The Block that Saved a Generation
I was on the edge of my seat, butterflies playing tag in my stomach. It was Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals. The score was tied at 89 with just under 2 minutes to play and neither team could buy a bucket.
Kyrie Irving navigates through the lane with his signature moves and misses a high arcing floater. Andre Iguodala grabs the rebound and raced up the court; it’s a 2-on-1 with him, Stephen Curry and J.R. Smith.
At this point, I’m fearing the worst. It’s rare to see teams of this caliber mess up a 2-on-1 break. It’s bound to be a guaranteed bucket or at least free throws.
But not this time.
Out of nowhere comes LeBron James. It happened so fast that if you looked away, you could have missed it.
“Blocked by James” exclaimed Mike Breen. Probably the most legendary play call of the decade.
An easy layup was demolished at the rim. Another victim of the patented chase-down block. This block was different. The stakes were higher. This block would go down in the history books. The defining moment in LeBron James’ illustrious career.
I’ve now transitioned from the couch to standing up. A few possessions later Kyrie has the ball in his hands with Klay Thompson guarding him. He receives an on-ball screen from JR forcing the switch. Curry’s guarding him now.
Kyrie sizes up his opponent. Tween, Tween. Hesi. Sidestep. CASH from deep. Kyrie Irving’s defining moment.
The score is 92-89, Cavs advantage.
A few more empty Warrior possessions, a made free throw from LeBron and exceptional defense from Kevin Love: Cleveland is a city of champions once again.
I dropped to my knees in tears feeling like I’d just played a full 48 minutes. To this very day, reliving that moment gets my heart rate elevated. As a fan, as an athlete and as a competitor that Game 7 had a lasting effect on me.
Reminiscing on that Game 7 made me ponder the significance of defining moments. A legendary defensive play led to a legendary shot which led to an abnormal defensive sequence leading to the ultimate prize — an NBA championship. It came down to who had the greater will to win, repetition, preparation and maybe a bit of a chip on their shoulders.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in northeast Ohio these last few years, it’s that Cleveland loves its sports teams.
I didn’t grow up in the city, but I did grow up an avid fan of LeBron James. It didn’t matter what team he went to, I followed. His kingship is unmatched, leadership unprecedented, what he did for Cleveland, impossible. His block was the perfect end to the persistently growing debate that LeBron wasn’t clutch. It boiled down to being ready for the moments in time where everything you’ve ever worked for matters. This was LeBron’s defining moment.
I felt like it was my defining moment as I watched him hoist away his third MVP of the Finals trophy. As a competitor, the Cavs comeback from a 3-1 deficit, the first team in NBA history to do so, gave me the confidence and belief that I could overcome the odds. It’s that same feeling that ran through the veins of every Clevelander. This win was more than a banner, it birthed a newfound hope in the city. Cleveland is a city of champions once again.
But don’t take my word for it. Here are some of Cleveland's finest sharing their thoughts on their beloved team’s incredible victory:
Interview with Romeo Travis of ‘The Fab 5’ (a close friend of LeBron)
FNH: You’re a native of Akron, but how meaningful was it for you to see the Cavs win a championship, not just for Cleveland, but for the state of Ohio?
Rome: Being from Akron and watching the Cavs win a championship was amazing. Just to know the heartache the city has endured throughout its sports history. You cannot be anything but happy for the whole northeast Ohio.
FNH: You played with LeBron in high school and are a part of the Fab 5, how did It feel for you personally watching your high school teammate and close friend win one for Cleveland?
Rome: Watching one of my good friends win an NBA championship for our home town made it even sweeter. He made good on his promise to bring the city a championship.
Interview with Phil Handy, Assistant Coach of Los Angeles Lakers (formerly with Cleveland Cavs during 2016 Championship)
FNH: You were the assistant and player development coach on the Cleveland Cavs 2016 NBA Championship team. How did it feel to win your first Championship ring? What kind of impact do you think it had on the city?
Phil: To be a part of that with the Cavs and to make history had a huge impact on me. To see the impact it had on not only the city, but the state of Ohio was huge. People that’d been through the heartaches in Cleveland, it was good to see them win.
FNH: Because you understand the nature of the loss history in Cleveland, was your first ring sweeter than winning your second?
Phil: There are many things that go into it; there are so many layers. Being a part of that with 'Bron and helping him bring good on a promise for his city, winning my first ring in my hometown (Oakland), it was just a very special time — that championship will always have a special place in my heart.
FNH: What were your thoughts going through your mind when LeBron caught Iggy and saved the game with his patented chase down block?
Phil: Well no one had scored and 'Bron just came out of nowhere, I didn’t even see him. All I saw was Stephen Curry with the ball saw Iggy running out in the lane and in my mind, all I could think was, “that's a layup”. It was such a crucial part of the game. ‘Bron just came out of nowhere and erased the shot. That saved the whole championship series. There are a lot of things that go into it, but that was the winning play of the series.
FNH: As a player development coach you’re in charge of developing the skillsets of your players, how much more did you relish at the moment knowing that you had a direct impact on each player's skillset throughout the season?
Phil: Everyone has a role, player, coaches, and front office; everyone has a role to fulfill. Mine was to be the Director of Player Development and make sure our guys were working and getting better every day. I fulfilled my role I’m just one of the pieces to the puzzle. It’s something I’ll always be appreciative of.
Interview with Kevin Johnson, Senior Art Director for the Cavaliers
FNH: You work for the Cavs in a management position, what was the energy like within the organization after winning the 2016 championship?
Kevin: The energy was wild. Nothing like I had ever experienced before. For me, I had just started with the organization at the beginning of the 15-16 season. So the energy was already high coming out of the 2015 Finals and knowing that we almost got that one without a healthy Kyrie and Love. But man, winning that 2016 title was all kinds of emotions. It instantly felt like our city erased so much of our past hurt. And for LBJ to come home and deliver on his promise – total respect. All summer long it was just a dream that never ended. I got to work on and be a part of the design process for our Championship ring, so for me, that whole summer was spent living in the moment as we built up to the ring ceremony.
FNH: Can you remember where you were, what you were doing, and how you felt when you saw LeBron block the shot, Kyrie hit the shot and Kevin guard the best shooter on earth?
Kevin: I know exactly where I was. I won’t forget it. My wife and I went Downtown to the watch party at the arena. We started the night outside and made our way inside during the third quarter. We stood and watched the game on the Humungotron but as we got late into the 4Q, I started to get antsy. We walked inside our offices and sat on a couch with some coworkers. When LBJ blocked the shot it got real. I’m not an outward emotion kind of guy, but I was 100% at that moment. And then Kyrie hit the jumper. I sprinted out the doors and back into the arena. My wife had to keep up. Nervously, we watched the last bit of the game and as Kev held Curry from getting a good look, that’s when tears fell. Literally, everyone within visible distance was crying.
FNH: How do you think the championship impacted the city? Do you think that win will inspire & motivate Cleveland’s other professional sports teams?
Kevin: The impact on our city was HUGE. From both a confidence and an economic impact. Downtown Cleveland was always hyped for games those next two years. I remember hearing from someone in conversation after our championship parade that Tito and the Indian’s were watching. He said to one of the guys, that needs to be us. We need to live this moment with these people. And they got so close that Fall. But yeah, winning I think gave all of our sports teams a taste of that confidence.
Interview with Mike Hawkins, (family friend and long time basketball enthusiast)
FNH: How long have you lived in Cleveland and how long have you been a Cleveland sports fan?
Mike: I was born and raised in Cleveland, Best Location in the Nation as the city slogan says. I can’t say I was born a sports fan, although I eventually understood the importance of sports to a city and surrounding communities. While I rooted for the Browns, my passion and most East Side residents came alive with the expansion Cleveland Cavaliers in the early 1970’s. The fan base hit overdrive when our Cavaliers delivered the ‘Miracle of Richfield’ against the Washington Bullets during the 75-76 playoffs.
FNH: Do you recall where you were when the Cavs won the championship?
Mike: We still have the Game 7 DVR recording of the Cavaliers winning the 2016 NBA Finals against the Golden “Hate” Warriors, as I like to refer to them as. My wife and I were home watching the final minutes of the tight, tense game where the Cavaliers demonstrated a ‘refuse to lose’ tenacity. When it was over, it took us a moment or two (or three) to realize this wasn’t a dream, that the Cavaliers had completed a historic comeback to win the NBA crown.
FNH: What did the win really mean to you? What did it mean to the city of Cleveland?
Mike: The celebration that erupted in downtown Cleveland was unforgettable and all night long. The city and the state were aglow the day after, as the reality of finally having a Championship quickly elevated civic pride as never before. For Clevelanders, 2016 will be one of the most unforgettable moments in our lives, thanks in no small part to LeBron James!”
There was something special about that 2016 championship team. They exemplified the same ‘never quit’ attitude the city of Cleveland has donned for 5 straight decades, never giving up on its sports teams. It’s only right that the hometown kid made the game-saving play—the block that saved an entire generation.