I’ve had a night’s sleep since The Comeback, and I still don’t quite believe it.
My Defend the Land T-shirt, my 2016 NBA Champs hat — they feel soft and light in my hands. They’re as oversized as all unisex clothing is for 5-foot-2 women. They smell of cotton and capitalism, like such mass-produced items do. Yet a part of me has yet to grasp their realness. I feel like I’m wading through a dream, unusually sharp-focused but no less surreal.
Cleveland won. I believed in the Cavaliers; I believed in my hometown even more. But somehow, those two words ring strange in my ears. Cleveland won. Cleveland won. Cleveland won.
What beautiful new words.
I have visited Venice, Italy and lived in Paris, France. I’ve biked through fields of bright tulips in the Netherlands; I’ve stood in awe in the Sistine Chapel and Chartres. I’ve gazed, squinting, at sparkling desert sands from the top of Masada and down at treetops from the Great Wall of China. I’ve been blessed to experience more beauty and wonder in 19 years than most people see in a lifetime.
But in the past 22 hours, in Cleveland, OH, I have witnessed the greatest beauty thus far.
I spent last night downtown, at the Game Seven watch party in Quicken Loans Arena, with three of my closest friends. I got in line at 5 p.m. for entry; a half-hour later, the line stretched out the Q’s doors and down the street. The doors opened at 6:30 for the 8:00 game. People waiting in line were indistinguishable for the people who simply waited: the thousands of Cavs fans who flooded the Plaza, turned the parking garage into a theater and crowded the streets until Cleveland closed them. About 30,000 Clevelanders — yes, some people came from out of town, but let’s be realistic — became a united, electrified force.
And the game was happening 2,500 miles away.
We remained one force during all four quarters and beyond. Inside the Q, fans screamed as one, creating the loudest sporting event I have ever experienced. We worried together every time a Cavalier fell; we exploded in “M.V.P.” chants for LeBron James in one voice; when the buzzer sounded, we cried shared tears, 52 years in the making. The floor shook underneath us.
After the game — after our King knelt and cried into his hands, after Adam Silver handed Dan Gilbert the gleaming trophy, after my friends and I waited in line for an hour to buy 2016 Championship gear — we headed outside unsure of what we might find. I thought we might walk into a riot; I expected, in fact, smashed cars and scattered fires. And, indeed, there was at least one police car with a shattered windshield. One firetruck got commandeered.
But the biggest danger I faced was stepping on shards of broken beer bottles that littered the ground. I have never felt safer around my fellow Clevelanders than I did last night. Instead of celebrating with violent outbursts, strangers let themselves become siblings. More than a dozen people who I will never see again high-fived my friends and I walking down the street. We chanted expletives together against Steph Curry and Draymond Green anywhere more than three people gathered. We exchanged giddy grins and cheers with one another, dazed with shock and relief, all of us drunk with joy.
This drunken night has no hangover, though. For the first time in my life, Cleveland has a no-strings-attached happy ending. All of today, it’s shimmered in the air: a bliss that a working-class city, full of loyal, driven, tough people, hasn’t experienced in half a century. It’s not that Clevelanders are never happy — we love our city. We have moments both dark and bright, like anyone. But the shared elation embracing Cleveland now is special. I’ve never witnessed something so pure and wondrous in my life.
That is the beauty which so overwhelms me — the greatest I have ever experienced. Lasting joy.
Cleveland won. Cleveland won. Cleveland won. And we’re all smiling during this waking dream.