Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
LeBron James was on display in all his glorious, Jordan-esque talent and ego Sunday night, fashioning an achievement for the ages, then not-so-humbly basking in it. As he fully deserved to do.
But for those of us who root for stories more than teams, this one was an all-timer not only because of the Cavaliers’ and James’ remarkable basketball accomplishment but because of its larger context.
That, in the end, was the best part of James’ postgame interviews after a 93-89 victory in Game 7 of the NBA Finals over the gobsmacked Warriors.
It brought even sports casual fans into the narrative, in which a city and region that for decades helped define Rust Belt melancholy at last had its moment in the sun.
James evoked (Manhasset’s own) Jim Brown, the star of Cleveland’s last major championship, in 1964. OK, that’s an easy one. Earnest Byner and John Elway, too. Still, not so difficult to come up with those late 1980s references.
But Jose Mesa? Only a true northeast Ohioan would at a time like that recall the Indians reliever who coughed up a one-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, when James was at the formative age of 12.
The Marlins went on to win it in 11.
For one night, Jerry Seinfeld’s old routine about the absurdity of sports fans rooting for clothes was shelved for a genuine celebration of a star, a team and its fans that felt real.
Yes, there were those four years in South Florida, which James compared to being away at college before returning home to start his true adulthood, and which Cavaliers fans found unbecoming.
But come back he did, and he did the job, and here we are.
In four weeks the Cavaliers’ arena will host what is expected to be a contentious political convention during the height of what has been a contentious presidential election cycle.
For now, though, relatively few Americans of any persuasion – not counting Warriors fans, or those who bet on them – can say they are not happy at least for the fans of the Cleveland and Akron areas
The weird part comes now, where like Red Sox fans after 2004 the challenge is to feel as passionately about the next journey after the quest has been completed.
But that is a discussion for another day and another season.
This day is for the fans, made even better by the fact a native son made it happen in one of the coolest, craziest ways possible, with ESPN’s crew doing exceptional work Sunday night and TV viewership higher than for any other NBA game in this millennium.
Game 7, shown on ABC, averaged 30.8 million viewers, an extraordinary number for any sports event on American TV other than football or the Olympics. It was the best for an NBA game since Michael Jordan and the Bulls averaged 35.9 million for their title-clinching victory over the Jazz in Game 6 in ’98.
But that was in a less-fractured media world, and by then Bulls championships were a dime a half-dozen. Sunday night’s drama was even better.
Soon after it was over, Jim Brown was on Twitter offering his congratulations. So was Byner.
So that’s that. Who’s got next? Buffalo, you’re on the clock.