The Night That Would Be Ours

This was our night. You could just feel it. The Indians, playing much better baseball of late, jumped out in front of the red-hot Kansas City Royals 4-0 early. The middle of the order power threat Brandon Moss would go deep and one of the Tribe’s four horsemen, Trevor Bauer, was once again looking dominant. But all of our eyes, even my-NBA Free ones, we set even further west to Oakland, where the Cavaliers were about to take the first step in their Finals journey. Just four wins away from ending the city’s 51-year title drought. They have the best player on the planet in LeBron James leading not just the team, but the city, and the entire region, on this seemingly never-ending quest.

To say Cleveland has been buzzing would be an understatement. Everywhere you went on Thursday was a mini-Cavs pep rally. Wine, Gold, and Navy Cavs gear covered the masses. Seemingly every kid had on a jersey on what was the last day of school for most. June 21 is always the longest day of the year, but it had nothing on yesterday. I even went to see a 5:30 screening of Entourage as a way to kill those up to the game hours that I knew would drag. The 9:10 p.m. start time is not exactly ideal for those who must get up the next morning early for work, but the fatigue of tomorrow would be worth savoring the night before. It just feels different this time.

I will be honest and admit, which I have many times in this space, that I no longer watch or follow the NBA as closely as I used to. The love for the game that I had during my youth with the Mark Price/Brad Daugherty/Larry Nance/Hot Rod Williams era just isn’t there. But you can’t help but catch Cavs fever this time around. Even in 2007, when LeBron single-handedly (with an assist to Boobie Gibson) willed the Cavs into their first NBA Finals appearance in franchise history, we all had that “happy to be here” feeling. Nobody gave them a shot to beat the San Antonio Spurs, and rightfully so. They were swept and to be honest, I don’t remember a single game from the series. That certainly won’t be the case this time around.

My kids are now eight and five, and we all sat in front the TV waiting for this series to start. 9 p.m. be damned, this is too important. They can make up the sleep another time. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and the Cavs squaring off against the NBA’s version of Basketball Porn, the Golden State Warriors, starring MVP Stephen Curry and sharp-shooter Klay Thompson. The Oracle, affectionately known in Oakland as “The Roaracle” thanks to the best home-court advantage in the NBA, was going to be ablaze. You just sensed that this series was going to be special. I wanted my children to watch as much as they could because you just don’t get opportunities like this every year. At age 39, I know it all too well.

It was mid-first quarter when the first bomb was dropped. In the midst of the Cavs’ hot start, ABC once again made it a point to remind us about the 51 years of pain. Ah yes, the Misery Montage. There is nothing worse and yet, there it was again. The graphic was up: each team of our three teams, how many seasons they have gone without winning a championship. Heck, even the long-defunct Cleveland Barons hockey club made the screen! I know the Misery Montage is par for the course at this point, as it pops up every time a Cleveland team is playing for anything of substance, but it doesn’t mean we have to like it. Hey, nobody said life is fair.

From a pure entertainment standpoint, this night had everything. LeBron was playing like a guy who refused to let his team lose. The player we all wanted him to be during his first go-around here was on full display Thursday night. His post game was on point. The Cavs were hustling all over the floor and dominating the glass led by Timofey Mozgov and the most-Cleveland of Cleveland players, blue collar glass man Tristan Thompson. Irving was doing yeoman’s work on one leg. LeBron and Kyrie were out-playing the Splash Brothers. It was an effort that you could be truly proud of.

We all stayed up and watched how it all went down. The Cavs had their chance to take this back and forth affair. You have the ball in the hands of the best player in the world with the score tied. It’s all you can ask for. Unfortunately from that point on, things went completely south. LeBron took a bad fade-away jumper that was way off, Iman Shumpert’s desperation put-back just missed, and the wheels fell off the wagon in overtime. Kyrie falling to the ground and re-injuring his knee was just more salt in the wound. This one hurt, literally and figuratively.

It was a gut punch. It made us all sick. The game was there for the taking. I know how ill I was down the stretch watching on my couch. I can only imagine how it must have felt to be a Scott Sargent, or a Jacob Rosen, or a Jack of Wayne Embry’s Kids fame, or a Brendan Bowers, or a David Zavac, guys who watched and sat through the last four years of brutal basketball and stayed loyal to this team in its leanest of times. The image of Kyrie limping back to the locker room and slamming his jersey to the floor is one we won’t soon forget.

I made the mistake of taking the temperature of my Twitter family last night after the 108-100 overtime loss. While the obvious local doom and gloom reaction was what I expected, it was the late OT, national writer-on-Cleveland cracks that really did me in. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Real fresh, guys.

Oh it’s sooooooo funny to bring up Ernest Byner and The Fumble. Hey Brett, why not hit us with a Jose Mesa blast while you are at it? Red Right 88 really compares to this one, Chris. Do you have any idea what you are talking about? What, two Oakland teams is your tie-in? Sweeeeeeet. Did you know that John Elway once went 98 yards on the Browns to force OT in the AFC Title game?
I know I shouldn’t let these clowns get to me, but I did, and here I am coming out of a six-month writing hiatus thanks to it.

You want to add this to the list? Go ahead and do it, I won’t. The Cavs came into the Finals as an underdog, playing in a building where the home team only lost THREE times, and came up just short. Last time I checked you had to win FOUR games to win a series. There is plenty of basketball left to be played.

But you know something, I will add this as another case of what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Games like last night, the city-wide pride, being a true “community” in every sense of the word, is what binds us together. Go ahead and pick that low hanging fruit. This isn’t our first rodeo. Tough sports losses have happened to us before and will happen again.

I am tired of looking at things with the glass half empty. The Cavaliers have the greatest player in the world in his prime. Things can only get better. When it all finally happens, it will be glorious and it will all be done “Together.”