Four weeks ago, I used this space to ask God for something:
Please, God, Just This Once…
For one time, just ONE time, let my team win. Let my team be the champs. Let me have that moment that so many other people have had over their lifetimes.
I wanted to say “Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA Champions.”
My guys. The champs.
Just once. After that, do with me what you will.
And that got me two blowout losses and another “Here We Go Again” feeling.
I had to let go. I understood a long time ago that God answers every prayer.
It’s just sometimes, God says, “No.”
When the Cavs went down 0-2, I stopped watching the games. Screw it, I said to myself. I’m not watching a goddamned sweep. So instead, I went to the garage and tinkered around with stuff, while I had the NBA app playing in the background.
The radio broadcast of John Michael and Jim Chones was my soundtrack and by the end of the night, the Cavs had come through with their first victory of the series.
I was headed to Milwaukee the night of Game 4, so I had the app on again, listening on the radio as I went along. The team had a five-point lead at half when I arrived home.
Dad, being a generous guy, flipped the TV on and let me watch the end of the game.
The Cavs lost and LeBron got hit in the nuts by Draymond Green to boot.
Thus began the Faustian bargain: If I didn’t watch the games, maybe they’d win them.
Each time I tried it, each time they did it. Miracle after miracle, my team clawed back from a 3-1 series deficit and pushed the team with the greatest regular season record ever to the brink.
Game 7. All the marbles.
If you know anything about Cleveland, this always happens. We get so close we can taste it.
It always comes down to something you can name.
Jose Mesa. Edgar Renteria. Earnest Byner.
But here’s the funny thing about all of those moments: We were SUPPOSED TO WIN those games.
When Jordan hit The Shot, we had the lead.
When Elway ran The Drive, we had the lead.
When Mesa blew the save, we had the lead.
What happens that one time when we are pinned back into a corner, we have no chance and there’s no real reason to believe?
No team has ever come back from 3-1 deficit to win the finals.
No team that won 70 games has ever NOT won the finals.
The Golden State Warriors haven’t lost three games in a row since 2013.
We have no goddamned hope at all.
As everyone ever knowing anything about Cleveland has said this at least a jillion times: Nothing ever comes easy to Cleveland.
So, I went into the garage and tuned into WTAM’s broadcast once again. I tore about four lawn mowers and kept trying to get at least one of them to start.
With about three minutes to go in the game, my mother in law had a request: Taco Bell.
So I slid behind the wheel of Betsy, plugged the phone into my radio and listened as I rode off into the darkness in search of a gordita and a miracle.
It’s hard to explain how weird this game was. The box score will reflect that the teams went scoreless for something like six minutes in the fourth quarter. Every single second of the game felt like an hour. Every shot, every block, every rebound… It felt like I was doing open-heart surgery on myself with acid-tipped knitting needles.
With less than a minute to go, Kyrie Irving hit a three-pointer that had me pounding on the outside of my car door as I drove through a roundabout. When LeBron was subsequently fouled and fell on his wrist, my heart stopped.
He missed the first free throw. I made the sign of the cross. He made the second.
93-89. Up four. 10 seconds left.
I swear I was going to pass out. I mean, I really worried that I was going to black out while driving my car.
And then it happened. A short flurry of action. Miss. Miss. Miss.
I sat in a Taco Bell parking lot, tears streaming down my face. I couldn’t stop it.
Every underdog story I ever heard came back to me at once.
I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.
Everything inside just came out.
It finally was next year.