For the nearly the past decade my family and I have been traveling south to Santa Rosa Beach, Florida for the Fourth of July weekend. The week is always eventful as my wife and I are able to rendezvous with old friends from across the country. Relaxing on the beach and sharing old stories is always nostalgic, but it was the events of July 11th, 2014 trumped anything that happened during the week. Lebron James was coming home.
It was time to plan the Championship parade.
As the rumors circulated throughout social media and finally across the sports networks, I wouldn’t let myself believe that James would be returning to Cleveland. I wasn’t falling into the hopeful fan trap. It had been a long four years since his departure. The Miami Heat had won two titles and played in two others, all the while Cleveland was struggling to win 30 games. Those 4 years landed a bevy of top draft picks. Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and finally the rights draft Andrew Wiggins. However none of those players with the transcendent talent James had been and only a few of those players had even scratched their potential. Irving was a star and Wiggins looked to be the next Paul George, but that was it.
It seemed to be the recipe for success. The prodigal son returning home to a team stocked with young talent and an owner who would seemingly spend his entire fortune to deliver a title to Cleveland, Ohio. Needless to say, I was excited. The news of James’s return had made the trip. It was so overwhelming that I called into my daily sport’s talk show (Carpenter & Rothman) to weigh in on the news. It was too big of a story to let someone else tell. Growing up in Ohio and seeing much of Cleveland’s heartbreak, this news appeared to reverse the bad fortune that had lingered over Northeast Ohio for decades.
I began to write an article for my blog that day. Kicking around opening lines and titles that would pay significant credence to a city that had struggled severely, but finally chased and hit a flush draw. There had been “Red Right 88,” “The Shot,” “The Drive,” “The Decision” and now finally “The Return of King” was here. As I punched words into my iPhone while lying on the beach… they finally appeared. The line I was looking for:
“The citizens of Cleveland have long memories… but even larger hearts.”
I loved it. It accurately portrayed the classic Midwestern spirit. Cleveland, like many Midwestern cities had been beaten up economically. The citizens were beaten, tough and grizzled, but they never lost the endearing compassion that separates the from the rest of the nation. It’s easy to be courteous when it’s always warm in sunny. It’s much tougher when the sun has disappeared fro three months and the sting of wind on your faces feels like alcohol on a fresh rug burn. James’s “Decision” four years prior had been that sting.
It was the people of Cleveland I began to think of as words poured onto the page. It was the entire history of Cleveland sports and it finally occurred to me that James’s return didn’t guarantee a title. The memory of the 1997 World Series Trophy being cruelly wheeling in and out of Dick Jacobs’s suite in the 9th inning began to overcome my thoughts. Injuries, other “super teams,” no one knew what the NBA future would hold. After all James had come up short twice with Bosh and Wade at his side.
Andrew Wiggins was traded for Kevin Love prior to the start of the 2014-15 NBA season, a move that solidified a new “Big 3.” Pairing Love with Kyrie and James made this group look eerily similar to the recipe for success in Miami. A slashing scorer to play the wing opposite of James on the perimeter and a stretch 4 in Love who could open the lane; this group made it to the NBA Finals in their first season together, but in true Cleveland fashion, only James was able to finish the playoff run. Losing in six games to the Golden State Warriors without two thirds of the Big 3 seemed acceptable.
2015 would be the Cav’s year. Even as they cruised through the regular season and playoffs there was massive doubt of whether they could contend with the Western Conference Champion. This team was built to win a title, not simply play for them. So anything less would be deemed “So Cleveland.” As the Cavs stared down a 3-1 deficit it was all be inevitable that they would come up short to the Warriors once again. It took the questioning of James’s “Manhood” prior to game five for their fortunes finally change. James and Kyrie put on a show for the ages and in the process added a new term and replaced another. Kyrie replaced Jordan’s “The Shot” with one of his own and James stamped “The Block” into Cleveland’s lexicon.
It was only after Cleveland finally winning their first major sports title since Jim Brown that I felt it was appropriate to write this piece. As excited as I was two years ago to pour out the inevitability of James hoisting a championship trophy, it was still only on the horizon. But that’s the irony of the horizon it can never be caught. But Championships can be and it took a native son to bring it home. The script is stolen from a Disney movie that can be rewatched every time it comes on. No longer will Cleveland fans be forced to lay in bed and relive the Freddy Krueger nightmare; a title, a good night’s sleep and a parade that has been 50 years in the making.