The Cleveland Cavaliers capped off one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, as they came from 3-1 down in the NBA Finals to beat the Golden State Warriors.
This is the first championship for the city since 1964, when the Cleveland Browns won an NFL championship.
LeBron James crushed the city when he left the Cavaliers for the Miami Heat in 2010 and won two NBA titles.
When James came back to Cleveland in 2014, he vowed to bring a championship to the city’s long-suffering fans.
“Just knowing what our city has been through, northeast Ohio has been through, as far as our sports and everything for the last 50-plus years. You could look back to the Earnest Byner fumble, Elway going 99 yards, to Jose Mesa not being able to close out in the bottom of the ninth (for the Indians in the 1997 World Series) to the Cavs went to The Finals — I was on that team — in 2007, us getting swept, and then last year us losing 4-2. And so many more stories,” said James on this championship being a little extra special for him since it’s his hometown.
“And our fans, they ride or die, no matter what’s been going on, no matter the Browns, the Indians, the Cavs and so on, and all other sports teams. They continue to support us. And for us to be able to end this, end this drought, our fans deserve it. They deserve it. And it was for them.”
James said of what finally winning one with the Cavaliers would do for himself and for the city of Cleveland, and also especially for Akron, “I’m true to the game, and I know what I bring to the table. I came back for a reason. I came back to bring a championship to our city. I knew what I was capable of doing. I knew what I learned in the last couple years that I was gone, and I knew if I had to — when I came back, I knew I had the right ingredients and the right blueprint to help this franchise get back to a place that we’ve never been. That’s what it was all about.
“Right now it’s just excitement. It’s not even relief. It’s just excitement for us as a team, as a franchise, as a city, as a community. To be able to continue to build up our city, to continue to be an inspiration to our city, it means everything. I’m happy to be a part of it.”
James was names the MVP of The Finals, and he was the biggest reason the Cavaliers were the first team to ever overcome a 3-1 deficit in the championship round.
After James had a disappointing performance down the stretch by James in Game 4, he and Kyrie Irving put on a show for the ages in the fifth game, as they each scored 41 points each to keep the series alive.
“For me, when I came up here after we lost Game 4 at home, I said, ‘hey, listen, we’ve got to take one possession, one game at a time. We’re going to Golden State, so we’ve got to fly home anyways, so why not have another game?,'” said James of how the series turned with that Game 5 win.
“And I believed in that. And my guys believe in me as their leader every single day. I preach to them every single day. I’m their leader, and they allow me to lead those guys every single night. I was just true to that. I believed, and nobody else believed besides the other 14 guys and our coaching staff and our fans. So it’s just going out and executing and putting things together and making plays, and we were able to do that.”
James scored 41 again in Game 6 on Thursday in Cleveland to tie the series at 3-all and send the series back to California.
In Game 7, James had 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists, and Irving had 26 points and six rebounds.
The game went back-and-forth right until the end. Golden State’s Klay Thompson made a layup to tie the game at 89 with 4:39 left and it stayed that way until Irving hit a three-pointer with 53 seconds left.
The Cleveland defense was stifling in the final minute, and James could have sealed the game in an emphatic way as he went for a dunk with 10 seconds left. He was fouled by Draymond Green, and hit the court hard, landing on his right wrist and stayed on the court for a while.
James made one of two free throws to make it 93-89, and Steph Curry missed a wild three in the closing seconds to end it.
The Cavaliers were the first team to win a Game 7 of the NBA Finals on the road since 1978, when the Washington Bullets won in Seattle over the SuperSonics.
For the Warriors, their place in history is similar to the 2007 New England Patriots. Golden State won the most games in the regular season, 73, but could not get the championship. New England went 16-0 in the regular season, but lost the Super Bowl to the Giants, which meant the 1972 Miami Dolphins are still the only team to go undefeated for the entire season.
James said of what was going through his mind before the game, “Just zeroing in on what needs to be done to help us win. Obviously I put the effort into it, but just thinking about the game, thinking about the plays, understanding that they’re going to make a run. They’re a great team. Understanding that we’re going to make some mistakes, but it’s how we come back from it and how we move on to the next possession.
“Then also just living in the moment. I told my guys before the game: Listen, there is a game to be played, but there’s not many guys, there’s not many teams that get an opportunity to be in the NBA Finals in a Game 7. There’s just not.
“And this is my second one, and I’m able to say that I’ve been victorious twice in Game 7.
“I just told the guys: Don’t take this for granted. Don’t take it for granted. Let’s go out. Our coaching staff gave us a great plan; let’s go execute it.”
The other Game 7 James won was in 2013 when his Miami Heat beat the San Antonio Spurs. The Heat were down 3-2 in that series and won the final two games at home. The Finals were still a 2-3-2 format that season before the current 2-2-1-1-1 schedule.
On the mindset the team had to complete the comeback, James said, “Well, I mean, at the end of the day you’re down 3-1, and we’ve got to come here. We’ve got to come here and win. We had to win in this building anyways. I mean, we only get three games at home. So even if we sweep the home series in a seven-game series, we’ve got to win here anyway.
“So Game 5 was a great opportunity for us to try to seize that, and we came up with a great game plan. Our coaching staff gave us a great game plan, and we were able to send the game back home down 3-2.
“And we know our fans. Our fans give us everything, and we were able to give it back to them. Once we get to a Game 7, I’ll take my chances versus anybody, versus any team. You give me one game, you give me 48 minutes, I’ll take my chances. Once we got to a Game 7, I was just confident. I knew what I was capable of doing. I knew my guys would allow me to lead them throughout the 48 minutes, and they did that.”