Last year, Nike honored the Cleveland Cavaliers loss of the NBA championship to the Golden State Warriors in the sort of hard-scrabble, rust-belt, Northeastern way that befits a city like Cleveland: It took out a full page ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer to remind fans that they don’t get a Hollywood ending just because they want one, and that if they were ever going to see the 52-year championship drought ended, it would come through hard work.
Of course, that hard work all paid off last night. A year after being humbled by the Warriors in the 2015 NBA Finals, the stage for the Hollywood finish was well and truly set: The Warriors returned, this time with the best record in NBA history. They blew out the Cavaliers in epic fashion in the first two games of the Finals, and took a 3-1 lead in the series, thumping the Cavaliers in Cleveland before bringing the series back to California. But the Cavs survived the next two games in the series to tie everything up, and last night, one of the biggest game sevens in NBA history saw both teams play their hearts out. And at the end–after overcoming major deficits in the second half–LeBron put up a triple-double, played the game of his life, and brought the championship to Cleveland that he promised when he returned to his hometown after leaving Miami.
What that means for LeBron’s legacy couldn’t be bigger. His championships in Miami were legit, but they didn’t speak to his greatness as a player as much as his ability to pick the right team and play a role within that lineup. The question of where LeBron ultimately ranked on the list of the greatest players of all time was on the verge of being discarded in favor of the question: Was he even the greatest player in the NBA anymore, with the Warriors’ Steph Curry out there? The tenor of those questions, though, has changed forever, and what happened last night–with Cleveland, for Cleveland–is why.
All of which makes the ad Nike ran today to celebrate LeBron’s victory with the Cavaliers so meaningful. The Hollywood ending did come, but in Cleveland, they didn’t need to remind anybody of just how much like a Rocky movie it turned out to be–rather, they could just focus on a single image: of a young LeBron, the teenage hope of an entire region, who started his career with the team just 40 miles from his hometown, who left and returned, and who fulfilled all of the promise he displayed as he did something that the his neighbors had lived five decades without seeing done–and the words “always believe” alongside him. Believing, in Cleveland, had been a sucker’s game for generations, but last night, nothing was given–everything was earned, by a kid from Northeast Ohio. How better for Nike to celebrate that than by reminding people exactly where he came from?