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I grew up listening to stories of Cleveland sports glory from my maternal grandfather. Nobody else could really talk about it as it has been generations since Cleveland has won a major league level championship.
But as I wrote on Friday, the last several generations of Clevelanders have come up with plenty of names for our sports failures. Our sports teams seemed to excel in coming Oh. So. Close. From Elway’s 98 yard The Drive, to Byner’s The Fumble, to Jordan’s last second The Shot, to Willie Mays’ The Catch, to Jose Mesa’s World Series game 7 blown save in the bottom of the 9th, to the Indians losing to Boston after being up 3 games to 1 in the 2007 championship series, the list goes on forever. It sure seemed like only a curse could manage to allow the Browns, Indians, and Cavs to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in so many creative ways.
And yet, Cleveland remains a die-hard sports town. Even when locals move away from the easy-going lifestyle of the midwest to far pricier pastures, they still remain devoted to the local sports teams through the
thick and thin of it all. It’s hard to kill hope.
Back on May 8th when the Cavs swept the Hawks, I booked saver award tickets on United to fly nonstop from Cleveland to San Francisco on June 19th for a day trip with my grandfather in anticipation of a game 7 there. If there was going to be a championship in my lifetime I was going to see it in person with my own 2 eyes and have a ticket stub to prove it. And what better way than to bring my grandfather, the man responsible for my love of sports, along for the ride.
My mother’s 3 siblings, my Aunt Tova, Uncle Marty, and Uncle Neil, all came in from out of town to Cleveland to attend game 6. We originally had 4 tickets for myself, my wife, and my uncles. Tova Nathan is just 4 years my senior, so she’s more like the sister I never had (I have 5 brothers!) than my Aunt. When she decided to come to the game as well, we took it as a sign from above that good things would happen when I noticed that a single ticket suddenly went up for sale right next to our 4 seats. It turned out that someone had bought the 2 seats next to us, but sold one when his companion couldn’t make it. My grandfather wasn’t feeling well enough to attend, but took immense pride at seeing all of us having the time of our lives at one of the most memorable games in Cleveland sports history.
This past Shabbos several people in shul asked me in jest if I was planning on going to game 7. I fly everywhere on a dime, how would I miss this opportunity? But Dan, they protested, this is all part of the script! They couldn’t just lose quietly in game 5. They had to draw this thing out to 7 and then lose it in the final minutes. Was I really going to fly out there and spend the money on a Silicon Valley priced ticket, only to be crushed by a second coming of Jordan’s shot? Somehow my sixth sense told me this time would be different.
“In Northeast Ohio, nothing is given. Everything is earned. You work for what you have.”
-LeBron James in his return letter.
Down 3 games to 1 with 2 games taking place in Oakland, just about everyone wrote the Cavs off.
Does the 6th man make a difference? Just look at the records. The Cavs were 33-8 at home and 24-17 on the road during the regular season. The Warriors were 39-2 at home and 34-7 on the road during the regular season. There’s no doubt that a crowd’s energy contributes to a team’s success.
In game 6 the Cleveland crowd gave it their all. It was so loud that we couldn’t hear each other talk during the game and the players fed off of that. How could I not make the effort to fly out and see history? To see if Cleveland could break a sports curse that had been dogging our teams for generations. To see if the Cavs could become the 4th road team and the first since 1978 to win a game 7 Finals game on the road. To see if the Cavs could become the first team in Finals history to win after being down 3 games to 1.
My brother JJ has worked with me at DansDeals for the past couple of years. He took his talents to South Beach last year, but his sports heart remained back home. He decided on Friday to come along for the ride and nabbed last minute award ticket from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco via Houston Sunday morning and returning via Orlando that night. Now that’s a corporate retreat!
At the airport I told JJ to go into the United Club and ask about being placed on the standby list for the nonstop flight from San Francisco back to Fort Lauderdale that evening. At first the agent told him that he couldn’t be placed on the standby list because his connecting flight was scheduled to depart 6 minutes before the nonstop flight. I told him to “HUCA” and ask again and this time the agent just confirmed him on the nonstop flight that didn’t have award space. The agent didn’t charge him the $75 standby fee and gave him a free Economy Plus window seat that would have otherwise cost $100!
Unfortunately, my grandfather wasn’t feeling well enough make the trek out to San Francisco, despite really wanting to be able to.
I always buy tickets on the secondary market on the day of the game. I’ve sat countless times in the front row at baseball games for less than the cost of an upper deck seat by waiting it out. That’s not easy to do when you’re flying across the country, so I monitored the prices closely. But as they kept dropping I decided to wait it out.
The flight out to San Francisco was amazing. I’d say about 90% of the plane was wearing Cavs gear and planning on going to the game. Even the United gate agents were decked out in Cavs apparel.
The CLE flight status boards were #AllIn:
United’s Star Alliance 737-800 flew an excited fan base from CLE to SFO on Sunday morning:
I took Rafi to San Francisco on a father-son trip in April, so I didn’t bother hitting up the tourist sites again. I waited in the club for JJ’s flight to arrive while monitoring ticket prices for the game. Not finding anything worth buying, I picked up a car from Avis and we drove to Oakland Kosher. They have a grocery and deli with a few tables to eat in.
A burger and fries were $10 and were both solid. Better than the kosher options across the Bay Bridge.
While there we finally nabbed seats. We could have waited longer, but for a game 7 we really wanted to be downstairs where we could watch the game on the floor as opposed to the jumbotron. And we wanted to be heard on the court. And we defnitely didn’t want this to happen to us. So we spent a pretty penny, but prices had fallen by more than 50% in just 3 days, so it was worth the wait.
After lunch we met up with DDF’er whYME. The last time I saw him in March we were in the North Pole region, so the relative outdoor temperature was about 150 degrees warmer this time 😀
We took in the expansive views from Grizzly Peak in Berkeley near Tilden Park.
And we got our first F-bombs from passerbys about the CLE blackout shirts we were wearing that were given out in game 6.
Not bad for a Costco prepaid rate of $10.44 plus tax 🙂
We killed some more time at People’s Park and Telegraph road.
Finally it was time to head to the game.
Scott Raab wrote about the ticket stub he kept in his wallet from the 1964 Browns championship only about a dozen times in his book on LeBron’s 2010 decision. But no matter how hard we tried, nobody at the Arena was willing to print anything up for us. All we had was a TicketMaster eticket and even that was programmed to block screenshots.
Inside Oracle Arena we did bump into some Cavs fans, but we were probably outnumbered by about 40 to 1. Of course we expected to be showered with boos, but the number of F-bombs hurled our way was a bit shocking. Good thing I didn’t bring Rafi.
Luckily the sideline seats have their own club entrance and the fans in there were classier. One person in our row asked if we were actually from Cleveland and he was just relieved that we weren’t bay area bandwagon fans.
Selfie from our seats:
I missed doing the national anthem as they did it in Cleveland, with the whole crowd singing together as one rather than listening to one person on the court:
The game was epic, with 20 lead changes and 11 tied scores that kept everyone on their toes. The intensity was clearly far less than in Cleveland though. And that makes sense. A city that hasn’t won in more than half a century is hungrier for it than one that just won.
With the Cavs down by 7 at the half, I told one Cavs fan in the bathroom line that it would stay a close game. And it did. With the crowd surprisingly quiet during Warrior possessions, JJ screamed De-Fense so loudly that I have no doubt they heard him on the court. The first several times he did that, the Cavs managed to get some amazing stops.
Tied at 89 for what seemed like forever:
But then the Cavs’ Big 3 went into beast mode in their own personal redemptions.
LeBron’s 20MPH The Chasedown and The Block of Iguodala:
Kyrie’s Shot makes up for the original Shot by Jordan:
And Love’s stellar defense preserved the Cavs lead:
Was this really happening? Was Cleveland about to cap off its remarkable civic renaissance with one of the most improbable victories of all time?
But that’s the way it had to be.
להבדיל, but Hasidic thought says that every force in this world has its polar opposite. Everything bad has the exact opposite in good.
And with all the improbable losses that Cleveland suffered in the final minutes, what better or more meaningful way was there to win other than exactly this way, in a completely unprecedented manner that no expert in the world predicted. It couldn’t have happened any other way. It simply had to happen exactly this way.
After all of the last minute heartbreaks over the years, all of the emotion of this last minute win came pouring out. Everyone from Cavs fans, to LeBron, to the coach got misty eyed and emotional. LeBron never did that when he won in Miami, but he fulfilled his promise and brought home the ring to his hometown. He had been forgiven by his fans for his mistakes. He had redemption and so did his city.
He was the first player in NBA history to lead all players in points, rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks in a playoff series. And he did it in the biggest series he’s ever played in.
If he were to leave the Cavs tomorrow, I don’t think anyone would hold a grudge against him.
He kept his promise:
Immediately after the game LeBron said,
“I set out a goal two years when I came back, to bring a championship to this city. I gave everything that I had. I poured my heart, my blood, my sweat, my tears into this game. Against all odds, I don’t know why we want to take the hardest road.
“I don’t know why the man above give me the hardest road, but … the man above don’t put you in situations that you can’t handle. I just kept that same positive attitude. Instead of saying why me, I said this is what He wants me to do. And, uh, Cleveland — this is for you!”
His post-game interview sounded like soundbites that might get hammered home in a Hasidic Farbrengen. Some will mock the idea that you can take lessons from that. But isn’t there a lesson to be learned from everything on this planet? How much more so from something being watched by millions of people from across the globe. It was powerful to me and is something that can be applied to everyday life.
And in the moment it all came flowing out with tears of pure joy and jubilation. Some fans remained nasty and bitter, that was to be expected I suppose. However just as many kept it classy, were very congratulatory, and some even offered us their ticket stubs:
The crowd of Cleveland fans lingered on, jumping for joy.
JJ and I took turns in leading several chants:
Gotta love the Mincha call at the end from a GSW fan 😉
That chant was also featured on an ESPN SportCenter tweet that was viewed 750,000 times (click play and then click again for volume):
Cavs fans still celebrating in Oracle. 🎉 https://t.co/XUQBjBog02
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) June 20, 2016
And of course people noticed:
Love the Tzitzit at a sports game#torah
— dprep (@dprep80) June 20, 2016
— Ben Isaacs (@BigBenI1) June 20, 2016
— Michael Marx (@marxiey) June 20, 2016
I do feel bad for a few guys.
Poor Anderson Varejão has played his heart out for the Cavs for 12 years and was cut a few months ago. He probably thought he had a sure thing at a ring when he joined the Warriors. I’d bet the Cavs give him a ring anyway, but no matter what it’s made from, it will always feel like cubic zirconia.
Joe Tait is the voice of the Cavs to any Clevelander and is a legend. He started calling Cavs games from the year they came into existence until 5 years ago. It’s a shame he couldn’t call anything like game 7 over all those years.
David Blatt did an amazing job bringing the Cavs to the Finals last year. The Cavs were up 2 games to 1, but just couldn’t overcome the injuries that Kyrie and Love suffered in the playoffs. I’m sure he’ll get a ring as well.
Nike summed it up well:
Ari Lesser, who goes to my shul in Cleveland, put together this impressive rap celebrating the team:
It was a night that no Clevelander will ever forget. The redeye back home to Cleveland was full of strangers high-fiving each other. I’ll admit to being jealous of the hundreds of thousands back home on the downtown streets celebrating into the night, but I wouldn’t have traded places for anything. Besides, we’ve got a parade coming to Cleveland tomorrow for the first time in 52 years!
I hope to go with my grandfather and Rafi to the parade tomorrow. I no longer have to hear stories of a parade that took place over half a century ago. Rafi won’t understand the big deal now and hopefully he never will. But just in case, he’ll be able to tell his grandkids one day about a parade that his dad and grandfather took him to when he was 4…