I am not from Cleveland. I did not live through 52 years of disappointment. In fact, I have not even been alive for that long. For me, it’s been one year of a roller coaster ride of excitement.
Despite only knowing one person, I wanted to come to Cleveland a year ago in large part to cover the Cavaliers and LeBron James in his prime. I love basketball and in my opinion, there is no better city in the world right now to cover the game.
When moving to a new city, especially alone, you have to assimilate to survive.You have to immerse yourself in the city and with its people to gain a sense of stability and belonging. So while I did not experience Cleveland’s frustrating sports mishaps first hand, I did begin to understand this so-called curse through the friends I made and the sports teams I covered. It was hard not to recognize how bad this city wanted a title and I saw LeBron James’ burning desire to give it to everyone.
I have loved sports my whole life. It has given me hope, confidence and inspiration throughout my greatest obstacles. My father used sports metaphors to motivate me to never give up. When I scored poorly on a test, fell short of a goal or simply felt like I had nothing left in the tank, he’d tell me stories about Michael Jordan, Wayne Gretzky and Muhammad Ali. He’d tell me how even the best got cut or rejected, but they remained focused and always worked hard and believed in themselves. I am in awe of the the journeys of accomplished athletes and the mental fortitude required for them to be great.
What I witnessed this season not only inspired me, it amazed me. The responsibilities, the expectations and the ongoing scrutiny on one player, LeBron James, is like nothing I had ever seen before. A triple double was expected. If the team lost, he had to answer why. The weight of Cleveland’s championship drought rested on his shoulders. If that wasn’t enough, everything the Warriors Steph Curry did resulted in a question from the media to LeBron on his adversaries' greatness.
I covered LeBron in 2008 for NBA.com. His growth as a player, which is impressive, pales in comparison to his maturation as a person. He has continually taken the high road, responding respectfully to questions aimed to elicit a reaction, while keeping his focus on leading his team and accomplishing his goal. The respect and admiration he has garnered from his teammates is genuine, which I believe greatly contributed to the team’s success.
Nonetheless, as a team, the Cavs chemistry was questioned throughout the season. Their ability to beat the Warriors was doubted. Yes, there were of course bumps in the road that warranted concern. But when they were sweeping teams in the playoffs, everyone believed. When they fell down 3-1 in the finals series, many responded as though it was all over.
In the locker room, they had each other's backs and refused to quit. They never gave up. They told the media they believed in themselves and had faith in each other, then proved it on the court. When they tied the series at 3 apiece, I expected a mini-celebration in the locker room but the players hardly cracked a smile. They weren't hungry for a tie; they were starving for a title. Nothing more and nothing less.
LeBron got what he wanted. He embraced the enormous task of ending a 52-year drought, as opposed to being drowned by the expectation to do so. He put his teammates on his back but recognized that what those dressed in wine and gold did, or did not, achieve was much bigger than just the men that stepped out on the court.
The Chosen One was a child from a struggling single-parent home. The odds were stacked against him from day one. Thanks to a ton of heart, a community that stepped up and LeBron’s superior physical and mental strength, he was able to prove to a world that has become obsessed with reality TV, that fairytales and happy endings can and do exist.
This title restores hope in a city where many struggled to continue to believe. The King gives anyone watching inspiration that everyone can not only dream but also achieve.The team reminds us all, that regardless of odds and statistics, the belief within yourself trumps the doubt bestowed on you by others.
On Father’s Day, when the time expired and the final buzzer sounded, like many, I cried as I hugged and high-fived new friends, along with strangers I met that night.I failed to publicly maintain the myth that reporters are completely neutral. Amazed by the journey I witnessed and its impact on the people around me, I was overwhelmed by my love for sports and its unique ability to showcase the incredible human spirit.
As the season is now over and the Larry O’Brien Trophy belongs to Northeast Ohio, I find myself echoing a similar sentiment that I have heard from native Clevelanders repeatedly in the past, but I say it for a whole different reason, as I truly can’t wait until next year.