13.
“I’ve never met him, but just from the outside looking in, he seems like a confident guy,” Mitchell told ESPN. “To do what he did last year, it’s really impressive, and I have a lot of respect for him.”
And yes, he’s seen that picture of Burrow, the one of a teenage Burrow wearing a No. 23 LeBron Cavs jersey.
In 2014, James announced that he would return to the Cavaliers after a four-year stint with the Miami Heat. Ryan Luehrman, Burrow’s longtime friend, remembers being at Athens High School when they found out. Burrow immediately ran home, found his old LeBron jersey and took a mirror selfie with a simple caption: “He’s back.” The message that reached her group of friends on Snapchat eventually made its way back to social media, where it circulated.
“I started seeing him on Twitter,” Luehrman said. “I said, ‘What the hell? I haven’t seen that photo in forever, who got it?’ Now people post it all the time. I find it pretty funny.”
Throughout college stints at Ohio State and LSU, Burrow had a penchant for red Matthew Dellavedova jersey, a Cavs cult hero.
“He’s in a hurry,” Burrow said in 2016 while Burrow was at Ohio State. “He’s down to earth. My kind of guy.”
And then, as Burrow began to make a name for himself in the second of two seasons at LSU, the admiration began to be reciprocated. After Burrow’s 2019 season, which included a national championship and a Heisman Trophy, Dellavedova sent Burrow an electronic photo frame featuring some of the quarterback’s greatest moments, from touchdowns to Burrow’s final drive into the LSU’s Tiger Stadium and his Heisman Trophy speech.
Things went to another level last year. As Burrow led the Bengals to their best playoff run in three decades, he captured national attention. After Cincinnati beat Kansas City in the AFC Championship Game, James referred to Burrow as a generational talent, like himself. In a tweet, the Los Angeles Lakers The star said “Joe B is the absolute TRUTH! We all saw it and knew it.”
When the Bengals beat Kansas City, it showed why the Bengals used Burrow to transform the franchise. In three years, the Bengals went from worst team in the league to AFC champions. But it’s the reaction from people like James that left Burrow speechless.
“The situation I’m in socially doesn’t feel real,” Burrow said in his press conference after the AFC championship game. “In my head, I’m the same. Kid Cudi contacted me yesterday, you’ve got LeBron tweeting me. That part is surreal. The football part, not so much, but that stuff is crazy.”
BURROW WAS 11 years old years when Scott Mescudi, aka Kid Cudi, dropped his debut mixtape that launched his rap career. In a YouTube interview with audio company Bose last month, Burrow recalled being in the sixth grade when he first heard Kid Cudi’s music.
“My friend Marcus came up to me and said, ‘I’ve got to show you this guy’s music, kid. Coodie” Burrow said. “We started listening to it, and from then on I was hooked.”
Kid Cudi grew up in Shaker Heights, about 10 miles east of Cleveland. Oladipo Omishore, one of the long-time producers of the rapper who goes by the name Dot Da Genius, has toured with the artist since the beginning.
Omishore told ESPN that the connection between Kid Cudi and Cleveland was evident during his Moon Man’s Landing festival in the city in September. And the bond between Burrow and his favorite artist was equally evident.
“You can tell they’re cut from the same cloth,” the producer said. “Like they both have the same thing I do not know what that makes them an X-factor in their respective fields.”
Before every game, Burrow listens to Kid Cudi’s “New York City Rage Fest,” a 117-second song that features no words, lots of synths and a driving drum beat. Burrow and Kid Cudi have developed a personal relationship, so much so that Kid Cudi texted Burrow for his game jersey after the Bengals’ AFC title win.
Four days later, Kid Cudi tweeted the photo of the white uniform covered in grass stains. At the top of Burrow’s number 9 was his signature. At the bottom was a two-word message: “Ohio Love.”
Kid Cudi said he wasn’t much of a sports fan. But he made a point to sit back and watch Cincinnati beat Kansas City.
“I’m invested in it because it’s someone I know,” said the artist, whose latest album “Entergalactic” includes a song dedicated to Burrow. “It’s like the first time I’ve ever had. I’ve never had, like, a friend playing on a team where I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to root for them.'”
After the Bengals lost in Super Bowl LVI, Kid Cudi performed at the team’s afterparty, with Burrow curating the setlist. Omishore watched Burrow and several teammates take the stage as Kid Cudi performed.
“It’s a genuine relationship,” Omishore said. “How Cudi really looks at Joe Burrow as family now. And I can tell it’s the other way around. They both hold themselves very high. [regard].”
THE BURROW FAMILY Southeast Ohio’s home was sandwiched between three AFC North rivals. Athens is less than 215 miles from Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, which led to mixed loyalties at Athens High.
Burrow idolized the former New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees. When New Orleans selected USC star running back Reggie Bush second overall in the 2006 draft, Burrow had a new NFL team to favor.
Then, around high school, his allegiances shifted.
“I liked the Saints for a while and then I became kind of a Browns fan for a couple of years,” Burrow said at the 2020 scouting combine.
Luehrman said Burrow’s Cleveland fandom was unique even among his circle.
“Our group of friends, nobody was really friends with Cleveland,” Luehrman said.
Last year, Luehrman was among a dozen of Burrow’s friends who bought tickets to see the Bengals play the Browns in Cleveland in the final week of the regular season. When they made the purchase, they expected Burrow to lead Cincinnati into a game that could seal the team’s playoff fate. Instead, with the AFC North clinched a week early and the starters not playing, Burrow didn’t even travel.
“We sent a text message [him] about it, like, ‘Thanks dude, really, really fun watching you play with everybody,'” Luehrman said.
Over the years, Cleveland has given Burrow plenty of reasons to celebrate, except for what he’ll be looking for Monday night.
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