Joe Haden: LeBron and the Cavs Show the Way

BY JOE HADEN

CLEVELAND — Oh my goodness.

It’s 20 minutes after the Cavaliers just ended 52 years without a championship in my adopted city—I play cornerback for the Browns, I love LeBron James, and I go to 25 or 30 Cavs games a year—and I’m in a club where they’re spraying champagne like it’s the locker room where our new champs are celebrating out in Oakland.

The Cleveland curse is over. We’ve finally got a champion in northeast Ohio.

Over my seven years as a Brown, I got so tired of hearing about the curse, about no team in the city winning a championship since the Browns won in 1964. But you’ve got to go out and end it, not just talk about ending it. And that’s what the Cavaliers did. The emotion in the streets downtown … just unbelievable. People flooding the streets, throwing toilet paper and celebrating, screaming. Insane. I’ve never seen anything like it. Never anything close. But that’s probably to be expected when you haven’t won a title for so long.

 

Chanel kicks and #ALLIN socks to church this morning!! Let's Go!!!

A photo posted by joehaden23 (@joehaden23) on

 

When I try to think about what this means, I think how it shows the athletes in this city, and the people in this city, that anything’s possible. LeBron came back to Cleveland and made it his mission to win a title. It’s like he willed it. And it happened. I look at our Browns team now, with the new coach, Hue Jackson, a lot of new coaches on the staff, and so much new blood, and I can tell you we’re going to be competitive. This is an inspiration to us, and to the Indians I’m sure.

 

LeBron’s block: The definition of shutdown defense.
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

As an athlete here, it gets frustrating sometimes because the teams have lost for so long. But the fans are such blue-collar fans, and they support you in the bad times. You want to win for yourself, but you want to win for them too. That’s what I felt throughout Game 7. I watched the game downtown, in a room downstairs in Bar Louie. And at one point it felt and sounded like 1,000 people were going to come down through the ceiling, they were jumping up and down and going so crazy. That’s when you know how much sports mean to the people here—and it’s one of the reasons why it’s such a rewarding place to play when you win.

I can tell you for sure that people just love the way this team plays. Great shut-down defense, the way we want to play defense, is so important to them. And it’s not just this win that made everyone so excited. It’s how they won.

When the Cavs were down 3-1 nobody gave them a chance. But LeBron believed. There’s a lesson in that for all of us.

The block by LeBron with the game tied and under two minutes left said everything. He runs the length of the floor, catches up to Andre Iguodala at the last second and out of nowhere blocks it and pins the ball against the backboard. That happened and we all just jumped up and ran around the room and went crazy. What effort! LeBron wants it so bad! Don’t hold anything back! All those things you’ve heard all your life in sports, LeBron brought to life. No matter what sport you play, there’s a good lesson in that.

Haden watched the Cavs’ Game 6 courtside.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

I’m pretty close to Tristan Thompson, and I’ve been around LeBron a few times. When I was drafted here in 2010, he was leaving for Miami. We kind of ended up passing each other in the air. But I’ve got so much admiration for him. I’ve been a huge fan of his forever. I was sort of a quiet Miami Heat fan when he left. I can identify so much with the pressure he’s faced his whole career. In high school, he’s The Chosen One. The next Jordan. Every game he’s ever played, there’s more pressure on him than any other player on the floor. He can have a great game, but he misses two shots in the last minute and loses, and everyone comes down on him.

It’s a lot like in football—you’re only as good as your last play. I feel that as a cornerback. You can have four pass breakups and an interception in a game, but you get beat one time late in the fourth quarter on a double move, and it doesn’t matter what came before that … you’ve had a bad game. LeBron faces that every game, 82 times a year, and through the playoffs. I’m so tired of the LeBron haters. Six straight NBA Finals! He led every player in this series in points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Who does that? So show him some love—forever. Stop looking at the glass half-empty. Come on.

Now we’ve got to work like LeBron and the Cavs to get ours. This is motivation for our city, and for our team.

Since he came back to the Cavs two years ago, you can feel the different vibe in the city. He means so much to Cleveland, especially now. Economically he’s great for the area, obviously, and he makes it a place you want to be. At Game 6, I’m on the floor, and my wife and I are five seats down from Jay Z and Beyoncé.

But there’s something about the hope he brings, too. That’s important. When the Cavs were down 3-1, and they needed to win two games at Golden State to win the series, nobody gave them a chance. But LeBron believed—or at least he played like he believed. There’s a lesson in that for all of us in Cleveland. I know it’s a lesson that’s going to help me.

So the Curse is dead. The Cavaliers are champs. Now we’ve got to work like LeBron and the Cavs to get ours. This is motivation for our city, and motivation for our team. I am just so ready to go win a championship right now.

John W. McDonough for Sports Illustrated

Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

 

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