It didn’t hit me that it would happen as Kyrie Irving hit the 3-pointer to break the tie. Not even when LeBron James added a free throw to put the Cavs up by four with 10 seconds to go. This is Cleveland…and we had the curse (I can say “had” now!).
Surely, Steph Curry would make a last second 3-pointer and get fouled to send it into overtime. That’s just what happens. We’re Cleveland. We had the Fumble. The Shot. The Drive…and all the rest. This would be the Foul.
I think everyone else in the bar was thinking the same thing I was. There was an odd pause as the time expired. Then the realization hit and everyone erupted into a chorus of cheers, applause, tears, high fives and elation. The curse was over.
I’ve never experienced this before. Not like this. I’m sorry to all the Ohio State Buckeye fans (of which I’m not one…sorry, I’m not sorry. Go Michigan!), but their championships didn’t mean the same thing. It’s nice they’re from Ohio, but it’s not Cleveland. This was what we’ve wanted and needed for 52 years.
With all that Cleveland has accomplished, it sounds silly to say we needed a major sports championship. Even with 20 years of being the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Capital of the World. Even with the Cleveland Clinic and our world-renown health care. Even with our theater district that is second only to Broadway. Even with our world class chefs, fantastic restaurants and myriad of breweries. Even with the distinction of being the International Home of Content Marketing. Even with the Republican National Convention in just a few short weeks. Even with the Lake Erie Monsters winning the Calder Cup just over a week before! And, so much more.
It wasn’t enough. We needed a championship from one of the big three.
When LeBron announced he was coming back to Cleveland through his Sports Illustrated article, I wrote a blog post on how I thought the city of Cleveland would respond (playing the part of Cleveland was…me!). The short version is that Cleveland had built itself back up while he was gone. With his return, Cleveland was no longer reliant on his presence. It certainly made things a whole lot better, but the city wouldn’t crumble without a championship and/or if he decides to leave again.
I think I downplayed the importance of winning the championship (whether it was Lebron and the Cavs, the Indians or the Browns). The perception of Cleveland as the city that comes up just a little short seemed more frequent. Maybe it was the Cavs coming so close last year. Or. maybe it was the Believeland documentary on ESPN. But the curse continued to be a nagging echo into the psyche of Clevelanders’ minds.
With the Cavs back in the Finals this year, the whole city came together. Even with the Cavs down 3-1, which no team has ever come back from, we all banded together.
Believeland took on a whole new meaning. Just like the documentary showed, we’ve lived through so many close calls of championships and we keep believing.
With the rest of the world saying that it was over, we had faith that it wasn’t. It was the perfect setup for another disappointment. Especially as the Cavs clawed their way to force a game seven. Was this another case of coming so far to fall just short again. Would we have to again be proud that they played so well even though they could finish it off? Nope. Not this time.
I woke up the next day and realized that it all really happened. It wasn’t a dream. The celebration that had gone all night continued with thousands greeting the Cavs at the airport as they returned. The championship parade boasted an estimated 1.3 million people filling downtown Cleveland for the biggest party this city has ever seen.
And now the world can see Cleveland in a different light. Clevelanders can see our city and ourselves in a different light. The curse is gone. There’s no more monkey on our back. Clevelanders know how great the city is, and now everyone else does too. It’s a new day in Cleveland. We’re now a city of redemption. A city of champions.
Thank you to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Thank you to the Cleveland fans that never stopped believing…in the team and the city.