When LeBron James penned his “I’m Coming Home” Sports Illustrated cover story explaining his decision to leave Miami to return to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the narrative was immediately in place for one of the all-time great sports redemption stories. And when LeBron–at times through sheer force of will–took the Cavs all the way to the NBA Finals, the epic payoff seemed downright inevitable.
It wasn’t, of course. The Golden State Warriors took the series in six, and LeBron and the Cavaliers–and the entire city of Cleveland–went back to waiting till next year. (J.R. Smith embodied the city’s mourning as he tearfully exited the arena atop his PhunkeeDuck scooter.)
Cleveland is a city that knows from sports heartache, of course, but Nike felt the need to use the occasion to remind the city that it didn’t get the ending that the redemption narrative demanded. The company took out a full-page print ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer to encourage readers to imagine the scenario they have surely already imagined hundreds of times in the past few days. “Imagine if they defied odds, logic and the basketball gods to come back and win the series in 7,” the ad reads, before twisting the knife: “Except this isn’t Hollywood. It’s Cleveland. Nothing is given. Everything is earned.”
As slogans go, “This isn’t Hollywood, it’s Cleveland” is a pretty good one, and rubbing the city’s nose in the failure of its–and Nike’s–biggest star is definitely a bold statement, hinting at just how satisfying this defeat will make the team’s next championship run.