My name is James. I’m 36 years old and I live in Canton, Ohio. The first time I saw the Cleveland Cavaliers play in an NBA game was some time around 1988 when they played the Miami Heat during what must have been the Heat debut season at the old Richfield Coliseum. I went to the game because I was a top seller of popcorn in my local Boy Scout council and attending the game was a reward for this. We were treated to a loge and I’ll bet I only actually watched a few minutes of the entire game. I think I was too occupied and excited about the luxuries that came with the suite: Endless pizza and a big screen television in the room with a bunch of other kids to goof off with. I couldn’t tell you what the score was, but I do remember that it went into overtime and I got home super-late on a school night. We probably lost. I didn’t care. I had no interest in basketball.
The second time I watched a Cleveland Cavaliers game must have been around 2009 0r 2010. I can’t exactly remember. I had bought my girlfriend tickets to see them play against the Pistons sometime. We sat up in Loudville and I can’t remember if we won or lost. We probably lost. I didn’t care. I had no real interest in basketball.
At some point after I watched that second game, LeBron decided to move his talents elsewhere. I remember that this stirred up a lot of controversy and emotion across northeast Ohio and beyond. While many people were angry, I wasn’t among them. This was probably because I had little interest in basketball. I hadn’t invested myself in the goings on of the Cavaliers, and frankly I really didn’t care. I knew enough from the highlight reels and the chatter of my closest friend to acknowledge that LeBron was a tremendous athlete, but the LeBron James that I was ever a true fan of was the Akron kid turned mentor, humanitarian and Philanthropist. I didn’t care if the player left.
Although I admit to having formed a couple of less than positive opinions about LeBron’s leaving, they had nothing to do with the fact that he left, but more so the manner in which he left. I felt it was a bit disrespectful but that was only a minor passing opinion that I never had to dwell on. LeBron, like probably anybody reading this, had chosen to make a life changing decision and live with and accept the consequences, whether good or bad, like an adult. Therefore, who would I be to ever judge?
For what would be four years, LeBron was gone. The Cavaliers, as far as I can recall, didn’t even make the playoffs. Or maybe they did? I’m not sure. I don’t remember. I didn’t care. I would see the finals games on television and would mildly root for the underdog in every instance. But whatever the outcome, it was never personal to me.
Jump ahead to 2014. Lebron is coming back! I remember all the hype, hope and speculation prior to the announcement. I was annoyed by all the talk and I had announced publicly on several occasions that everybody was crazy and that they were grabbing at straws. NO WAY WAS LEBRON GOING TO COME BACK! Well, I was obviously wrong about all of that negative BS. When LeBron penned his letter to officially announce his return, I was intrigued. Here was a man whom was humbly and honestly pouring his heart out to northeast Ohio as he explained his past and present decisions, apologized for his wrongdoings and admitted that he was merely human. He was home and he was going to do everything in his power to bring Cleveland a championship. To me, that letter solidified my positive opinion of him in that he seems to exemplify every endearing quality that earns him the distinction of Professional Athlete.
When the 2014 Basketball season began, I still wasn’t anything close to what I would even attempt to pass off to anybody as a “true fan” of basketball or the Cleveland Cavaliers, but none the less, I began paying a little closer attention to the scores and the standings. I didn’t (and still don’t) have cable television, and so I wasn’t able to catch many of the regular season games through the week. Occasionally, I would go over to a friends house who was watching the games and I began paying a little more attention to the games. And asking questions. “Why is that a foul?”, “why are they called field goals?”.”What the hell is meant by ‘pick and roll’?” While I’m still not sure if even today I can give a solid answer for all of those things, the fact remains that I was interested and I was learning. By the time the playoffs came around last year, I had very recently gotten a new job which, for the first time in my life, afforded me with the luxury of having every evening and weekend off. So, on most playoff game nights, I would go over to my girlfriend’s to watch the games. I had begun to cheer the team. I had begun to learn players’ names. I had begun to pick favorites. I had begun to cheer and groan. I became invested. I cringed when Love hurt his shoulder. I remember the frustration when Kyrie went down in game one of the finals. I despised Curry and his cocky attitude–that godforsaken mouthpiece that he can’t keep in his mouth. You made it to game 6 of the finals. Cleveland was SO CLOSE to a championship
Before I move on to the present day, I’d like to segue for a moment and explain something: Throughout my entire lifetime, the only sport that I ever watched avidly was football and the only professional sports team that I had ever been a die hard fan of, is the Oakland Raiders. I bleed silver and black, period. I’m a Raiders fan because I played flag football for the “Raiders” in the first grade and that’s when my love of football began. I didn’t grow up in a family full of sports fans and so I had to grow into my own in that regard. Cleveland sports were never a part of my DNA. Yet, despite that fact, I’m still a northeast Ohioan. The Cleveland Browns are my second football team and as long as they aren’t playing the Raiders, you can catch me cheering them on just as loud and as proud as the rest them, as my family and friends can attest. Most of my closest friends are lifelong fans of Cleveland sport teams and so it’s suffice to say that I GET IT! I have witnessed the highs and lows for the local teams and I have shared in the disappointment with my friends when their luck ran out and when all the odds were against them. One need not be a sports fan to be empathetic for the city and the fans. I know how important a championship is for everybody and I’ve always prayed and hoped for the best for them. There is no question that Cleveland sports teams have the most dedicated and loyal fans in all the world and so I’ve always had respect for the fans.
So, moving on again, let me jump to the present season. I still wasn’t able to watch most of the regular season games due to my lack of cable television, but every time I picked up the paper or logged onto the internet, I was checking the scores and standings. On the occasions in which I was able to catch a game, I continued to ask questions and gain more and more interest, understanding and enthusiasm. When the Cavaliers officially made the playoffs, I was honestly excited and I went out of my way to make sure that I watched every single game. While I would normally stay at my girlfriends house only on the weekends, I made several guest appearances on game nights throughout the week. Each new series brought forth new excitement and deep dislike for so many of the opposing teams and players when they would lay down a dirty foul or simply act unprofessional in a number of ways (To say that I have a dislike for Draymond Green, would be an understatement.)
The ease in which you sped through the first two rounds of the playoffs proved only how elite the team was in comparison to most of the league. While the Toronto series proved a bit more challenging, it was clear that they were a very tough team to beat and I suspect that they will be giving you continued pressure throughout the next years. Obviously, the team did what needed to be done to adjust and you made it to the Finals again! The two number 1’s again! Vs.The defending champions! And you were healthy!. To be the best, you have to beat the best–and that’s exactly what you did much to skepticism of analysts, odds-makers, believers of “the curse” and people like myself: Those who always begin with high hope but then fretfully submitting to defeat once all has seemed lost. When you went down 3-1 in the finals, I thought that was it. I went so far as to create and image of your logo with a fork superimposed over the sword; That was an awful thing for me to do and when you won game five, I deleted all traces of it from social media and my hard drive. I was certain and had stated that if you would win game five that the series would go to seven games. When you forced a game seven, I was thrilled! However, I didn’t have a lot of optimism. Not that I wasn’t trying to be All In, but that I just thought all of the conditions were against you between their home court advantage, their “dirty” style of play (in my opinion), the officiating and the analysts.Hell! Even the newspapers and television articles had begun posting the schedule for the Warriors victory parade. We were going to lose. Time for “next year”.
You didn’t lose! You’re the 2016 NBA Champions! You fought tooth and nail through some of the most extreme cases of adversity and you did it with heart, determination and ,most of all, Class. Through injury and defeat you plowed on. You didn’t let the naysayers and the disbelievers bring you down mentally. You trusted yourselves, your hard work, and each other–and nothing else mattered. You remained poised and for 7o seconds, time stopped in northeast Ohio as you pounded the final nail into the coffin and made me eat my words from game 4.
Myself, my girlfriend, her mother and fans around the world were thrilled and speechless when in that single instant the clock hit 0.0 and the glass ceiling of doubt, shame, heartache and lost hope alike came crashing down from over Cleveland like the backboards of yester-year. Not only did you win the title, but you made NBA history while doing it. There is no doubt in my mind that the 2016 NBA finals will stand the test of time as being one of the greatest championship series’ in all of sports and I shall be forever grateful that I bore witness to it.
Then, yesterday, my girlfriend and I were fortunate enough to join the ranks of the 1.3 million who managed to make their way into downtown Cleveland to join in the celebration of your accomplishments as we stood near the corner of Ontario and Carnegie as we enjoyed the camaraderie and joy of so many strangers united. Aside from an excessive amount of garbage (Which, let’s all please give some great props to the cleanup crew!), some minor injuries, very few cases of somewhat rude behavior and one clear instance of an immature juvenile whom clearly was NOT downtown to celebrate the victory, everybody in downtown Cleveland was truly one.(which is also something that I never expected could happen). While getting home proved to be a bit more difficult and time-consuming for me, it was absolutely worth it. Not only did we get to witness history but we also became a part of it.
Therefore, I hope it goes without saying (though I’ll say it anyway) that you left me in awe and inspired. You gave me an understanding, a love and respect for the game of basketball that I never thought I would have. Furthermore , and for an as-yet-to-be-determined amount if time, you’ve brought together not only your community, but countless others beyond the City’s borders TOGETHER. And that, my friends, must mean so much more than a shiny trophy–or a title! (But damn, it sure is great!)
So, in closing, allow me to say to say to you once more:
Thank you! And Congratulations to the 2016 World Champion Cleveland Cavaliers!
James Richardson #AllIn317