I've been talking with friends and family members over the past day and a half about the emotions we're feeling for the Cavaliers. They've ranged from curse-laden "Oh my god no effing way!" shouts to "I wish I could be there - I will identify with Cleveland for as long as I live." I want to add my piece.
I'm 29 years old and from the Cleveland suburbs. When I was a little kid, I knew that I didn't like Michael Jordan because the Bulls kept beating Cleveland, but I was too young to actually know what was going on and I don't remember watching those games. I always liked basketball, but I was never very good at it and the rest of my family didn't have any strong feelings about it. I have vague memories of Terrell Brandon and Tyrone Hill, plus old basketball cards of the Mark Prices and Brad Daughertys of the world.
By middle school I liked basketball quite a bit. I was excited about Darius Miles and Ricky Davis - did you know Ricky averaged 20, 5, and 5 in his last full year with the Cavs?
When I was a freshman in high school I heard about a kid from Akron who was going to be the next Michael Jordan. I saw him on Sports Illustrated, I saw him on ESPN, and then I saw him get drafted by the Cavaliers. Later I saw him get close to a title, promise that he'd re-sign in Cleveland, go to Miami, win a title, win another title, and then come back to Cleveland.
LeBron James has fed the city of Cleveland a redemption story that none of us could have ever predicted or seen coming. In July of 2010 there was a 0% chance that he would ever come back to Cleveland and if he did he would get chased out of town. But he meant it when he used to call northeast Ohio home. Despite four years in Miami, he always had his long-term home (although that's not quite the right word for a 35,000 square foot house, is it?) here. He always had charity events here. He always had his people here.
When he wrote that letter to SI, it felt so real. People got chills. People sang and danced. People cried happy tears. He spoke to us - whether he wrote it himself or had someone else do it, it didn't matter because the spirit was there. We all felt it. He told us it wouldn't be easy and last year's Finals were not easy. This season was full of weird stories and forced turmoil, and the regular season was not easy. This year's Finals have been a roller-coaster. And yet here we are.
In 1997 I cried on the couch with my dad (he was probably not crying, but I can't say for sure) when the Marlins scored the winning run in the 11th. I wanted that win so badly even though I didn't know anything about life, what was important, or anything at all, frankly. I just wanted them to win. They didn't.
That was the last time that one of my favorite teams had a title-winning opportunity.
I haven't been able to fall asleep the past two nights. After all the other playoff games, regardless of the final score, I've had no trouble falling asleep after. This time it's different. This time there really is something on the other side of the game. I've spent more time thinking about this game than any other sporting event in the past ten years. I've spent more time thinking about this game than baseball or football games that I played in high school - when little else mattered in life. This is it. It's everyone's dream come true. LeBron vs. Steph, game 7? Please and thank you.
I could have gone to downtown Cleveland and the outdoor watch party for game 6 of the Finals, but I didn't. A win would just mean that it wasn't over yet and a loss would be a depressing way to spend an evening with thousands of other people - the payoff would be temporary. But they won. They won convincingly. The Cavaliers won. Cleveland won. One of Cleveland's own carried the team and city.
I don't know if the Cavaliers will win game 7. I said before the series that I gave Cleveland a 35-40% chance of winning the series and that still seems about right. If they lose, they were supposed to lose. They're heavy underdogs going against the best team anyone has ever seen. Losing in 7 is better than most people expected a month ago.
But if they win...and there's a chance that they win...the city of Cleveland will experience something that the majority of us have never experienced, or even really imagined. We all thought it would be the Indians 15-20 years ago, but it wasn't. We even thought it would be the Indians in 2007 after the Spurs swept the Cavs. In 2011 though? Can you imagine hearing that the city's best title opportunity would be the Cavaliers within five years? With LeBron James??
I've long-since forgiven LeBron for leaving. He compared it to going to college for four years and then returning home. I went to college in Ohio and 2 months after LBJ signed with Miami I moved to Chicago. Five years later - the week before the 2015 NBA Finals - I moved back to northeast Ohio. LeBron James is playing for me. He's playing for my parents. He's playing for my grandparents. He's playing for Graham, Chuck, Paul, Nick, Lou - all of my best friends who have moved away but know that some part of their heart is still in northeast Ohio. Those guys might never come back - they've said as much - but it's something special for all of them just like it's something special for me being back here.
LeBron James is one of us. He is us.
Bring it home, LeBron.