It’s been over a week and a half since the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA Championship (our first in franchise history) and I’m STILL taking it all in. I actually had to re-watch the game and rally on the one week anniversary. I couldn’t help it! It was awesome and also didn’t include the stomach craps… or the OCD / superstitious rituals of walking away when things started to look Andrew Dice Clay. But watching it the second time around also didn’t take away from the emotion, excitement, or pride I felt as I relived every moment including the Block (by James) and the Shot (courtesy of Irving). And then to hear the team speak at the rally, some shirtless, some not, reflecting on what it meant to them made everything come together.
“Man, I’ve been watching The Block more than anything because there’s no shot without The Block,” explains Irving during the rally. “You see a guy chasing down a shot like that and then I get a chance on the biggest stage, Game 7, man, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” We wouldn’t either, Kyrie.
But back to that glorious June night…It’s hard to describe the feeling that overcame Cleveland, the fans, the team, me, as time ran out in the fourth quarter, LeBron pointed to the hoop after Golden State’s final attempt gone bad, and just like that the fifty-two year losing streak was over. I think my heart skipped a beat. I just put my hands over my mouth and said, “Oh my God. We won.” My father, many of his wonderful ESPN Radio colleagues, and I watched the game from the station. When it was over, I looked over at my dad who was just staring at the television. He was suppose to be getting ready to do his post-game show with Michael Reghi, former Cavs play by play announcer, and another diehard who lives and breathes Cleveland sports. But he just stood there, speechless, in awe, paralyzed by the freedom of having that gigantic weight lifted from his jaded spirit. So we floated there for a moment – just to make sure it was real.
It’s not that I couldn’t believe it. It was just that we had all witnessed this scenario play out over the years time and time again, always coming close and always letting our achilles’ heel or just bad luck get the best of us. Look, I’m relatively young. At thirty, I’ve only been alive to experience and really understand the heartbreak since 1995, when the Cleveland Indians went to the World Series and lost. I had spoken to Mike Hargrove, Sandy Alomar, and Bobby D. of the Indians earlier that year. They all told me what it was like to hold that bottle of cold champagne, ready to pop it open, only to watch it get rolled away to the other locker room with tears in their years. But not this time. This time was actually our time – just as I had wished, hoped, prayed, and yes BELIEVED. And it came true. The champagne was ours to drink. But of course after a good cry. We’re good at that. We’ve had years to practice, but these were tears of joy.
I think I finally broke when I saw Tyronn Lue just sitting there on the bench, holding his head in his hands, sobbing, letting the sweat towel absorb the last five months of stress that actually paid off. And then LeBron, collapsed on the floor, living out the prophecy that he proclaimed as a teenager. He knew it could be done, but he had no idea how hard it was going to be. Literally, no other NBA team has come back after being down three games in the finals. “Against all odds,” he said. “I don’t know why the man above gives me the hardest road, but … the man above don’t put you in situations that you can’t handle. I just kept that same positive attitude. Instead of saying why me, I said this is what He wants me to do. And, uh, Cleveland — this is for you!”
LeBron, you’re the best. And I think we can all learn a little something from that. We can also learn a little something from Uncle Drew – performing under pressure and making every play, every shot, including that last amazing three-pointer count. For the record, I love you Kyrie. I’ll name my first born after you.
And then there’s JR Smith who gave one of the most heartfelt, gracious speeches I’ve ever heard – thanking his own parents for raising him the way they did, wearing his emotions on his sleeve as he wept to a filled room of reporters. The media gave him a standing ovation. The City of Cleveland then gave the entire team a five hour standing ovation at the celebration parade and rally. No, there were no fires. The city did not explode as many fans predicted. But it did erupt with joy and the entire greater metro region, including fans abroad, united in one very small concentrated area to give thanks to the team that personified our native hard-working culture and internal fight to come out on top just this once.
It made me so happy to witness my father’s unwavering devotion finally pay off as he smiled, giddy like a kid, at the players passing by on their floats, some shirtless, some not. Fans, young and old, rejoicing together! It was an experience like no other. All smiles. And an unforgettable month of June that included a week-long celebration and greeting the team at the I-X Center as they deplaned to watch LeBron hoist that trophy over his shoulders. The fans couldn’t be more grateful to The Cavs for finally bringing home a championship for us all to enjoy.
I always knew they could do it, but of course there were trials and tribulations. I guess I had my positivity and faith restored after Game 5. But then after winning Game 6, there was this unfamiliar sense of calm and gratitude that resonated throughout the entire Land that made many of us believe we had this. You could see it in the newscaster’s and weather woman’s eyes as they gave their reports. Sunny skies. You could smell a win in the air. Yes, my tummy was a rumblin’ the entire day leading up to and during Game 7, but the Cavs persevered and powered through the rhetoric of the opposing team’s fans and the fight of the Warriors. And let me remind those of you who must be reminded – Draymond Green and company had two more chances to win just one more game TOGETHER, and they couldn’t. But good effort. They are a great team. But as Clevelanders know all too well, someone has to finish second.
I feel like I’m living in a fairy tale. Seriously. And this is our happily ever after. As I mentioned earlier, there is no Great and Powerful Oz behind the curtain controlling the game, and I don’t think the Illuminati was in on this new sports world order, but I do think this is our destiny. And our destiny includes winning a championship in true Cleveland fashion, making history, and yes, breaking a few records in the process! Maybe He (God) does play a role. Maybe He’s a basketball fan. But I’d like to think that we, the fans, and the City of Cleveland manifested this giant orb of positive energy (you know, like that pink bubble that Glinda The Good Witch uses) around an exceptionally talented group of guys who gave it their all and who really deserved and wanted it. And finally we finished in first.
With the pressure off who knows, maybe it will happen again next year. But we may not have to wait that long! The Cleveland Indians are on a thirteen game winning streak and are in first place in the American League. Why not a World Series win too? My dad told me later that night (of Game 7) after recovering from shock, that he’s greedy now. He wants more! The man got a crock- pot, an NBA Championship, and crab cakes for Father’s Day, so why not get greedy? He’s waited long enough. Maybe Charlie Brown will finally kick that game winning field goal for the Browns (That was a joke). No but seriously, we have an AHL Calder Cup (I apologize for not giving The Monsters the credit they deserved before), an NBA Championship, a UFC heavyweight title, and we’re winning baseball games. So far, 2016 has been a fantastic year for Cleveland sports. Let’s keep going. After all, the curse is finally broken! #Allin2016 #Clevelandisthecity #ultimatewarrior #MVP!