Sports: An Universal Healer
NBA superstar LeBron James commented to the media after practice as the Cleveland Cavaliers prepped for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Atlanta Hawks about how sports can help heal a city despite the turmoil that may be happening in the city. He said, "I think sports in general, no matter what city it is something that's going through a city that's very dramatic, traumatizing or any of that case, I think sports is one of the biggest healers in helping a city out. Sports just does something to people. Either if you're a player, you're a fan, you just have something that has anything to do with that city, you just feel a certain way about rooting for a team that you love. And it can get your mind off some of the hardships that may be going on throughout your life or in that particular time and period. It just does that." This announcement couldn't have came at worse time as Cleveland was caught in the middle of a Cavs NBA title chase.
The response was fresh off of the acquittal of Officer Michael Brello on May 23. He faced manslaughter charges for the November 2012 deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams. Brello and many other Cleveland Police officers were on a hot-speed pursuit of the two for miles before Russell and Williams stopped in an East Cleveland parking lot, and the officers fired 137 shots into Russell's vehicle killing them instantly. The verdict sparked instant outrage and protests throughout the city. Majority of the protest were peaceful, but there were 71 people arrested over the weekend and most of them were arraigned Memorial Day. Most of the protesters got off with the time served and were only charged with fines. The other protesters plead not guilty and elected to go to trail. The remaining protesters were charged with felonies were arraigned later. But, LeBron is no stranger to commenting on social issues. He and his Miami Heat teammates posed in a picture of them wearing hoodies in 2012 in honor of Trayvon Martin, and paid tribute to him on his sneakers as well. He also spoke out against ousted LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling when a recorded conversation between him and his mistress leaked with him spewing racially insensitive rants towards African-Americans a year ago.
Sports brings people together because it provides escape for us from everyday life. No matter what may be going on in our daily lives or what our cities may be going through, this is one thing that unifies us. It's a healer as well as a conversation starter. Sports is talked no matter where you are: work, schools, barbershops, libraries or even on the streets. It also doesn't matter which race, socioeconomic background, sexual orientation, or even political party because you're all rooting for your team to win. Sunday, May 24, 2015, I was anticipating Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals more than any Cavs playoff game. The city and myself needed to relive itself from the tension, anger and pain from the announcement of the verdict. The verdict was making plenty of national headlines on news networks, and conversations sparked on the issues of police brutality, race and suggestions on how to fix flawed policing procedures within African American communities. When the ball tipped off later that evening at The Q, it was an escape from one of the most painful memories in my city's history.
My brother and I sat at home watching the game, on the edge of our seats. We were anticipating every offensive play, every defensive stop as the Hawks came back and took the lead in the 4th Quarter. Then anticipation amped up even more in overtime, and it was turned up so high at home and at The Q; i thought the energy was going to explode. The overtime session was heart-pounding, adrenaline-surging as the Cavs went back and forth down the stretch as both teams went on runs to take the lead. It was also a matter of emotions within a two-minute period. We were cheering and screaming at the top of my lungs then we were getting ticked off and ready to cuss out the TV. The Cavs won Game 3 114-111, and took a 3-0 lead in the Best-of-7 series. As LeBron dropped to his knees on the court, we all took a deep breath after a competitive, hard-fought game. I feel if the Cavs would've lost Game 3, the city's psyche would've taken a hit heading into Memorial Day. But, the holiday everything was brighter and the spirits of myself and the city were lifted up. And, things were about to get even better.
Two nights later, the Cavs finished off the Hawks 4-0 to advance to The NBA Finals for the first time in eight years. This was the Cavs' second Finals appearance in franchise history. It was a celebration and jubilation throughout the city and it couldn't have came at a better time. We were anxiously awaiting the Western Conference winner of the Warriors-Rockets series. The next night, the Warriors knocked off the Rockets in five games to set up The Finals match-up. The only downside to it was that we would have to wait 10 days for The NBA Finals to start. The city was anxiously counting down the days to the start of the series, and we were all anticipating tip-off in Oakland. It was like a kid waiting for Christmas Day to come so they can unwrap the presents. This was an opportunity for a true chance for a Cleveland sports team to win a pro sports title for the city in over 50 years. The Cavs split the first two games in Golden State, but it came at the cost of losing Kyrie Irving with fractured knee cap. But, we were optimistic about our chances in the series.
As the series shifted to Cleveland, the city was heavily buzzing. Finally, our city was on the world stage for everybody to see. Many reporters, journalists, celebrities and fans came from all over the world to touch down our city. Once again, we were counting down the hours to tip-off. The Cavs won Game 3 and there was a huge buzz in the city that we had a pretty good possibility to be NBA Champions. The exposure has slowly started to change perceptions of Cleveland for those who thought it was old, industrial or "The Mistake by the Lake." Everyone who had never visited the city before embraced the things we have, and it exceeded their expectations. And, people who have visited before got a whole new perspective on the city.
But, the Cavs would go on to lose the last three games as Golden State captured the NBA title 4-2. Despite losing in The Finals, the Cavs gave not only themselves but they've given Cleveland a big ray of hope. A ray of hope that wasn't there a decade ago, or even five years ago when LeBron announced he was taking his talents to South Beach. The city's psyche in a much better place with the momentum from the Cavs' run and 2016 Republican National Convention rolling into town. The citizens of the city found a way to persevere through a turbulent time; we went "All In" and rallied around together to support their team as they were contending for a championship. It also helped the city heal as well as started to open dialogue on how to correct corrupt policing and the treatment of citizens they're suppose to protect and serve. LeBron proclaimed his rookie year, "I'm gonna light up Cleveland like Las Vegas." Throughout the playoffs, Cleveland did light up like Vegas, Downtown Cleveland was packed like Times Square on New Year's Eve and East 4th Street looked like Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. The city's present and future is bright, but an NBA Championship next year will make it even brighter.