I can't say that I never thought the Cavaliers would win a title, but it took an awful lot to convince me that they would.
I knew they could, of course, because they made the Finals, but that's not the same. It wasn't until a 7 point lead in the 3rd quarter that it even seemed like a possibility that Cleveland could win.
Facts first: The Cavaliers won the NBA title, beating the Golden State Warriors in an unforgettable game 7. There was drama, more drama, and painfully intense drama. There were superstars and unsung heroes. There were threes, dunks, and defense. There were stare-downs and shoulder-pushing. No team led by more than 7 points despite the previous six games being decided by 11 or more points.
And how about those previous six games. Blowouts, dazzling performances, memorable moments at every turn - Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa dominating game 1, LeBron's alley-oop from Irving in game 3, Klay dominating the first half of game 5, Dahntay Jones making an appearance in game 6 and being unbelievably effective, Richard Jefferson starting in the Finals in 2016 and being a difference-maker, and of course...Kyrie and LeBron doing Kyrie and LeBron things.
LeBron, as you've surely heard, led all players in points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. Nobody has ever done that in the Finals, nor any other playoff series in NBA history. He scored 41 in back to back games, which has never been done. He led the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit, which has never been done. He beat the Warriors at home twice in a row, which felt like it has never been done. He did everything you could ask a player to do, and he did it with the weight of northeast Ohio on his shoulders - a place where...well, you know how he feels about Ohio, he hasn't stopped talking about it since the end of the game.
It was LeBron's blocked shots that changed this game. He blocked three, each one more emphatic and impressive than the last. The first was on Curry, which led to a stare-down and some words. No one seems quite sure what they were talking about, but it didn't seem like they were trading father's day pleasantries. Two minutes later, LeBron annihilated a Barbosa layup, stopping a possession in its tracks. The third, of course, came in the final 90 seconds when Andre Iguodala had a contested layup over JR Smith standing between him and a late lead in game 7. LeBron, of course, came out of nowhere and destroyed the shot. I've watched this approximately 50 times now and will do it several more still.
Then Kyrie went ahead and did what Kyrie does. Stutter-step, step-back, three in the face of the MVP. Then Kevin Love did what Kevin Love does. Switches onto Steph Curry and absolutely suffocates him on defense, forcing up a missed three.
That was unbelievable. The Cavs iced it next time down after an injury scare on LeBron. He got fouled on what would have been the greatest dunk in NBA history and landed awkwardly. He survived, made a free throw, and the rest was history. 93-89. The defending champs and best team ever led by one point with over 5:00 left, allowed six points the rest of the way, and lost the game.
It had to be like this, didn't it?
In the early stages of sports-writing you're taught to use "they" instead of "we." Even if you're covering your favorite team you are not a player on the team and are thus not supposed to say "we." Think of all of your favorite writers - none of them say "we" unless they're clear homers and are not practicing actual journalism. I have done my best to adhere to this rule for several years.
Sometimes rules are meant to be broken.
As a born-and-raised Clevelander, this team represented me. Every time LeBron spoke about northeast Ohio, it resonated with me (and everyone else in the area). He gets us. He is us. He is the consummate leader, and he just understands. As if the winning wasn't enough, when LeBron told Doris Burke that what made this win different was "it's home" the entire Quicken Loans Arena exploded. We cried. I would bet that 50% of the people in there felt their eyes water at that moment. It was unbelievable. We all felt it. We all knew it. We.
This article was supposed to be written 22 hours ago and instead I was wandering the streets of downtown Cleveland high-fiving and hugging strangers. I came home and watched post-game recaps for three hours before bed, woke up, and went to the airport to see the team arrive with 10,000 other people. 10,000 people showed up to watch guys get off a plane and into their cars to go home.
This is it. The shortest professional sports championship drought in the world currently belongs to the city of Cleveland.
Here's what it looked like when I celebrated.
We did it.