It was Sunday night, about 6pm.
The entire weekend had been swallowed up by my 18 year-old daughter’s graduation party. Friday I took off work to prepare. Picking up tables and chairs, getting the lawn and house ready, and all that other energy-sucking stuff. Saturday morning saw an early wake-up to put up tents and set up the food tables, and then the party came and went with me running around making sure everything was in order. Refilling coolers, making sure kids were drinking what they were allowed to drink, running to get more ice and another 18-pack of Corona because my friends are the greatest drunks God put on earth, etc.
Sunday was the aftermath. The cleanup combined with a visit from some out of town family who came back to visit. It was also Father’s Day so I got to sleep in before cleaning up and entertaining.
But everyone knew that 6pm was my time. It was my time to decompress and get myself ready for Game 7. And all went according to plan. Everyone was gone, everything was cleaned up, and I was completely dead from the weekend but ready to end it in my house, with no one else, watching the biggest game in Cleveland sports history since at least 1997.
To be honest, I was resigned to how it would likely end. Probably for obvious reasons, but I was resigned that, despite an unreal effort to get back into the series and forcing this Game 7, that the Cavs were underdogs and likely destined to come up heroic but short again. And you couldn’t blame them for it.
But there I was, exhausted and looking forward to just chilling out and watching it my way.
Then came the knock on the door from Kacie, my 15 year-old daughter. Who came to talk to me willingly and on her own (Oh shit).
K- Hey dad…
Me- What’s up?
K- Umm… just wondering what you might think of going downtown to watch the game.
Me- No way.
K- Ok. I know you like watching it here so you can do something else if it’s not going so well…
Me- Yeah. It’s just crazy down there and a pain to get there, park, deal with people…
K- Would you be upset if I went? Bunch of my friends are watching at a restaurant that a friend’s dad owns. There will be adults, you know, who will be with us.
Me- That’s cool. I’m fine with that. How ya getting there?
K- Umm…(Head goes down, eyes back up, kicks imaginary rocks on carpeting)....
Me- Kacie, we live in Madison. By the time you’re ready to go it’ll be 630pm. It’ll take an hour to get there with traffic. It’ll take me longer to get home than that. I’ll miss the first half at the least…
K- Ok. I know. I was just asking…
Me- Besides, I’ve done this before. It’s brutal with thousands of drunken idiots down there and it’s more brutal when those drunken idiots leave disappointed. And sometimes brutal turns violent and ugly and even with you being with adults I don’t want you to have to deal with that.
K- How do you know I’ll have to? Might be pretty cool to be down there when they win.
She didn’t have a clue. She had no idea just how badly the odds were stacked against her seeing something wonderful happen. She had no idea about the decades of misery that were standing against the door and wouldn’t let amazing through.
Not because she’s ignorant to sports. She watches everything, like Danielle, her 21 year-old sister, who knows more baseball than 95% of the people at the game or in the bar. She knows the game. My kids all do, though Jessica, the 18 year-old, doesn’t wear the results like her dad and sisters do.
But as I stood there ready to finish the conversation and tell her we’d watch it here, I just stopped. I stopped and realized that she doesn’t wear the layers of losing that I do and she shouldn’t ever have to. She has far fewer reasons to be beaten down by defeat and disappointment and yet I was treating her like she’d already been dragged to the bottom of Lake Despair by the anchor around MY neck.
That anchor wasn’t hers. She didn’t want it, need it or feel any of it. She saw a team down 3-1 fight and claw their way back. She saw a team down 3-1 completely shut down the 2-time MVP to even the series. She saw hope, optimism and the opportunity for a life experience that I never even considered, despite the fact that I’d die to give her, her sisters and her mom all of that.
I was protecting her from getting punched in the face by the same history that hit me. I was protecting her from being hurt when she saw only an opportunity to be really happy.
Me- Get ready and be in that car in 15 minutes.
So I took her.
I dropped her at Coastal Taco with the parents who would keep her with them and with whom she’d spend the night. I made my way from the Flats back up to West 3rd after dropping her off and I was stunned. I was stunned by the masses of people who were either downtown or heading that way. I was more stunned by the actual, tangible feeling of anticipation.
Not despair or dread. Not even hope. It was anticipation of something great and historic about to happen and I felt it. I could actually feel it down there as people made parking garages their bars and made downtown a giant living room. It was vibrant, it was positive and it was an energy I can’t remember ever feeling at such a huge moment in my lifetime of attending games.
It was expectant. It was electric.
It was expectant. It was electric.
It was fucking lit.
I gave half a second’s thought to pulling in somewhere and parking, staying down there to see what happened.
But I couldn’t do it. Still too much fear in my heart. Still scars I bare and still the fact that I’m not 15 and blissfully unburdened by so much of what’s gone down in the last 40 years.
But what I saw downtown lifted me, man. It validated what I was feeling. It WAS different. I felt it Friday and Saturday. But I certainly didn’t express it. But the people downtown did. If you were down there you know what I’m talking about.
There was no self-pity. There was no resignation. It was different.
So getting Kacie down there and set up and getting back through all of the people heading to East 4th like it was Basketball Mecca meant I didn’t get back until the first quarter was done and gone.
It didn’t matter, because it was different.
The Cavs weren’t getting run out of Oracle that night. Nor were they running the Warriors out. They were just playing good ball, like the two best teams in the world finally showed up at the same time because this was the only game that was ever going to matter.
Did you see it? Did you feel it then?
Even with a seven point halftime deficit, I was strangely calm.
Did you see J.R. Smith erase that deficit in about a minute of play?
Did you see the Cavs looking like the more poised and polished team?
Did you see Ty Lue continually push the right buttons that night and push his guys where they needed to be, while Steve Kerr droned on in his huddles about trust, trust, trust and then he took guys out because he couldn’t trust them?
Did you feel it when the Cavs took a lead of their own and ultimately went into the 4th quarter down just a point?
I’ll tell you exactly when I knew it was truly different and that it was happening. When the collars got tight around the necks of everyone over the last four minutes, the game and the freaking championship of the world just sitting there in the balance, tied at 89-89. That’s when I knew. That’s when I was convinced.
Because up until then I just knew Steph and Klay were going to wake up and have THAT game or THAT moment. I just knew Harrison Barnes couldn’t go the entire series missing so badly that he was in danger of not hitting the floor if he dropped the basketball. I just knew the biggest a-hole on the floor, Draymond Green, was going to play the Elway role. I just knew it.
And then off a Cavaliers miss there it went. Andre Iguodala running the center of the floor on a two-on-one break with Steph Curry on his left.
Against J.R.Effing Smith.
J.R. Smith! A guy no one wanted last season and a guy no one truly trusts even today. A guy just as likely to flagrantly foul Iguodala or Curry as the bucket drops and then the Warriors get the points, the ball and the Larry O'Brien Trophy. So it’s last year’s Finals MVP running a clean two-on-one with the two-time reigning league MVP on his wing against J.R. Effing Smith.
And then it happened.
Iguodala gives the ball to Curry and then gets it back as J.R reacts, leaps and somehow manages not to foul, maim or kill Iguodala. What he does beautifully do is force just a little hesitation and a double pump from Iggy. Which was precisely enough time for a gassed and desperate LeBron James to flash into the picture on the TV and elevate toward the backboard as Iguodala released his layup.
Out of nowhere James is LEVITATING at the rim, head as high as the goal itself, right hand blocking the shot, pinning the ball to the backboard, then rolling the ball off the right side of the backboard to a waiting and somewhat stunned J.R.
LeBron seemed to appear at the rim like he was edited into the picture. And then he hovered there, right hand going toward the ball, left hand actually protecting the left side of the rim in case Iguodala tried to reverse that layup. James covered an ungodly amount of court in almost no time, making up 30 feet from the time he started chasing the play down.
That’s when I knew.
Six full games. 46 minutes and 20 seconds of a seventh. 334 minutes and 20 seconds of Finals basketball.
That’s when it hit me.
That’s when it hit me.
49 years and 6 months to the day. On Father’s Day. That’s when I knew that this was going to happen. That all that energy downtown wasn’t lying. That there wasn’t going to be a moment like I felt on the sideline of The Drive game. Never been so high as from the time Brian Brennan scored on a 49-yard TD pass against the Broncos and then the Broncos muffed the ensuing kick and faced 98 yards of “No Way in Hell”.
This wasn’t like that. It was just different.
1:40 left and instead of disaster or at least a Warriors lead, still tied. Now it was the Warriors fans feeling all the angst. Watching a 3-1 lead dissipate. Watching their glorified, mollified, deified jump shooters choke away shot after shot, many of them open looks.
Then Kyrie made that shot over Curry for a three point lead with 53 seconds left.
Did you feel it then?
Kyrie owned Curry the entire series. Everyone owned Curry the entire series or seemed to at least have a 7 game lease with an option to buy. LeBron figured it out: get Curry matched up on himself or Kyrie and grind that little prince into the ground. And they did. And Curry had no answer. He had more frustrated, bewildered head shakes than field goals in the series, as many fouls as assists.
He got owned. Never more importantly than on Kyrie’s jab step jumper over his fingertips that gave the Cavs their lead.
But it was about to get even worse for Ayesha’s husband.
He had a chance to tie the game, maybe send it to overtime, with 30 seconds left. And the Warriors gave him the chance with a high pick and roll that resulted in Kevin Love switching onto Curry. That’s a Cavaliers nightmare in the making.
But not Sunday night.
Love shut off Steph’s water. He was closer to Curry than a straight man should be. And Curry had to give up the ball. Because of the defensive pressure of Kevin Love.
When he got it back with a dying shot clock, Love was in his pocket again.
Steph- crossover, dribble left, ball fake, ball fake, step-back three…
Not this time. Not this year. Not this team.
James finished it out with a free throw and the Warriors failed to score over the final 4:40 of the game. The vaunted and unstoppable Golden State Warriors...Splash Brothers… Draymond facilitating….Barnes just sniping.... 2-time MVP.. Up 3-1 in the series and talking shit....the 73-9 Warriors...beaten twice in their building where they couldn’t lose.
00:00 on the clock.
I can hear Lisa, my wife, screaming on the deck. Just shrieking and screaming for joy. I hear another scream and shriek from across the pond answering Lisa's. My phone is blowing up...texts...calls...can’t do it. Can’t answer.
I’m standing in front of the television, 49 years, 6 months old, on Father’s Day, watching the Cavs celebrate the first Cleveland championship of my lifetime, and the next thing I know I’m on the floor, on my knees, crying like a baby.
And just writing those words and remembering those minutes right after it all ended, has me on the verge of that yet again.
I did a couple phone shots with friends later that night. Took one out on the deck to toast my old man who would have probably died watching that game if he hadn’t died already. I watched every interview I could, on every channel that was covering it. I watched J.R. cry at the podium knowing that every single word he said was heartfelt and real.
I fell asleep about 2am and woke up at 6am like I was shot out of a cannon. Adrenaline and a cosmic boost from what this meant to all of us carrying me through the day. I watched J.R., shirtless, pour champagne all over a young hostess at XS in Las Vegas, and then hours later watched him de-plane in Cleveland, still unable to find a shirt.
Then, from work, I watched the longest GD parade in the history of parades take place on Wednesday. I watched this city show up and show out like no other city I have ever seen show up and show out. And they did so in a far more peaceful a manner than anyone here or across the country expected them to do.And J.R. was still shirtless. And I still can’t wipe the smile from my face, the happiness from my heart or the tears from my eyes.