CLEVELAND: Downtown Cleveland was a sea of wine and gold on Wednesday (Thursday in Manila) as hundreds of thousands of jubilant fans gave a hero’s welcome to NBA superstar LeBron James and his Cavaliers teammates.
The team brought home the city’s first major sports title in more than 50 years — since the Browns took the National Football League title in 1964 — ending the longest such drought for any American city.
Confetti in the team’s colors rained down as the parade snaked through the city, with the NBA championship trophy in a black pickup truck and team members traveling in separate vehicles.
The Cavaliers, led by series MVP James, pulled off the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history to dethrone the Golden State Warriors, winning Game 7 on Sunday 93-89 to complete an improbable rally from a 3-1 deficit to take the title.
Many fans wore team jerseys — 23 for James or 2 for Kyrie Irving were the most popular — and waved team flags, some of them dancing with joy.
James — who turned in a performance for the ages in the Finals, sealing his place in the pantheon of the sport’s greats — stood atop the convertible in which he was traveling, extending his arms to the crowd.
“King” James also documented the festivities with his smartphone, while Irving hopped off his pickup truck, high-fiving fans and gesturing to the crowd.
In a moment filled with symbolism at Wednesday’s post-parade rally, James accepted the MVP trophy from Jim Brown, a legendary running back who helped the Browns win in 1964.
“What’s going on right now is still unreal,” James said.
“I heard a lot of ‘Thank You, LeBron,’” James said. “You guys should be thanking all the guys up here to be honest,” he said, pointing to his teammates.
James averaged NBA Finals highs of 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists and led the way with more than two steals and blocked shots a game as well — not to mention his pinpoint passing and defensive swagger.
In an interview during the parade, James told ESPN he had no plans to leave Cleveland next season.
Day off in Cleveland?
Much of Cleveland — home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and soon to host the Republican National Convention in July — was engulfed in celebration, with reports of local employers giving workers the day off.
Revelers lined up on the streets for the best spots from the early morning hours. Some even climbed light poles and bus shelters for a better view.
Two theaters rescheduled performances due to the large crowds, and a local courthouse even planned to reschedule some hearings, should the parties involved be unable to attend.
Police reported only one major incident — a shooting just blocks from the rally site in which one woman suffered a non-fatal leg wound.
Cleveland’s public transit system offered free parking to parade goers, but announced early in the day that lots were at capacity. The Cleveland airport’s parking lots were similarly congested, and hotels were fully booked.
There was almost no visible green lawn at the city’s downtown open field known as The Mall, where the crowd gathered for the post-parade rally.
‘The whole city needed this’
When James returned to the Cavaliers, he pledged to bring home a trophy to Cleveland — home to baseball, basketball and football teams and their long-suffering fans — and this year, he made good on his promise.
The victory was a welcome occasion to celebrate for a city that has had little opportunity to do so. The Rust Belt town has suffered economic decline. A recent economic study labeled it the “most distressed large city in America.”
Cleveland has also been grappling with the controversial fatal police shooting in November 2014 of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun.
“The whole city needed this,” said parade goer Anthony Shaw. “We really needed it to bring us up a little bit.”