During my college years, I quickly came to learn the oft-repeated Cleveland sports motto from my roommate, a Cleveland native and Cavaliers/Browns/Indians fan. “There’s always next year,” he would say dejectedly after one of his teams completed a disappointing performance or was eliminated from competition altogether.
Going into Game 7 of the NBA Finals on Sunday, one had to wonder: Would this be just another reason to utter those words? Or would things be different this time?
Sunday afternoon, I traveled to a friend’s home just outside Cleveland to take in Cavaliers-Warriors Game 7. While I wasn’t a die-hard fan like many of those I was joining, I was and am, however, a fan of people, and I like to see my friends happy.
“Let’s go, Cavs!” was the anthem I enthusiastically adopted for the night.
As the contest got under way and our large group clapped, leaned and yelled for the Cavs, I was quickly swept up in the energy of the night. How could I not? We sat not only on the edges of our seats, but also on the edge of greatness, of something strived for and denied for so long. This could be the night that all this was washed away.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been in a room with so many people looking to simultaneously explode with joy and also nervous energy. More than a few looked a little queasy.
We yelled at bad calls, cheered for big buckets and shifted nervously back and forth during commercials, simultaneously anxious for the game to resume and nervous for it to come back.
When things started to turn south for the Cavs at the end of the game’s first half, I’m sure it was hard for my friends not to have a feeling of, “This isn’t going to happen, is it?”
I could feel it myself. This would be just another in a long line of Cleveland sports disappointments stretching back over the last 52 years, another piece of ammo for the national pundits, bloggers, Twitter heroes and message board warriors. Cleveland would be the butt of a thousand jokes once more. The #narrative would win again.
But it didn’t. This time was different. No fumble. No blown save. No gut punch for the city this time.
This time, Ohio’s native son, LeBron James, and his supporting cast willed their team, their city, through this heavyweight slugfest to the history books, past an already-historic opponent.
We exploded following Kyrie Irving’s game-winning shot, jumped and hugged following Mike Breen’s “It’s over! It’s over! Cleveland is a city of champions once again! The Cavaliers are NBA champions!” call and watched analysis, interviews and highlights late into the night. My aforementioned college roommate was about as happy as I’ve ever seen him. It was a night to remember for thousands to come.
“I don’t believe it,” one individual in the room said after the confetti had hit the floor. “We’re champions!”
Well, Cleveland, finally, 2016 is the year, after more than a half-century of, “There’s always next year.”
Dig a hole, toss that disappointing phrase in, fill in the hole, pave a street over that spot and drive a Cavaliers victory parade over it.
Cleveland is home to a championship team again.