On June 19 2016, the identify of Cleveland’s professional sports fans changed forever. With a Block, a Shot, and a Stop for the ages, the Cavaliers closed the book on 52 years of suffering and ushered in a new Era of Champions. On such an auspicious occasion, I cannot help but remember the unique circumstances under which I enjoyed the greatest Game 7 in history.
Living on the West coast in 2016 offered both benefits (hello 5:00pm PST tipoff) and drawbacks (hello thousands of bandwagon Warriors fans). One year ago, I flew from Seattle to Los Angeles for business. Despite booking the ticket a month in advance I deliberately chose an early departure in case the series went seven games.1 That morning, I researched the only Cleveland-sports bar in all of Los Angeles – St. Felix at Cahuenga and Selma. I parked a block away, and walked over to the watering hole. When I entered the first two jerseys I saw were of Eric Snow and Larry Hughes. Clearly this was the right place.
The bar served as a beacon for roughly 175 Cavaliers fans. They filled the bar stools, tables, back room (where I sat), and outdoor patio. Despite being so far from home I felt immediately at ease. Everyone appeared eager to meet a stranger comparing parishes and high schools. Most of them came out to LA chasing the Hollywood Dream, but many others were simply there briefly for work like me. The menu consisted of Great Lakes and pierogies. My people.
The crowd locked in the entire game. Every Draymond three pointer elicited a round of boos and cursing. Every Kyrie handle or LeBron dunk brought us to our feet. Maybe it was the crowd’s relative youth, but the mood remained confident throughout. No one spoke of Michael Jordan, John Elway, or Jose Mesa. It just didn’t seem relevant. By the fourth quarter, we were all standing.
When Iguodala began his fateful breakaway, we all groaned, fearing for the worse. The Block elevated us five feet off the ground. When Irving shook-and-baked Curry for three we were jumping, delirious and giddy. We rose from mild to concern to rapturous applause as Love bottled Steph like cologne. When LeBron fell after his would be dunk we all immediately assumed his wrist was broken, he would miss both free throws, Curry would hit a three to tie it, and we would lose in overtime. From what I hear that was a popular theory nationwide.
When the final Warriors three pointer bounced off the rim we all jumped together, a mass of sweaty, crying humanity. Champagne was produced and popped. We hugged strangers. Despite the 2,350 miles separating us from downtown we for a moment were the 216, 440, and 330 combined. Amid the din we were Little Italy, Coventry, and Ohio City. We were All In.
I stepped outside and called my parents. They were crying. I called my grandparents. They were crying. I called my fiance; she was at work but still excited. No one left for hours as we sang “We are the Champions” and “Cleveland Rocks” until hoarse. We were cursed no more, reveling on our liberation deep in Hollywood.
I mention this because while the 2017 Finals did not end as wonderfully as the previous year we will always have June 19, 2016. The day brought generations of Clevelanders together not only downtown but in cities across the country. For years we wanted for just one moment to stand alone atop the mountain. That flag will fly forever.
Where were you one year ago today?