Promise me this: A great day in the Land!
Yep, our Cleveland Cavaliers are NBA champions.
They say it’s just a game – tell that to fans in a city that ain’t Cleveland!
Not only is “it” more than a game, it’s more than “the” game. The game is the thing that we have rallied around. It’s what we talk about, cheer about and cry about as a city throughout the years. It’s the “us” and the “our” part of the game that connects us.
We watched the Cavs from games gone bye with rabbit ear antennas to plasma screen televisions. We watched in basements and bars to iPhones and androids. We went from A.C. (Austin Carr) playing the game to A.C. announcing the game. Oh, we represent no matter what. But, today and tomorrow, we represent a little differently, we rep with a ring.
From the very first time my dad had me in tow to a Cavaliers game in the dark, dank confines of the Cleveland Arena, the world changed for me.
The Cleveland Arena looked like a big basement and it smelled like a combination of Zamboni oil, Carling Black Label beer and Abdullah the Butcher spitting fire. At this point I didn’t even know what a Cavalier was. A Rocco Scotti wannabe sang the national anthem, dad bought stale popcorn, and then a brother named Bingo showed up and started raining jump shots. All of a sudden, the Cleveland Arena didn’t seem so dark and dank. The crowd yelled “Bingo!” My dad yelled “Bingo!” And I yelled “Bingo!” Hell, I don’t even know if we won the game, but I was hooked. I was a Cavs fan.
We all have our own story to tell of how our fandom began and that was mine.
Yes, the road to this title was full of potholes; we saw the documentary and bought the t-shirt. But we didn’t earn the moniker “Believeland” because of all the times our sports dreams became nightmares. Quite the opposite, it’s because we dared to believe despite the odds and expectations. “Cleveland vs Everybody” isn’t just a silkscreen, it’s an idea coded into our collective Cleveland DNA. And if this means anything to anybody, “Cleveland” spelled backwards is “DNA Level C” (big ups to Suave Gotti for that one!)
Many in the national sports Universe may choose to believe that Cleveland’s so-called curse was reversed somewhere between Game 5 and Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, but those in “The Land” know differently.
Our ticket to a title was stamped the day we selected a man-child from Akron’s Saint Vincent-Saint Mary’s High School. LeBron James was going to be Jim Brown reborn in hoop shoes, not just gifted to us in the draft, but raised in our backyard.
The hopes and dreams of this city’s beleaguered fandom was pinned on an 18-year-old phenom like money on the birthday guy at a cabaret. Was this a lot to expect from a young man? Yes it was. But remember, this is the same kid who held a press conference in his junior year of high school to announce that he would not challenge NBA draft eligibility to seek entry into the league “before” his senior year – i.e. LeBron considered entering the NBA as an 11th grader! We didn’t force the “Chosen One” responsibility on LeBron, he carried it willingly on his back – literally.
Unexpectedly, somewhere just after LeBron’s Nike puppet dunking on reindeer and him going one-on-5 against the Detroit Pistons in double overtime en route to an Eastern Conference Championship, our hoop dreams seemed as though they suddenly exploded into a million little pieces. Let’s call it hoop dreams deferred. Our man-child left for South Beach, and it would be an understatement to say that we didn’t take it well. As final as it felt and as foolish as we may have reacted, incredibly, he came back. He even wrote a heartfelt letter to say he was coming home, but between me and you, I would have taken a head nod and a high five from somebody that knew somebody that knew LeBron, just as long as No. 23 was lacing it up in wine and gold and getting back to “our road to right now.”
Speaking of the road to right now, the day before Game 7, my boy Smooth (government name Earl/Darren) sent me this text … “Never in our life has there ever been a Cavs game like this. If we win THIS game, we are the champions … think about that.”
Not only did I think about “that,” I thought about the day my dad took me to the Cleveland Arena. We ate popcorn. We yelled “Bingo!” We cheered for the team with Cleveland on their jerseys. I thought about us emerging from the darkness of 3717 Euclid Ave into a new light and a bond that we would share until the day he died. I also thought about the fact that he would not be with me to see LeBron lift that trophy.
So with the many offers I had to watch “this game” with people at places, I knew that I would watch it at my house with my son. And as big as “this game” turned out to be, I know that one day my son will watch the big game of his adult life with his son.
When the final seconds ran off the clock and LeBron fell to his knees and cried, I could hear the cavalcade of expected landline and cell phone calls coming in like a telethon. I yelled upstairs to my mother, who came by the house for support (she wore her Cavs t-shirt to church that day), that unless the call was miraculously from my father, to tell them to call me back, because I was gonna need a minute.