It was exactly one year ago today that the Cavaliers erased a 52-year-long drought.
Of course, a drought of such epic proportions could only be erased in the most historic fashion.
June 19, 2016, marked the day that the Cavs became the first NBA team in history to come back and win a championship after being down 3-1 in the series. After losing Game 4 at home, the Cavs went on to beat the Golden State Warriors in three straight games. But this wasn’t just any team they had to beat in three straight. The Cavs had the seemingly insurmountable task of beating a 73-win team who had not lost three straight games all year.
That didn’t deter them.
They went into Oracle Arena and won Game 5. After winning Game 6 and evening the series at three games apiece, there was a sense that the Cavs really had a shot to win the title.
But no one in the city dared to dream too much. No one wanted to give themselves over to daydreams of a championship after living through the drive, the shot, the fumble, and Jose Mesa’s ninth inning. In a series that consisted of blowout game after blowout game, Game 7 was the only one that was back and forth all night.
The final four minutes were what sealed the deal for the Cavs. That’s when the drive, the shot and the fumble were replaced by the block, the stop and Kyrie Irving’s shot.
LeBron James coming out of nowhere to block Andre Iguodala’s layup, Kevin Love’s quick feet while guarding Steph Curry, and Kyrie Irving’s jumper from the right wing over Curry, are burned into the memory of every Cleveland sports fan.
As the buzzer sounded, only then did we dare to believe that the city of Cleveland won a championship as the scoreboard read 93-89. Only then did we dare to celebrate as fans took to the streets downtown, climbing street signs, and finding as much champagne as we could.
It was the kind of moment that anyone who witnessed will remember exactly where they were decades from now.
Days later, 1.3 million people descended upon downtown for a championship parade, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in over a half century. There was no rule book for city officials, and no planning dared take place ahead of Game 7 to avoid any possible jinx.
As a parade route was finalized less than 48 hours before the celebration began, the fans came in droves, some camping out the night before.
A lack of barricades led to the streets literally overflowing, with fans hanging out of parking garages, climbing lamp posts, trees and street signs just to catch a glimpse of the Larry O’Brien trophy, and the players who helped delivered it.
It was the kind of party that can only occur in a city that has known sports misery for so long.
When LeBron James returned to Cleveland in 2014, he said his goal was to bring a championship to Cleveland. The hometown hero made good on that promise and then some.
It’s arguable that in the history of sports, no athlete has had the weight of an entire city on their shoulders quite like James did. He put everyone on the team and in the city on his back, and carried us all over the finish line.
“Cleveland, this is for you!,” he said after the win.
While the Cavs were unable to defend their title in 2017 and while plenty hangs in the balance as free agency begins, it does not erase what the playoff run of 2016 means.
Sometimes it’s hard for sports fans to recognize greatness while we are in the middle of it.
But during the summer of 2016 in Cleveland, that was all we did.
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