*It ceased being basketball for me after Game Five.
That was when the Cleveland Cavaliers scratched and clawed their way into winning a second game of the best-of seven NBA Championship Finals after previously having won only one game to the mighty Golden State Warriors’ three.
Five is when it got personal. Not for the Cavs or Golden State—-well, probably them, too–but definitely for me. I made the Cavs’s backs-against-the-wall situation symbolize my own life challenges.
Yes, it’s insane. But that’s what sports fans do. Even fair-weather ones like myself can find themselves hooking sentiments connected to their own hopes, dreams and aspirations into a team’s success.
We inject into The Game intimate feelings that haven’t a thing to do with what is happening on the field or the court. We might embrace a particular sport because it was a favorite of long-departed parents. Out of spite, we’ll root for the rival of the favorite team of an ex.
One of the deepest emotions we hitch onto our favorite team is the notion that if they can win, especially under circumstances that appear insurmountable, then certainly we have a chance at overcoming our own challenges. It’s corny, maudlin and, depending on how long that post-game depression from a loss lingers, sick.
In any case, nervously-—quietly—-I went all in on LeBron James and company. Quietly, because experts insisted the Cavs didn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell. Nervously, because if Cleveland didn’t do it, there just might be a tiny, tiny impressionable part of my psyche that believed I can’t do “it,” either. Whatever “it” is.
Why the Cavs? Well, because in the earlier playoffs Golden State sent my beloved Oklahoma City Thunder packing. I turned to Cleveland, a city that hadn’t won anything ever, for retribution.
Thing is, I was not a LeBron James fan. Hadn’t even seen him play before these championship Finals. Seriously. In 2003, when he was drafted by Cleveland, I still had the Lakers with Kobe, Shaq and coach Phil Jackson over which to fawn; I couldn’t be bothered.
Moreover, early in his career, media coverage and gossip painted James as cocky and a bit immature. Until a couple weeks ago, that was enough of a reason for me to pretty much ignore him.
However, it was during the dramatic, exciting Finals that the Cavaliers presented me with some things I couldn’t ignore–life lessons I already knew but often neglect.
Merely watching the Cavs in the Finals—-the fact that they were actually there (again)—-illustrated that James kept his word. He said he’d return to Cleveland after winning a ring, and he did.
He then vowed to lead the team back to the Finals. And he did. More than once. This is how it looks when you do what you say you’re going to do.
No team in the history of the NBA, went the annoying mantra, had ever come back from a 3–1 deficit to win the NBA Finals. And so the Cavs didn’t try to win “three games in a row.”
Instead, they took one game at a time. As a result, the only game on which the team focused was the game standing before them. The approach is not a mystery nor a stroke of genius. Yet, taking life one day at a time remains the most neglected best laid plan.
Example: I love sugar. But it doesn’t always love me. I am forever waking up on a Monday and declaring, “This week there will be no sugar for me—-no pastry, candy, none of it!”
However, the bite that usually ends up more than I can chew is not composed of sugar. My problem ends up being that whole WEEK I’ve insisted is going to be sugar-free. Invariably, three days into it I’ll find myself with a glazed donut in my hands.
It took the Cavs to remind me what I’ve always known—-forget weeks and days, plural. It’s about one day at a time. No matter the goal, if I dedicate my best efforts to a single day at a time, then before I know it, I will have a week under my belt.
When the Cavs were down 3-1 is when they reminded me of one of the most powerful acts of life. Well, two, actually. During those post game interviews contractually required by the NBA, the Cavs were never bitchy or (at least outwardly) forlorn. They simply kept saying they had to do better next time…even when they were clearly running out of next times.
The most important thing, though, is that they never gave up. Ever. Never showed the slightest signs of doing so, even at a dismal 3-1.
The final minutes of Game 7, I couldn’t sit down. My–I mean, the Cavaliers’ future–hung in the balance. I didn’t even know the game had ended until it was over, when the Cavs bench emptied onto the floor in celebration.
Ok. Keep my word. Take one day at a time. Be cool in the face of adversity. Never, ever give up.
I got this.
Steven Ivory, veteran journalist, essayist and author, writes about popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet. Respond to him via [email protected]