For over a week now, I have attempted to sit down and put together something unique in regard to the Cleveland Cavaliers winning the NBA Finals. Instead, I sat back and watched as fan after fan filled my social media timeline with emotions many of them thought they would never experience in their lifetime.
Days went by, and still I could not find the words to properly convey to all of you what this championship meant to me. But here I find myself, a little over a week since an amazing parade in the city of Cleveland and the words seem to finally be coming to me.
It seems like another lifetime ago, but I was 10-years old when the Indians lost to the Atlanta Braves in the World Series. Which means two years later, I was 12-years old when the Indians again lost in the World Series—this time to the Marlins.
For a young boy who played baseball from the age of four, watching the players you idolized by wearing their numbers, memorizing their batting stances and learning how to bare-hand a ground ball on the run (Omar fans out there know what I am talking about) from lose in that manner was heartbreaking. The devastation of those losses helped to make a young Cleveland fan numb, because if two of the best baseball teams I ever saw could not win one for the city—who would step up to the challenge.
Six years later as a high school senior in 2003, a new hope arose for the city. I remember leaving an award ceremony during the NBA Draft lottery that year to listen to it in my car. The Cleveland Cavaliers had an opportunity to land a franchise altering prospect from just 40 minutes down the road, an 18-year old named LeBron James, so I wanted to make sure I could listen to this historic moment. When the announcement was made, I ran back into the awards ceremony to celebrate with my friends who did not leave. Finally, things were looking up again for the city of Cleveland.
The arrival of James in Cleveland was the dawn of a new era of basketball for a team that won 17 games the year before. James was touted as the next coming of Michael Jordan, a player who was supposed to take the league by storm and lead his team to many championships. And take the league by storm he did, winning Rookie of the Year and becoming an international icon within just a few years of being in the league.
When James led the Cavaliers to the NBA Finals in 2007 against the San Antonio Spurs, nobody expected them to win—not even the Cleveland fans. James’ rise to superstar happened too quickly, his team and front office was not ready to take on the mighty Spurs. Being swept was not a disappointment, it just gave the city and fans a taste of what could be if the front office could put pieces around “The Chosen One.”
Unfortunately for the Cavaliers and their fans, James would not lead them back to the NBA Finals again before he departed for Miami in 2010. The “Big Three” in Boston would end their run in the playoffs twice, while the Magic would do the honors in the other year. In two of those seasons, James and the Cavaliers won 60-plus games—only to find themselves on the outside looking in at the NBA Finals and a championship. Put simply, the curse was real.
When James left for Miami, we were all convinced a championship was never coming. If the greatest player on the planet in basketball could not deliver one to the city, who could? The Indians were the definition of mediocrity in baseball at the time, the Cleveland Browns were a disaster and now the Cavaliers had to start over by gutting a roster built with parts to surround James.
If that was not enough, the Ohio State Buckeyes would soon be rocked with a scandal that would oust an idol head coach who delivered the team a championship and restored greatness to a storied football program.
So here we were, again in rebuild mode. Though the Cavaliers drafted a promising Kyrie Irving a year later, no end seemed in sight. Even when the Indians teased everyone with a Wild Card run, the city and fans knew better. The curse was still real.
But then something happened that would change everything in 2014, James decided to come home. The assets the Cavaliers had been accumulating in the four years since his departure could now be moved, and suddenly Cleveland had a championship contender.
Expectations for the city of Cleveland were instantly changed. A budding superstar in Irving was now a second option to the best basketball player on the planet, one who had just won two NBA Championships in four seasons in Miami. Then, the Cavaliers shipped off Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota to add the third piece to the puzzle in Kevin Love. Just like that, the Cavaliers finally had a “Big Three” of their own.
So here we are, nearly two years to the date James decided to return home to Ohio. This time around, James accepted the challenge of delivering what so many thought he would do when the franchise won the rights to select him as an 18-year old straight out of high school. But how long would it take?
Well, we all know the answer to that. Two seasons, and now the city of Cleveland has the championship that has eluded it since 1964 when the Cleveland Browns were the best in football. And honestly, the feeling of my city finally winning a championship still has not set in.
Don’t get me wrong, the celebration that night at Victory Alley in Cleveland was one of the greatest moments of my life. As we took the party into the streets, a dance party of 500 people broke out in a parking lot to Journey music. There was no rioting, just pure joy and celebration of a 50-plus year weight being lifted off an entire region.
A few days later, the celebration came full circle as over a million Cleveland fans packed the city to witness the first parade since 1948 when fans celebrated a World Series win.
So here I am, sitting here wondering when it will actually hit me. I wear my championship gear with pride, I still high-five random people when we look each other in the eyes in public with that “yeah, we did it look.” But something has not clicked yet, it just has not set in that this really happened in my lifetime.
Maybe that is a good thing, maybe I will bawl like a baby when the championship banner is raised to the rafters at Quicken Loans Arena in a few months and it will all finally hit me. Maybe, just maybe, this sense of euphoria will come full circle then. But until that happens, I will enjoy every look of “we did it,” every high-five from a stranger and every last angry Golden State Warriors fan tweet of how the championship was rigged.
Because finally, the city of Cleveland can claim to be a champion in our lifetime—and that is something nobody can ever take from us.