It was just too perfect.
In my PTSD-stricken lifetime as a Cleveland fan and — unless you’ve been eligible for AARP longer than I have, yours, too — that’s never been a good thing.
Twelve seconds to go in the NBA Finals. Game 7. Hostile court. Cleveland clings to a 92-89 lead. Kyrie Irving — whose 3-pointer in the pouty face of two-time MVP Steph Curry are the only points either team has scored in four and a half minutes — drives hell-for-leather to the basket, draws a triple-team, rises, and …
Behold! LeBron James appears in the lane, wide open, flying across the foul line.
Irving zips him the ball.
You and I and all of Cleveland leap to our feet, screaming in incomprehensible ecstasy.
James soars to the hoop, right arm raised for the rim-rattling, championship-sealing tomahawk dunk that’s just — too perfect.
Then this happens …
ABC’s Mike Breen: James will shoot two free throws, as he goes down hard, with 10.6 [seconds] remaining. ... James, holding on to that right wrist a bit, and the medical staff and almost the entire team for the Cavaliers, the entire bench running down to see if he’s OK.
… and we all fall silent.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that no city’s sports teams have ever been mirror and lamp to its fortunes more than Cleveland’s — and that no city’s teams, ever, have joined together to tell a longer, more tortured tale of woe and lamentation.
So go ahead: Admit it. You thought there was zero chance James was “OK.”
While the TV crew prattled on about what a splendid, appropriate foul had just been committed by notorious scrotum-whacker Draymond Green, and while James writhed in anguish, pounding the floor with his left hand, then grasping his apparently ruined right wrist (more than “a bit”), your life as a Cleveland fan passed cruelly … well, not before your eyes, exactly. More like straight through the tattered remains of your desiccated soul.
In no time, our traumatized brains were flooded with the various scenarios in which Golden State would now (inevitably) win. Two missed foul shots James is too proud to let someone else take followed by a Golden State 4-point play? Or by a 3, an intercepted inbounds pass and a buzzer-beater? Or by overtime and the excruciating sight of James on the bench as the Warriors breeze to victory?
This was too much to bear, even for us.
Never, in all the decades the flames of improbable misfortune grew higher had we glimpsed a triumph that possessed heroic grandeur equal in scale to the epic failure from which it emerged. This was it.
And it was perfect.
Only twice had a Cleveland team ever sported the best player of his generation: Jim Brown, the best player on our last champion, and LeBron James — the Kid from Akron, the Chosen One, King James, whose saga hit every story-beat in the hero’s-journey myth.
The Cavs were going up against a team that whipped them in the Finals last year. They were facing an abyss from which no NBA team had ever returned to win a championship. To do so, they had to win Game 7 on the road, which almost never happens, against a team that had lost only two home games all season. Cleveland was trying to beat them here for the second time in a week.
No Cavs starter but James had ever played in a Game 7, Finals or otherwise, but one by one, all came through.
Tristan Thompson performed as an indefatigable marvel on defense and the boards, as expected, but also shot an unlikely 3-of-3 from the floor and 3-of-4 from the free-throw line.
Early in the second half, beset by our first pangs that the game might be slipping away, J.R. Smith kept hope alive, first with a 21-footer, then with two quick 3s.
Yes, it was James who took over the game when it really felt like the Warriors were about to run away with it, luring Festus Ezeli into a dumb three-shot foul, making all three shots, whereupon Curry threw a dumb behind-the-back pass out of bounds and James, who’d missed every trey he’d taken thus far, swished one over the hapless Ezeli.
And it was James who, cheated out of a go-ahead layup minutes earlier when Andre Iguodala got away with a foul, avenged himself by blocking Iguodala’s layup cleanly and from behind — a mind-blowing play, instantly immortal.
But be it antiquity or Game 7 in Oakland, our legends teach us that, without assistance — often divine assistance — our hero cannot prevail.
And so it was that with only a minute to go, the youngest and smallest among them, Irving, whose name means “Lord have mercy,” went one-on-one with Curry, the greatest Warrior of them all and prevailed.
And it came to pass that when Curry sought to even the score, he faced Kevin Love, the weakest defender out there. Verily I say unto you: Love prevailed.
LeBron’s dunk might have been the perfect complement to his otherworldly block, an emphatic, career-defining exclamation mark. Instead, in the blink of an eye, he was down and presumably out — and Clevelanders everywhere braced themselves for heartbreak so perfectly gruesome that not even we could believe it.
Finally, he rises, shaking off the pain in his wrist.
LeBron James steps to the line.
The first shot clanks off the back of the rim.
Let’s call it a nod to the past 52 years and all the misses, near and far. All the failures and shortcomings. All the defeats snatched from the jaws of victory.
He rattles in the second.
It is not perfect, although the Cavs defense as the clock runs out certainly is.
After a mere 10 seconds of game time — six minutes of real time, which felt like forever — James falls to the floor once again, sobbing this time, brought low by overwhelming joy, cueing our own tears, our own disbelief that we actually lived to see this.
Our scars are still there. Our problems, like those of our city, remain a work in progress. But Cleveland, finally, is perfect enough.