A man is just a kid from Akron. A man knows no other loyalties. A man doesn't want anymore. So there I stood Tuesday night genuinely happy for Northeast Ohio. Happy for Cleveland. I grew up in West Akron, LeBron grew up on the North side. He would have gone to my rival high school had he not chosen to go parochial on these other high schools' asses. Now, most folks in Akron root for the Cleveland teams but not all. I remember the righteous indignation that spewed over airwaves and blogged lines when LeBron wore a New York Yankees cap to Jacobs Field. That was in 2007, a few months after he had single handedly taken the Cavs to their first Finals ever. After that game, a Marathon gas station in the Cleveland suburb of North Ridgeville displayed the following sign: LeBron James. King of Nothing. Fan of Yankees. Get Out of Town.
Bitter much Cleveland? LeBron cemented his frontrunner status when it was discovered his NFL team of choice was the Dallas Cowboys. Even I was a bit annoyed when LeBron said he rooted for the Florida State Seminoles growing up. I know this may have stung those fans of Cleveland teams but it was not a surprise to me. Although much less polarizing (unless you ask the North Coast Posse), my favorite teams growing up were the Los Angeles Lakers, Ohio State Buckeyes, Cincinnati Bengals, and Cincinnati Reds. That's a story for another time but I would even say half the kids in my neighborhood acted like it was a free for all when it came to the teams they chose to root for. It's almost like the look in their parents' eyes prevented them from actively choosing the misery that came with rooting for Cleveland.
That misery is well recorded. I felt bad for my friends when some very talented Browns teams got their hearts ripped out and eaten by buck-toothed John Elway and his Super Bowl choking Broncos. You know where I learned that John Elway had buck teeth and it was okay to say it? The Akron local news. It convinced me that the media can form your opinion. That's the only reason I can come up with to explain my dislike of John Elway and his horse face*. I remember holding the 1987 Sports Illustrated in my hand with Joe Carter and Cory Snyder on the cover thinking "Really? They think Cleveland is that good?". Cory Snyder was one of my favorite players for some reason and he socked 33 homers that year, but as some of you know, that vaunted Tribe squad assaulted the AL, I mean your senses, to the tune of a MLB worst 61-101 record. Of course Cleveland would be privy to one of the more famous SI cover jinxes. Seems like a great time to bring up who was on SI's Baseball Preview issue this year.
*I will not sully this column by including his visage but you have to admit that the greatest Bronco of all time kinda looked like one.
Just 2 years later, the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 2nd best record in the NBA and the # 2 seed in the Eastern Conference got knocked out in the first round by "The Shot" and Michael Jeffrey Jordan, King of the Jerks. Now, I've already said enough and I don't want anyone's eyes to well up in tears but I had to paint the picture that has been Cleveland sports. Just know that out of all the terrible things that happened to Cleveland detailed above, each team has had something worse happen to them since then. I think we all know the low points for the Browns, Cavs, and Indians in our lifetimes and they've all happened in the last 20 years.
Northeast Ohio has seen better days locally pretty much all around. They haven't seen a major sports champion since 1964. Kevin Love, who the Cavs basically traded two #1 overall draft picks for is not playing due to a vicious injury. Kyrie Irving has been injured twice these playoffs and who knows how close to 100% he'll be. It is difficult to win with a new team in the first year. LeBron didn't do it on the Heat. But the Cavs are trying with a rookie head coach who's never even been an assistant in the NBA. Ironic that Blatt's other NBA suitor last year was Steve Kerr and Golden State who wanted him as an assistant.
Which leads us to the team they are facing, a team that statistically easily had one of the top 10 most dominating NBA seasons ever. Here's a link to a pretty boring article discussing the Warriors' statistical prowess. It is a brief and good read if you like stats. For those of you worried about some kind of liberal media bias, it's from Forbes, ok? They have the league MVP and he's sensationally dominant. They tied for the 4th best regular season record of all time and the 2nd best home record of all time. Mama, there goes that man again that took the same core of the team I had losing to the Clippers in round 1 last year to a 5/12 favorite in the Finals this year.
I'm writing this dispatch in Akron. My youngest brother is desperately trying to guide the course of reality by playing as the Cavs against the Warriors in NBA2K15. My sister left for the airport 2 hours ago to fly back to San Francisco, one of her proudest possessions on her head. A new Cavs hat so she can rep Northeast Ohio when she goes and watches a game in the Bay Area. A sister who's never talked about sports in her life. Her friend was over helping her pack excited about the Finals and even commenting, "I hope Cleveland wins. They deserve it." My other brother is flying back to Oakland tomorrow night confident that the Warriors don't have LeBron and that will be all the difference. I've experienced first hand some of the worst moments in Cleveland sports and I've seen the pain that some of my closest friends have experienced. I know it's just sports but thank God for freedom. I had to come to Cleveland's defense when there was talk of moving the Browns. For as grating as they can be, Browns fans are some of the best in the world. They deserve a winner. And Northeast Ohio is finally ready to win.
Granted, few regions have had it as rough as Northeast Ohio. They've had chances at success but they've been cruelly ripped away. But how many regions have a dare I say messianic athlete the likes of which the world has not seen before? That is some insane kind of pressure but the kid from Akron is better suited than anybody to handle it. And I'm not talking about Steph Curry who was also born in Akron. (I am however making a cheap attempt to brag about Akron again) Curry claims the Charlotte area where he grew up. But I digress. This would be one of the greatest athletic achievements in the history of team sports but LeBron James said on Monday: "If you put everything together as far as my mind, my body, my game. If you put everything in one bottle, this is probably the best I've been."
With as maligned as the Chosen One has been throughout his career in the press, it almost sounds like he's raising the bar on himself. But that is what the great ones do. No fear, no rest, no quit. We've seen LeBron do all of those things before in his first go around with Cleveland, but his Miami "vacation" taught him what it takes. J.R. will wow and play better than he's ever played before. Timofey will out hustle and out jump Bogut for those pesky balls that glance off the rim. Delly will Dellavedova all over until even Steph Curry wants to take him out. Tristan Thompson will save possession after possession and Iman Shumpert will impress with the press he puts on the best player of the year. Golden State is a better team and they have more talent and a coach with more NBA experience and 5 championship rings. And, and, and.
But for as great as Steph was this year, he's not the best basketball player in the world right now. They care a lot about basketball in the Bay Area, but they don't care as much as LeBron does about bringing a championship to Northeast Ohio. The highest highs come to those who have had the lowest lows. Sometimes, even though the odds are stacked against you, you give it your all and every once in a while, with a lot of hustle and heart, you get what you deserve. Against the odds, these Cleveland Cavaliers have won all year against supposedly greater opposition. They haven't seen anything like the best in the West, but that won't stop them for pulling out a win for the ages in one of biggest series in NBA history.
Cleveland Cavaliers in 7 games. Believe!