The curse is broken in Cleveland, Ohio.
It’s the fourth quarter of game seven of the 2016 NBA Finals, and I’m pacing uncontrollably. I believe but I’m conditioned to expect heartbreak. Palms clasped against the center of my face as if I am praying, wishing, hoping that this time — this time — it will be different.
The series of events throughout the final two minutes of the game have already been talked about endlessly: LeBron James’ freight train chase down of Andre Iguodala’s would-be go-ahead layup. Kyrie Irving’s breathtaking ball-handling wizardry, sinister crossover and step-back three-pointer to take the lead. Kevin Love’s improbable defensive stand facing the first-ever unanimous league MVP, Stephen Curry. The would-be tomahawk slam by LeBron resulting in a two-possession game after a trip to the line.
As these events are unfolding, my heart flutters. All at once I’m shivering and burning up. Recalcitrant tears slip from the corners of my eyes as the clock agonizingly creeps to zero. To describe the moments after as anything other than utterly surreal would be more than a lie; it would near blasphemy given the turbulent history and constant turmoil of sports franchises in Cleveland, Ohio.
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When LeBron fell to his knees weeping from the weight of it all, I too felt an overabundance of emotions flooding through my being. As every other Northeast Ohio native would likely say, I was right there with him. In that undefinable moment, LeBron wasn’t just the best basketball player in the world; he was a symbol for the evaporating heartache that the city of Cleveland, Ohio, and its surrounding areas have carried so heavily for 52 years.
The Cleveland Curse is well documented. For those who are not from the area, it may be hard to understand. While other cities have had long title droughts, no city has had it as bad as Cleveland, Ohio. Before the finals, the city had gone a baffling 149 title-less seasons between their three major sports teams: the Browns, the Indians and the Cavaliers.
The curse consisted of such Greek tragedies as “The Drive,” “The Fumble,” “The Shot,” “The Move,” “The Decision” and many other blunders that didn’t earn their own infamous nicknames but were all the while components of the continuation of a championship drought that could not be understood by any reason or logic other than Cleveland is cursed. When LeBron James penned his love letter to the rust belt city affectionately known as “The Land,” hope rekindled.
I’m young enough to not remember a number of Cleveland sports disasters firsthand but old enough to feel the burden of them all the same. When you are born in Northeast Ohio, you are indoctrinated into the conjoined web of misery of its sports franchises. My father was a toddler when the 1964 Browns won the NFL Championship. As LeBron takes hold of the finals trophy in one hand and the finals MVP statue in the other, my father is 55. More than half a lifetime passed, and I can tell you right now, he never thought he would witness a championship parade in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, but he always believed. And it turns out curses can be broken.
Nearly 2 million faithful attended the championship parade.
LeBron was right all along. We are all witnesses. He has led The Land to uncharted territory and allowed us the freedom to embrace our legacy, scars and all. You see, the view at the top is that much more powerful because of the troubled journey blazoned in the rearview mirror. Amidst the festivities and excitement, Clevelanders are charged with acknowledging what this championship means on a momentary level but also with the awareness of the global narrative.
As astonishing as it may be, on June 19, 2016, I felt everything. On June 20, the entirety of the event amalgamated into the foreign sentiment of nothingness that follows impalpable coveted fulfillment.
A city celebrates together.
The strange thing about longing for something for so long is that when that fleeting achievement is finally realized, there is a pocket of time that feels like eternity. This was the sleepless night after game seven, after the champagne had been emptied, the tears had dried and the surreal transitioned into reality. Then comes the aftermath: confronted with the reality of what is, the events that led to the defining moment dissolve.
For the first time in over half a century Cleveland, Ohio, has adopted a new persona. And with that change we may have lost a piece of our identity. In the wake of this momentous feat, I am left curiously empty.
When LeBron James announced “The Return,” he said, “In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.” For the Cleveland Cavaliers, they followed this mantra throughout the 2014-2015 season and met their defeat at the hands of the surging Golden State Warriors. Fast-forward a year, and the Cavs found themselves in a 3-1 hole, on the brink of elimination. Then, against all conceivable odds, they worked — worked hard — to win three games in a row against a team that hadn’t lost three in a row for nearly three years. Along the way, they became the first team to overcome such a deficit in the finals, and James put on the greatest performance in finals history, solidifying his high place in basketball lore with arguably only Michael Jordan still standing above him.
After 52 years, a banner belongs to Cleveland, Ohio.
Hollywood couldn’t have scripted a better storybook ending for the Cleveland Curse. But just like a finely orchestrated film, it’s the rising action that makes the climax so impactful. For Cleveland, Ohio, 50-plus years of anguish were obliterated at the final buzzer. Because of the nature of the series, the climax we had been waiting for didn’t reveal itself until the final seconds of game seven. There was no falling action to ease the narrative into a calming denouement. There was only pandemonium, a city crying and celebrating in awestruck beautiful unison.
The story of Cleveland sports is far from over, but for a city that has been perpetually starved for a mere single success, the complexity of emotions that comes with the realization of that singular accomplishment is profoundly obtuse, intricately tangled and complicated.
When the lingering astonishment has finally settled, the new goal for Cleveland, Ohio, may become clear. For now there is everything that this championship means to Northeast Ohio, but the concept we latched onto for generations is no longer a factor. To that effect we have ascended from nothing to grasp onto everything. A cyclical process, we have returned to nothing to search out a fresh everything.
Nothingness is an abstract concept for the blue-collar working-class citizens on the shores of Lake Erie, but it is most assuredly a welcome interval, a collective lasting sigh of relief. An eerie calm has set on a city that has never ceased to believe in burgeoning greatness rising from persistent dormancy. LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and company have cast back the constantly looming shadow. There is light in Cleveland in the aftermath of constant belief. We can do with it as we please.