LeBron James, the man known as "The King," lay prostrate on the court at Oracle Arena in Oakland Sunday night, the weight of Northeast Ohio and so much more at long last lifted off of his shoulders.
By some miracle, James and the Cleveland Cavaliers had done the impossible: coming back from a 3 games to 1 deficit in the NBA Finals, upsetting arguably the greatest regular season team in league history, the Golden State Warriors, and raising Cleveland's first championship trophy since 1964.
Saying emotions ran high amongst the Cleveland players, coaches, and fans is a cruel understatement; they were cranked to 11, and then some. Head coach Tyronn Lue didn't leave the bench for several minutes, his face planted in a towel to catch his tears as players and staff embraced each other all around him. Shooting guard J.R. Smith broke down in a postgame interview while expressing his love for his parents. Fans back in Cleveland filled Quicken Loans Arena for Game 7, the city going berserk when the final buzzer sounded:
Of course, from the beginning this has always been about LeBron. Dubbed "The Chosen One" in Sports Illustrated as a high school junior from Akron, Ohio, it could only have been fate when James was drafted by Cleveland in 2003, the one destined to end the city's title drought.
And then came the infamous "Decision" in 2010. Still with no championship, James decided to take his supreme talents to South Beach and join the Miami Heat. Cleveland wept, cursing the "King" who had betrayed their trust.
But four years and two rings later, LeBron announced he was coming home. In a letter written to Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins, James explained his connection to the northeast Ohio region and his desire to help its citizens realize their wildest dreams:
"I want to give them hope when I can," James said. "I want to inspire them when I can. My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball...I feel my calling here goes above basketball. I have a responsibility to lead, in more ways than one, and I take that very seriously."
James has surely fulfilled all of Cleveland's overwhelming expectations and desires for him; the raw emotion of everyone involved speaks for itself. But the moment of triumph clearly meant the most to LeBron himself.
"Cleveland! This is for you!" LeBron suddenly yelled after he was finally able to rise to his feet, his vows to provide hope and lead a community to greater heights now a reality.
That is the magic of sports: one man can bring unfathomable hope and happiness to millions. And I doubt Northeast Ohio will ever stop thanking the "King" for these next few days of elation and celebration.