Blog

The Kings of Cleveland by Ben Galli

What. A. Game.  I'll spare you the Game of Thrones references.  Instead, I'm going with another one of my favorite shows of all time, The Wire.  Yes, along with Perfect Strangers and MacGyver, The Wire has a spot on my Mount Rushmore.  The Cavs win last Sunday night, LeBron's triumph in particular, kept bringing me back to this quote from Season 1:

"You come at the king, you best not miss" - Omar.  The Warriors came at the king with all manner of strategy, trash talk, and dick punches.  And they missed every time.  They were up 3 games to 1, a lead that had a previous to Sunday success rate of 100% in the Finals, and missed.  Steph "Future of the NBA" Curry and his back to back MVP awards missed, going 1-6 in the decisive 4th quarter.  Scoring just 3 points in the most important quarter of his life, Curry seemed to avoid the insane criticism that would have certainly befallen LeBron in a similar performance.

This series was special in two ways.  Two intertwined ways.  It was a redemption of LeBron's legacy and it was a redemption of Northeast Ohio's recent travails. Both have been long maligned; cruelly dissected with eternal shade thrown on top. Over the years, Cleveland's sports suffering has become less a point and laugh affair and more a look but don't stare Greek Tragedy.

I don't know if there will ever be an athlete as big as LeBron again.  Someone that captures the national attention in such an all encompassing way (and almost equally good and bad).  There were athletes that were bigger in the past, but LeBron was the prototype in this current age of social media.  It was as if Cam Newton and Peyton Manning combined into one unstoppable quarterback and had the public's obsession with Tom Brady.  

LeBron was the Chosen One in 2002 on SI's cover while many scoffed at the label and Northeast Ohio beamed proudly.  His 2007 Most Dominating Performance Ever against the Pistons cemented his status as a bona fide rival to Michael and Magic but that was his apex for a while.  He could not take a poorly put together Cavs squad back to the Finals after that year and the boos and cheap shots started raining down from east, south, north, and (delonte) west.

The pressure was intense.  LeBron was struggling under the burden of almost single-handedly carrying the Cavs to the title and he may have buckled. Jordan won his first title in his 7th season and when LeBron didn't, he chose the easy way out and escaped to Miami to learn under The Godfather himself, Pat Riley. This was the humpty dumpty moment for LeBron's legacy. Instantly he lost fans and became the biggest villain in the NBA, a sort of Bill Laimbeer to the 10th power. Or a Kobe Bryant with less truthers.

I could never hate the kid from Akron; he did what most 25 year olds would do. But I hated his decision. I was rooting for the guy from my hometown to one day be considered as the greatest ballplayer ever and this was certainly not the way to do it.  You can't join a better team to win just cause it's easier.  You chase that at the end of your career but until then you give it your all for the team you were born into. I rooted against LeBron the next 4 years. Perhaps not with the same vitriol as many others, but he had disappointed me. The Mavericks win in 2011 was thrilling on many levels. "How my Dirk taste, LeBron" to quote DeShaun Stevenson, he of the pierced Abraham Lincoln neck tattoo, was a moment that gave me unfettered joy.

And then you realized, "why be mad at him when he's just living his life"?  His job isn't to satisfy your own aspirations. He's really got nothing to do with you. Be happy that you once shared something.  I rooted for the Thunder the next year but I respected LeBron and was even a little happy that he won his first title.  But I could never fully be on his side again.  And then it started happening.  The little whispers and the little rumors and the little reports that LeBron might not be very happy in Miami. I thought, maybe LeBron comes back to Cleveland in a few years to end his career out and try to bring Northeast Ohio the chip. Wouldn't be perfect, but it would help glue his legacy back together again.

And so when Blocktimus Prime (name credit:  Big Fat Lou), swooped out of nowhere to make that amazing block, LeBron showed again why he was the best in the world still and perhaps the greatest athlete of our lifetime (if only Bo knew basketball).  And then when he braced his fall awkwardly with his hands (in a way you never want to fall on the court by the way), a whole nation was reminded of the Cleveland Curse.  In this, the time you needed him most, God was going to take LeBron away with a broken wrist. He Died for Your Sins crossed the minds of irreverent smart-asses everywhere.  

But this man was made of steel and rubber and all the things Northeast Ohio made back when they last won a title. And he got up and made 1 of 2 free throws (so LeBron that guy) and the Cleveland Cavaliers won the most amazing series any of us has ever seen. And people can joke as they have about how much this can really mean for the city of Cleveland but they're not from there.  They haven't seen what the people have seen.  Nowhere else in this nation have they suffered quite like Cleveland fans.  This was the end of a curse that permeated the whole of that area and in more ways than just "sports".

It's hard in one blog article to include all the things this means to all the people of Northeast Ohio.  You can only hope to capture a sliver of the essence of how magnificent this all is.  And so I defer to a friend from Cleveland and her timely words on the whole matter.