The center of the free world was Cleveland, Ohio on Thursday as tens of thousands flooded downtown to witness the homecoming of LeBron James. The event which LeBron suggested was “one of the biggest sporting events ever” brought out all the big names as Spike Lee, Usher, Justin Bieber, Joe Haden, and of course Johnny Manziel—all were inside The Q to be homage to the king’s return. The night was more than a basketball game played for the 20,000 plus inside the arena, but was a celebration for a people and a city that sprawled from East 4th to West 25th and from man caves in Medina to lofts in Los Angeles. The boys from WFNY wouldn’t dare miss a night like this, here’s what some of the gang had to say about the night.
Scott: About eight months ago, I wrote about my experience in New Orleans for the NBA’s All-Star weekend, one that just so happened to be during the start of Mardi Gras. The foot traffic, the parties, the all-around aura of excitement and happiness that was pouring out of every participant—not since then have I experienced an event wherein an entire city got together out of anticipation, but mostly out of celebration. There was just that feeling that so much had been lifted off of our collective sports shoulders, one that was so gratifying that standing nuts to butts on East 4th street with the mere hope that you could somehow get to the other end was completely OK. Fans couldn’t get into the Kendrick Lamar show, so they sat on the walls of near-by parking structures—that cement slab was comfortable enough.
I’m not sure how the game looked on television or what the focus of the camera crews was, but I do know that whatever they did to show those at home what the game was like, did it absolutely no justice. The entire place stood still as the New Nike commercial played on the humongotron—HARD WORK! TOGETHER! The player introductions were simply incredible, the new 3D floor graphics are such a perfect addition to the experience. And the fan reaction when LeBron James was introduced was a sound that I will never forget.
I shot out two tweets during the entire night, one of the pre game intros and one when I got home as I wanted to soak in the entire night. But my message remains: Regardless of the loss, I’m glad I decided to go to this game as a fan as opposed to media. Anyone who felt that a win was necessary for the investment to be worthwhile is completely missing the point. No amount of money or even will be able to ever recreate the entire day as it was. It’s a day that, despite the outcome, will live on forever. I’m thrilled that I was able to be there in person.
Kirk: Being in downtown Cleveland last night was the experience of a lifetime. I used the phrase on Twitter “indescribably euphoric” to describe my feelings during the introductions. I stand by that sentiment as I really can’t put it into words much more than that. I’m in awe of just how many people were downtown four hours before tip when I arrived, in the arena 90 minutes before tip-off, and were in their seats an hour before the game. The sea of wine and gold as well as blue and orange was truly something to behold as everybody had Cavs gear on.
The first quarter atmosphere was very much like any game deep into the playoffs.The team’s performance quieted the crowd significantly through the middle quarters. However, when the team made the run late in the fourth quarter, the crowd got back up on their feet and made plenty of noise.
Prior to the game, the only way I could describe the scene outside was a zoo. On East 4th, it was truly bumper to bumper people. Even though the Cavs lost, it was only a minor part of what the whole night meant to a city and to a franchise.
All the in-game entertainment was fantastic. The new permanent pre game video equipment and the humongtron enhance the game watching experience for the fan even up in Loudville, which is where I was last night. It’s quite fascinating how everybody from the celebrity to the average Joe felt like they needed to be there last night, local and national. Obviously it won’t be quite like this for 40 plus home games this year, but it’s clear that every Cavs home game is going to be a city wide event.
Ryan: I arrived downtown shortly after 5 p.m. and made my way to East 4th to check out the scene SportsCenter had been showcasing all day long. After a few steps on East 4th I was swallowed up by a swarm of people, some trying to make their way through, others looking for a place to eat or drink, but most just standing there not really knowing what to do. I liken the scene to College Gameday with the ESPN set propped up high, and hoards of onlookers standing in the background just waiting for an excuse to break out into a frenzied cheer. Although there weren’t quite as many signs in the background as there are on Game Day, the crowd was holding up giant heads of personalities from 92.3 The Fan.
The line for the free concert outside The Q stretched for blocks upon blocks and it was clear only the truly dedicated would get in. For as amazing as the whole spectacle was downtown it wasn’t uncommon to hear complaints of “too crowded”. To me, it felt like Columbus on a Buckeyes’ game day, but packed into one or two blocks.
Unlike Scott and Kirk, I did not make it inside The Q on Thursday night, but instead watched on with hundreds of my closest friends packed into a bar like sardines. I hadn’t been at a bar that had an atmosphere this strong for a game since the USA vs. Belgium game during last summer’s World Cup.
At 6 PM, two full hours before tip off, the entire bar was partaking in the singing of Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline — a signal of the pure joy in the air. “Take Me to Church”, the soundtrack to LeBron’s latest Beats commercial, played at least five times before tip off with “Coming Home” by Diddy Money ranking number two on the bar’s top played tracks. Despite being a block from the SportsCenter set, each time the ESPN cameras showed a live shot of the city the bar erupted in cheers. It was surreal to be standing there enjoying a beer with a friend, watching him leave the bar, and then seeing him standing behind Darren Rovell on camera ten minutes later.
While I wish I could have been inside the arena, the lack of personal space a bar provides, leads way to a more intimate experience. As the crowd inside The Q stood and cheered during the player introductions, those at the bar hugged, locked arms, and leaned all over each other. Each basket scored in the first quarter garnered a reaction of a Browns touchdown. Strangers hugged, high fived, and got to know each other real fast thanks to the close quarters. If the person next to you wasn’t your friend, they became one of your besties real fast.
It was a night I’ll never forget. Sure, the Cavs lost, but the city of Cleveland won.