That Cleveland Moment

There was that one moment during Game 7 of the NBA Finals. If you’re from Cleveland, you know the one I’m talking about.

It came about 14 seconds before the end of the game. Kyrie Irving dishes a pass to LeBron. LeBron goes up to slam dunk and his wrist comes down hard on the rim. LeBron lands strangely holding his wrist and wincing in pain before he ends up curled up in a fetal position on the court.

LeBron looked like he was done. My heart sunk. This was how our season was about to end, with the best player this city had ever seen — the best player that perhaps the NBA had ever seen — nursing a horrific injury, never to play the game again. I expected to see him get up with the help of teammates, escorted to the tunnel, and missing the final seconds of the biggest game of his career.

That’s the exact moment when I thought “Yup. This is it. This is That Cleveland Moment.”

A lot of people in Cleveland have seemingly forgotten about this moment because it had no bearing on the rest of the game. LeBron came back to drain 1 of 2 free throws to put us up two possessions. And of course, of what happened seconds later, when the Cavaliers ended the city’s drought of 52 years without a major sports championship. However, I know I wasn’t the only one in Cleveland who thought that was what we would be remembering the next day and for the rest of our lives.

The Shot. The Drive. The Fumble. And now, The Wrist.

It seemed to fit the narrative of Cleveland. Getting to the finish line and tripping (or fumbling) right before we cross it. It was like watching Charlie Nagy extend his glove in extra innings of Game 7 of the ’96 World Series to grab the ball before it sails helplessly into the outfield. Here was a guy who came back to the city promising a championship to us. And here we were 10 seconds away from winning it all only to lose our star player to a tremendous, crippling injury. I remember thinking briefly, at what cost do we win this game? At the cost of sacrificing a career and a body? I could almost hear the chatter from the talking heads filling the void.

“LeBron James has fractured his wrist. He’s out for at least the next six to eight months.”

“Such heroism for LeBron James. Fracturing his hand and losing a dramatic Game 7.”

“Tough luck, Cleveland. It just wasn’t meant to be.”

Luckily, that was all erased when we defeated the Warriors to win Game 7 of the NBA Finals. We entered the alternate reality, never to leave it again.

That was The Moment we had we been starving for literally generations.

It’s been a week since the Cavs won the Championship. It’s taken me that long to gather my thoughts and try to write something about it. And honestly, I still don’t know if I can. I did feel that I needed to write a follow up to my last essay, to put some closure on this long chapter of Cleveland history. In some way, I feel obligated to do it. Over the past week, I’ve read a lot of articles about Cleveland, both local and national. I watched a lot of television coverage. I attended the largest parade this city had ever seen. And through it all, I feel like a foreigner trying to learn the language. This is all new to us. We as Clevelanders are not used to this type of emotion. I will tell you though: It feels good. Wonderfully addicting. And I can honestly say I don’t think this city will ever be the same again.

There is so much to consider about this event and how it will affect us from here on out. I never thought about that before. I never had to think about it before. But a new narrative was written for Cleveland that night. One that is filled with hope and promise unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in my lifetime. I don’t think we have to fear those “moments” that as Clevelanders we have come to expect from everyday life. We can actually believe that anything can happen. It’s okay to leave pessimism behind because collectively we have overcome it. To me, this was a totally unexpected by-product of this new moment.

I keep going back to the video I shot at the end of the game. It was a crude iPhone video, devoid of any finesse or structure. I held my phone toward the TV, trying to capture the emotion of the moment. It was the conclusion of a wonderful Father’s Day. But I was hoping for this win as the gift I wanted above everything else. I stood in my living room with my family — standing, sweating, our hearts beating, our bodies flush with adrenaline. When we heard the final buzzer, years of pent up frustration and energy were released. I thought that my kids are spoiled because of this. They only had to endure a short amount of time as a Cleveland loser. In some ways, it was unfair. But overall, It was catharic.

I keep going back to that video and it makes me smile every time I watch it. I plan to go back and watch it whenever I feel down and try to capture the essence of that new moment. The moment when we came back from 3–1 to defy the odds and beat the best team in NBA history. Not only did we win, but the manner we won put an oversized cartoon exclamation point at the end of the sentence. It was a literal historic sports moment for Cleveland and for the NBA. And pundits from years to come will reference our win when talking about doing the impossible. I think that might be the sweetest part of it all.

It was a new Cleveland moment. Not one filled with apprehension and fear, but hope.

And it still feels amazing.

If this essay feels incomplete, it’s because I’m honestly still not sure what to say. You’ve probably seen that Nike commercial where the city is rendered speechless because we’re not sure how to react. That’s all true. We’ve screamed, we’ve cried, we’ve yelled, we’ve cheered. But beyond that, there are no words.

I hope we get another moment like this. One that fits this brand new story for Cleveland. But for now, this will do.

This will do just fine.

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