It’s been two weeks since my hometown Cleveland Cavaliers won game 7 of the NBA Championship after being down 3-1 to the Golden State Warriors and I think it’s finally starting to sink in. Watching the 4th quarter of the game every other day seems to help.
As many of you know, I’m a huge Cleveland sports fan and thus suffered through the heartache and misery of the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers for the last 40 years. Unless you’re a Cleveland fan you just can’t fully understand the gravity of continually losing in the most gut wrenching, rip your heart out kind of ways. Or the long agonizing droughts all three teams have experienced. So for the Cavaliers to finally win a Championship after Cleveland fans have suffered for 52 years, was an indescribable moment. One that I knew I had to experience in Cleveland.
When the Cavaliers won game 6 my wife turned to me as I crawled into bed and asked, “what happened? Did they win?” I simply said, “I’m going to Cleveland.” She knew that I wasn’t joking. I’ve told her all along that if any Cleveland team had a shot at a Championship I’d be experiencing the moment in my hometown. Two days later I was on the road at 6 am making the eight hour trip from Brooklyn, NY. The next 8 hours would be filled with thoughts of a miraculous comeback from a 3-1 deficit (something no team had ever done in NBA history) and a ticker tape parade through the streets of downtown. The images I had floating around in my head though were hard to embrace. After all, I’d been burned so many times in the past that I think I didn’t want to get too excited. Misery hurts that much more when you’re coming down from a place of confidence and glee.
When my friends and I arrived downtown the streets were bustling with fans that had the same kind of wishful confidence that was brewing inside of me. Would this be THE night? We eventually found ourselves at a hotel bar that was packed with screaming patrons. All of us with one common desire; to witness and experience history. The game was a back and forth battle with neither team able to deliver a knockout blow. When Golden State surged slightly ahead in the fourth quarter you could feel the “here we go again” air fill the room. I’ve breathed it in many times in my 45 years and know exactly what it tastes and feels like. The Cavaliers however would quickly answer and soon found themselves in a 89-89 tie with just over 4 minutes left in the game. The collective heartbeat of the 100+ fans in that hotel bar raced as all of us felt that our dreams of a Championship might actually be realized. Then it happened. With just under a minute to go in the game, Kyrie Irving launched a 3 pointer that will forever live in Cleveland sports history. It was the shot that put us ahead for good. As the final seconds ticked off the clock the bar erupted in screams, laughter, embrace, and overall hysteria. I was in partial disbelief as I hugged friends and total strangers. We had all been downtown for the chance we’d experience what was now taking place; absolute collective joy. 52 years of suffering was gone. The curse was finally dead. Cleveland had its Championship!
The exuberance would soon fill the streets as ecstatic fans of all ages, colors, and nationalities spilled out of the bars. Everyone was now hugging and high fiving, yelling and chanting, laughing and crying. This was pure heaven for a sports fan. The misery and suffering of 52 years was finally being washed away in one night. A night that I had wished for so many years and now one that I’ll never forget.
Three days later the ticker tape parade happened where an estimated 1.3 million fans filled the streets of Cleveland. People from all over the country and world were there to take in the experience. I made sure that I was one of them. My friend Mario and I were downtown by 6 am in order to grab the perfect parking spot and hold our place along the route. Little did we know that getting a location that early didn’t matter since the streets would be overrun with fans. The parade was even delayed because the route was clogged with so many people that the parade couldn’t get through. This was Cleveland! A city and it’s fans that had been waiting for this moment for five decades. As Lebron, Kyrie, JR Smith, and all the other players slowly drove past I found myself reflecting back on the heartache of years gone by. “The Drive”, “The Fumble”, “Red Right 88”, “The Shot”, Jose Mesa, “The Decision”, and many others were now finally going to take a back seat to the incredible memories from the most amazing week I had ever experienced in my beloved hometown of Cleveland, Ohio.
4. Lebron James– Ok, so he’s the only current player on here but he’s also a 3 time NBA MVP, 8 time All-Star, 7 time All NBA team, and 3 time All Defensive team member. If he retires without a ring he’d easily be #1 on this list. James came close last year vs. Dallas but close doesn’t cut it when you proclaimed you’re looking to win “not one, not two, not three, not four…”
3. John Stockton– The all-time assists leader and king of the tight shorts, Stockton was pure class and a silent killer to boot. He had the unfortunate “luck” of playing during the same time as a guy named Michael Jordan. In 96-97 they pushed the Bulls to 6 games but MJ became MJ and John and his boys went home without a ring.
2. Charles Barkley– It’s too bad young fans of today just think of Barkley as that bald, big mouthed guy on TNT that takes his shirt off and plugs Nutrisystem.
There was a time when he was one of the most dominant players in the game. Coming into the league while Bird and Magic were still in it and then leaving when Michael Jordan was at his prime didn’t help Barkley’s chances at winning a championship. His best chance came in 92-93 when his Suns lost to the Bulls.
1. Karl Malone– When you’re a 14 time All-Star and a two time league MVP and you don’t have a ring, you can only be Karl Malone. Along with his teammate John Stockton, Malone ran into the Bulls and Michael Jordan at their prime. If not, he’d more than likely have a couple titles to his credit. Unfortunately the only title he has now is the best player without an NBA title.