At 9 AM on Wednesday morning, I was standing on the corner of Lakeside and East 9th Street in Downtown Cleveland, entangled in a horde of jubilant people wearing wine and gold. I was one of the more than 1.3 million people who had lined the city streets in the sweltering summer heat to catch a glimpse of our new NBA Champions, the Cleveland Cavaliers, who were led by LeBron James to beat the Golden State Warriors in an historic seven-game series.
The celebratory parade was a first for Cleveland. Until this past Sunday, my city had not won a title in 52 years and the Cavs franchise had never won a championship. The only explanation for my hometown's incredibly bad fortune in sports was that Cleveland was cursed. For decades, the city had been the butt of bad jokes. Finally, after the Cavs took the title, we could all hold our head up with pride.
During the parade, the city exuded a new air of confidence. People were walking taller, they were smiling—and for once, they had a reason to be proud to be from Cleveland. They were posted up on parking garage roofs, they lined the office buildings widows, some were even perching on top of street signs and pillars. There was so many people that the parade was delayed over an hour while authorities tried their best to clear the route.
Like most people who were born in Northeastern Ohio, I've been riding the emotional rollercoaster of being a Cleveland sports fan since I was a little girl. My grandfather is the one who passed the burden on to me. His team of choice was the Indians. Every time there was a game on, he would watch it intently while sitting in his favorite black leather armchair in the kitchen. He might mute the audio while we chatted, but he would never miss a play, even though conventional wisdom said we'd never win a championship.
Over the years, he taught me to always cheer for the Indians and all of Cleveland's other major sports franchises like the Browns and the Cavs, no matter how heartbreaking their seasons were. By the early 90s, my grandpa already had 40 years of unfortunate Cleveland sports under his belt. He had witnessed all of the city's disappointments, from the Brown's notorious AFC Championship fumble in 1987 to Michael Jordan's legendary shot over the Cavaliers in the 1989 NBA playoffs.
But, his pride for our teams came from a pride for the city that he grew up in. He stayed hopeful season after season and always followed up our embarrassing losses with a "There's always next year!" As I looked around at the parade on Wednesday, I realized that "next year" was finally "this year." We were living his dream and my only wish was that he could have lived to see it.
Since I was raised in an eastern suburb of Cleveland, I heard about LeBron James before he ever put on his Cavaliers jersey. To the boys in my middle school, he was already a legend. Droves of teen jocks from my school would make the hour-long journey from the east side to the west side to see him play at St. Vincent-St. Mary's before he graduated in 2003. In the days that followed the games, the halls of my high school would be filled with chatter about LeBron and his unbelievable performance on the court.
When LeBron signed with the Cavs in 2003, the excitement around our basketball team and our city had reached a new height. It was even more special because he was a kid from Northeastern Ohio, too. He understood first-hand the cycle of hope and despair that fans in the Land have had to deal with, but he set out to change that. So, Clevelanders fell to their knees to praise the King.
When LeBron led the Cavs to the franchise's first NBA Finals appearance in 2007, it felt like the city's prayers had finally been answered. We weren't relying on blind hope like usual—this time we had one of the greatest players in the league on our roster. Unfortunately, when we lost, the feeling was all too familiar, but as always, our hope remained.
Over the next three years, the Cavs went through several highs and lows. Until LeBron signed with the Miami Heat in 2010, crashing Cleveland's confidence as fast as he lifted it.
As I stood among that massive crowd who cheered fiercely for LeBron, it was almost hard for me to believe that just six years ago on the same streets, angry Cleveland fans burned LeBron James's jersey after he decided to take his "talents to South Beach."
Back then, we had lost the prodigal son, and despite nearly getting a taste of victory, we were once again shitty Cleveland. So, my hometown's "fans" turned on LeBron. They called him a "former hero," harassed him with racist messages on social media, and vowed to win a championship for the city without him—even though everyone knew inside that we couldn't. Which is why it was so incredible that he decided to come back home after playing four season with the Heat. Even though Cleveland had disrespected him so viciously, he still wanted to give us the glory of a ring.
In the time that LeBron was in Miami, I too left my native Cleveland in hopes of following my dreams and achieving more than what I could at home. So, I never hated on LeBron for leaving. And I didn't blame him for wanting to come home, either. Like my Grandpa taught me, you honor where you come from. So, when the Cavs made a miraculous comeback in a 3-1 series deficit on Sunday, I knew I had to come home, too—at least for the parade.
The championship game was hurricane of emotions. There were few times I have ever felt that nervous, and not one of them involved a professional sports team. While I knew what winning would mean to Beliveland, I was even more emotional about what it meant to LeBron to finally score a championship for this city after so many years of relentless scrutiny and denial. When the final seconds ran out and he dropped to his knees, tears streaming from his eyes, I couldn't help but cry, too. LeBron kept his promise and ended our curse.
After more than 50 years of losing, LeBron finally made us winners. So, it was only right that we honor him and the Cleveland Cavaliers with a parade fit for a King.