CLEVELAND, OH (AP) — Blinking back tears, LeBron James extended his right ring finger, the one sparkling with 400 diamonds, and touched the championship banner.
As it rose from a golden, miniature Cleveland skyline toward the ceiling, Queen’s “We Are The Champions” filled Quicken Loans Arena and Cavs fans sang along with Freddie Mercury just as they did in June.
And, incredibly, this was just the warm-up act for a night this city won’t soon forget.
Welcome to the center of the sports galaxy — Cleveland, Ohio.
On the same night the Cavs celebrated their historic comeback in the NBA Finals, winning a title that not only ended a 52-year drought in Cleveland but energized an entire region, the Indians hosted Game 1 of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs next door at Progressive Field.
A perfect sports storm on the shores of Lake Erie.
This type of thing never happened in Cleveland, where sports heartbreak was passed down from generation to generation like family heirlooms. But those days are over. This is a new Cleveland — city of champions.
The Cavs flipped that tired sports script, storming back from a 3-1 deficit to shock the 73-win Golden State Warriors and give Cleveland its first title since 1964, when the Browns won the NFL title. Before receiving their rings on Tuesday night — about an hour before the Indians and Cubs got started — Cleveland re-lived those special days earlier this summer when one its teams finally fought its way all the way to the top.
James was the final player to be introduced and handed his 6.5 karat ring by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. After slipping it on his hand, James, the kid from Akron who delivered on his promise to win a title for Cleveland, looked at the jewelry with admiration and perhaps some astonishment.
Yes, it really happened. Here.
“This is for you guys,” James told the crowd, repeating a message he screamed after the Cavs won Game 7 at Oracle Arena on June 19. “This is all for you.”
James paused and then reminded Cleveland that it remains underdogs — even in victory.
“At this point, if you’re not from here, live here, play here … then it makes no sense for you to live at this point,” said the three-time champion. “Cleveland against the world.”
James made sure to wish luck to the Indians, who overcame adversity all season and won their first AL pennant since 1997. They’re trying to end a 68-year Series title drought against the Cubs, those lovable losers 108 years removed from their last championship.
In the moments before they took the floor for the ceremony, the Cavs, wearing new white-and-gold warmups with 2016 NBA Champions written on the back, looked like little kids getting ready to storm the Christmas tree and tear open presents. Kyrie Irving did a little dance in the hallway outside Cleveland’s locker room and shared a big hug with Kevin Love before James joined them and the team headed into the darkened arena where 20,000-plus fans roared.
Following a video that showed highlights from the epic Game 7 — James’ huge block, Irving’s 3-pointer — Silver introduced Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who has spared no expense in building a super team. Cleveland’s starting five this season will make $100 million in salary.
Gilbert’s gotten greedy, and Cleveland fans don’t mind one bit. After all, most of them have waited a lifetime to see one title.
Why not another.
“When this is all over and that banner goes up there, there is really only one thing left to do — repeat,” Gilbert said. “And, go Tribe.”
There was still an opener to play against the New York Knicks, but that hardly mattered.
In the hours leading up to the ceremony and Game 1, fans of the Indians, Cavs — and a sizeable contingent of Cubs backers — posed for photos around the two buildings. They were savoring a day many never dreamed possible.
Indians outfielder Coco Crisp stopped and signed autographs on his stroll to work. For Crisp, in his second stint with Cleveland after the Indians traded for him in August, the chance to play in the World Series for the team he started with is beyond special.
“It’s a dream come true,” said Crisp, who also played for the Indians from 2002-05. “To be here now in this situation is unbelievable. And for Cleveland, I mean, what a day. These fans have done a great job of keeping the faith.”
It was rewarded by the Cavaliers, whose championship transcended all three teams and connected Clevelanders like nothing else.
Coach Tyronn Lue, who took over the Cavs midway through last season, shared the story of what it meant to a pair of fans he met after Cleveland won the title. The father and son approached Lue as he had dinner in Las Vegas.
Lue said the man told him, “You don’t understand how much this means to the city of Cleveland. My dad is not alive but he supported all three sports every year. It’s so sad he’s not here to see this. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
“Then he broke down and started crying,” Lue said. “That was one of the best moments I experienced this summer.”