“I Don’t Believe, What I Just Saw!”
They did it. I can't believe they actually did it. Throughout the entire fourth quarter I was fearing, waiting, seemingly knowing, that at some point Mike Breen would say his signature line, "BANG!" and the Warriors would make the clutch play they had time and time again over the past two years.
But somehow, someway, that never came. LeBron made that incredible chase down block, Kyrie hit that clutch three and when the final buzzer rang the Cleveland Cavaliers did the impossible and won the game 93-89, the NBA Championship as the first team to come back from 3-1 and, won the first championship for Cleveland since 1964.
Not being from Cleveland, I don't have the full understanding of the depths of yearning for a championship that true Clevelanders had (how awesome is it that I can say "had"?).
I am from the Chicago suburbs. Neither my dad nor my friends ever influenced me to pick a basketball team when I was a kid. My first basketball memory came in January of 2004. I was 9 years old and LeBron was halfway through his rookie season. I had just started a subscription to SI for Kids and who was the cover athlete for that month's issue? Akron's son LeBron James.
After reading the story about him I became a Cavaliers fan for life. I remember the battles with the Detroit Pistons in the mid-2000's. I remember where I was when LeBron carried a team with Zydrunas Ilguaskas, Donyell Marshall, Eric Snow, Larry Hughes and Daniel Gibson to the NBA Finals. I remember marveling as LeBron performed historically in Game 6 against the Pistons, scoring 25 straight points to bring the Cavs a victory. I remember going crazy as LeBron nailed that buzzer beater against Orlando in the playoffs with Delonte West, Mo Williams, and Anthony Parker at his side. I remember feeling destroyed when a team I LOVED lost to that Magic team and didn't make the Finals. I remember feeling that same thing again when Paul Pierce and his Big Three Celtics beat the Cavs and the Free Throw that clinched it seemed to bounce a million times on the rim before going in.
I remember the hurt I felt when he left. The hatred for him and the Heat as I watched them succeed and my Cavs floundered as one of the worst teams in the league. I remember rooting for my team to lose and diving into NBA mock drafts and big boards trying to decide who I would want and who the Cavs should draft, hoping to land someone with the talent of a LeBron to bring us back to perennial success.
That disappointment all changed in the summer of 2014. I had just finished my freshman year of college and I was going back and forth with my roommate talking about where LeBron could go when he opted out of his contract with the Heat. I remember loving every second of following on Twitter the rumor mill of him maybe coming back to Cleveland. Loving the insanity of following reporters' tweets on where Dan Gilbert's plane was and where it was going. I remember the exact place I was (the church I was attending at that time, while helping my Mom with a summer theater camp) and playing "Cleveland Rocks" when I heard the news of the letter and being overjoyed that he decided to come back and win one for the Land. And after a disappointing ending in year one, LeBron, with major help from Kyrie, and the rest of this team, delivered on his promise.
Throughout my writing career in high school and college I have used a line from the Godfather Part III more than once. That line said by Al Pacino's Michael Corleone: "Just when I thought I was out. They PUUULLL me back in."
That is what this team did over and over again.
I said prior to the year that this was their best opportunity to win a title. That if they didn't this year they wouldn't.
I had doubts about this team when they fired David Blatt mid-season, but with Tyronn Lue at the helm, I was pulled back in as this team started to figure it out.
I had doubts about this team when they were inconsistent night to night and the reports of bad chemistry sprouted all over the place. Then the playoffs came and those worries went to the sidelines and they pulled me back in again.
My biggest doubts, though, came in the Finals. You all know that I picked the Warriors to beat my team because I thought no way could the Cavs beat the best regular season team ever.
After Game Two, I thought this series was going to be over in five games. Then they destroyed the Warriors in Game Three and pulled me back in.
After going down 3-1 I thought they would lose in six. Then they won Game Five handily and I had a cautious optimism that they could bring it to seven. And they did. I thought no way could they beat the Warriors on their home floor with a pissed-off Steph Curry. I was wrong.
Led by one of the greatest performances ever in LeBron's unanimous Finals MVP run, the Cavs drew me back in over and over this series and especially in Game 7.
I will never forget the feeling of your team winning a championship. I've been lucky that my teams have won. I watched the Packers win in Super Bowl XLV. I witnessed the Cardinals win in 2006 and 2011. But this title reminded me of how awesome that feeling is.
I will never forget the reaction of the players. Of LeBron collapsing on the floor sobbing. Of Coach Lue, sitting on the bench with his face in his hands sobbing. Of the redeemed JR Smith shedding tears. In my eyes, winning this title meant just as much to this team as it did to the fans and the region of Northeast Ohio.
Looking forward, I don't want to hear anything about what will happen with LeBron now that he's won. I don't want to hear trade rumors for Love. I want this team and the fans to be able to bask in the joy that comes from winning a championship.
Dan Gilbert said it best. After years of people saying "God hates Cleveland" Gilbert said in his celebratory interview, "God loves Cleveland."
To quote the great Jack Buck for a second time this series, "I don't believe, what I just saw. The IMPOSSIBLE has happened."
Congratulations Cleveland. You deserve this.