It was still an hour until tip-off and Dad was already ashing his cigarette into his coffee. This was the moment he’d waited his entire life for, he said. The moment that his father had waited his entire life for—may God rest his soul—and goddamn it, he would’ve deserved it, he said. We were born and bred and exiled in Cleveland and we deserved this. It was game seven. The Cavs and the Warriors. The blue collar versus the Silicon Valley yuppies. LeBron James had come home. Cleveland deserved this. I know we deserved this, and Dad didn’t need to tell me that.
“Where’s Joe?” I asked.
“He’s on his way, Jerry,” Dad said.
“He better be,” I said. “If he ain’t here and we lose because he had to get his nuts licked, this is on him.”
“He’ll be here,” Dad said.
We’d watched every game of the Finals together. Me, Dad, and Joe. Joe was Dad’s childhood friend. He’d started coming around more when Mom died six years ago when I was eleven. Occasionally Dad’s whores from earlier in the day would stay for a little bit and watch the beginning of the games, but Dad always kicked them out. Dad didn’t want commitment. He just wanted someone to make him a sandwich and suck his dick every now and then.
“I fuckin’ hate this prick,” Dad said, pointing his cigarette at the television, motioning at some goofy old white dude giving his takes on basketball. “It’s a black man’s game. The fuck he know about it?”
“Why are we watching pre-game, anyway?” I said. “We ain’t done it all series long. Why start now?”
“Good point,” Dad said as he shut off the television and got up from his chair. He screamed across the trailer and walked over and pounded on his bedroom door. “Hey, Betsy. Hurry it up in there, yeah? You gotta be out by game time.”
“Oh, fuck you, Tony,” Betsy said as she swung the door open. “I’m on my way, just gimme the cash.”
Dad pulled a wad of perfectly rolled bills from his pocket and put it in her hand. Dad didn’t trust banks, and he usually kept all his money where he could feel it at all times. Dad always told me you don’t pay a woman to fuck you, you pay her to leave. She kissed his cheek and he slapped her ass and she left the trailer.
“Thank God she’s gone,” Dad said.
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have much to say about Dad and the whores. I still missed Mom. I know Dad did too, but he never expressed it outwardly. Her clothes still hung in his closet. Sometimes I noticed the women would take a shirt or a jacket home with them from the closet. I don’t think Dad really minded. He wanted to get rid of the clothes, but he couldn’t do it himself.
“Dude, where is Joe?” I asked.
“He’ll be here.”
Dad opened the fridge and motioned back to ask me if I wanted a beer. I nodded and he came back with two Fat Head’s. Dad’s favorite brewery. He always said to drink local. Fuck the big companies. We may not live in mansions, but the least we could do is spend the extra ten bucks to help the other assholes in our community live comfortably, he always said.
He cracked my beer open with his teeth, spit the cap into the sink, and slid my bottle to me across the kitchen table. I grabbed a glass from the cabinet nearby, inspected it, and poured my beer into it.
“Is this what we drank for game six?” I asked.
“I think so,” Dad said. “I bought the same stuff yesterday that I did on Thursday for the game, so we should be good.”
We clinked our glasses, and we sat there looking at each other. There weren’t many words to say at this point. We’d played one hundred games this year, and this next one needed to be magical. Needed to be the game that the Prodigal Son had promised when he came back. When he came home. To finish the job, unfinished business, LeBron had said. To relieve sixty years of suffering for our city. To relieve the six years of my own. If he could come back and bring us joy—bring me joy, bring Dad joy—then anything could come back.
“Your mother would’ve loved this,” Dad said. “Never a bigger Cleveland fan in my lifetime than that woman, I’ll tell ya.” Dad wasn’t even really talking to me when he said this. His eyes were glazed like a donut, and he was staring at the wall behind me. He wouldn’t make eye contact. Didn’t want to have the actual talk about Mom being gone. It felt like Dad always felt the need to justify that he still loved Mom every time he fucked someone that wasn’t her. He didn’t know I didn’t care. I understood. I understand. I’m seventeen. I know how a prick works.
“I know, Pop, I know,” I said.
“The Browns,” Dad began. “She loved the Browns. And for what? For some rich prick to take ‘em away? They left and she cried. She goddamned cried. Your mother, god bless her soul, was fuckin’ dying of cancer, her breasts removed, and she didn’t shed one fuckin’ tear. Not a one. And twenty years ago she was weeping over a sports team leaving. She knows how we feel right now. We deserve this, Jerry.”
I remember when Mom was dying. Her big bald head was like a goddamn cantaloupe. It was like she wasn’t human. After some of the radiation and the therapy, she looked at my Dad and told him she didn’t want to do it anymore. No more, she said. The puking, the weakness in her joints, and the fucking crying from everyone else finally got to her. That was the clincher, I think. Dad would go into her hospital room, her bedroom, or wherever the fuck she was staying at the time, and he’d cry. He’d cry and apologize. There was Mom fucking dying and she was making him feel better instead.
It was seconds until tip-off when the front door flew open, and I saw the heel of Joe’s boot. He came rambling into the trailer with a six pack under his arm, a cigarette held between his lips, and his high school varsity jacket was packed to the stitch with pepperoni sticks.
“Step right up you big goddamn apes,” Joe yelled. “I got ya pepperoni here. Got ya Jackie O’s. And goddamn it, I brought the motherfuckin’ Noize.”
“It’s about fuckin’ time, Joe.” I said. “You’re barely here in time. We lose and this is on you.”
“Oh, fuck you, Jerry,” Joe said. “You ain’t even old enough to know the pain.”
“Give it a rest, Jesus,” Dad said. “Let’s get ready for the game. Come on, will ya.”
“Hey, Jerry,” Joe said. “Go on. Ask me if the Noize got any play this week. Ask me.”
The Noize is how Joe referred to his dick. He did the same bit every time he met someone for the first time. He’d wait for someone to ask why he calls it the Noize. Why, you ask? he’d say. Because whenever I give it to her I just yell, Cum on, feel the Noize. Goddamn bastard.
“Shut up, Joe,” Dad said. “Jesus. Crack your fuckin’ beer and pull up the table from the wall over there. We ain’t moving except to piss and get beer. Just like game six.”
“Jesus, okay, guys. Just trying to have a little fun. I’m here. Let’s go. Game seven. We got this,” Joe said.
“We ain’t got shit,” Dad said. “These fucks won seventy-three games. Who are we, anyway? We’re goddamn Cleveland. We’ll find a way to fuck it up.”
“Jesus, can you believe the Browns fired Belichick?”
“Christ, don’t remind me.”
“Fuck, that was Mom’s favorite to harp on.”
“I don’t blame the broad.”
“Watch your fucking mouth.”
“Goddamn it, I hate Elway.”
“Will you two give a rest?” Dad said.
The air hung heavy, but Dad brought us back. It was time for game seven. The moment of redemption. The dream was about to, hopefully, become reality. When I was little, before I was ten or so, Mom always told me that our dreams told the future. That when I laid my head down to rest, all the good stuff came true one day, and I’d just have to wait for it. All the nightmares and the problems I saw when I closed my eyes were someone else’s problems far away, and they needed someone else to see them to help them get through them. Like I was looking through a window to understand them. But my dreams were real, she always reminded me. They were tangible things that came to me one day with a long enough wait. I dreamt of a lot of things, but a championship hadn’t come yet. Maybe this was the year.
Dad turned the volume up, and the announcers let us know that Oracle Arena was louder than it had ever been all season. No shit, Joe said. It’s game seven, of course it is, Dad said. The players were circling the center of the court, waiting for the tip-off, and Dad’s leg was jittering from the fourteen coffee and cigarette combos he enjoyed in the last hour.
“How are we supposed to win?” Joe said. “Only ‘Bron has ever played in a game seven out of anyone on the Cavs. That’s madness.”
“Shut up, Joe,” Dad said. “We deserve this. Those entitled pricks in Golden State, they don’t deserve it. It’s simple karmic balance. Look at our team. A bunch of hard workers. Young kids coming together around one guy, making it work. What’re they? A bunch of silver-spooned yuppies. All of ‘em.”
“Yeah, I fuckin’ hate Curry,” I said.
“He looks like he’d suck dick for bus money and then walk home,” Joe said.
“Don’t even get me started on the fans,” Dad said. But he didn’t need us to get him started. He got himself going. “Those assholes out there, living in perfect weather, following the perfect team, and their perfect families. Fuck ‘em. They don’t know what it’s like over here. Picking up trash. Cleaning toilets. Making the city run. Everyone in California just thinks their city is a self-cleaning machine—”
“Like one of them new toilets from the infomercial,” Joe said.
“Yeah, just like that,” Dad said. “But us? We make the world run. We deserve this.”
“Yeah,” I whispered. Maybe to myself, maybe to them. “We do.” I knew we had a chance to win. Hell, anyone has a chance to show up and accidentally win something off pure chance. Just show up, Mom always said. The worst thing you can do is to not be there, Mom used to tell me. When I was really little, back when we still lived in the city, Dad used to work late. It was before he started being the collector that hangs off the back of the truck picking up the bags from the side of the road. Waste Management Professional, he always told me. It’d just be Mom and I at night, and we’d read books together. Dad wasn’t much for reading, and I really wasn’t either, but Mom liked to, so I’d hang around and read magazines while she read her books. She went to a book club with some of the other wives, but she’d just complain that they were all just there to get away from their husbands. Didn’t even read the damn books, she’d say. We never really talked much when she was reading, but it was nice to just be in the same room with her, something I can’t do anymore. It might’ve been quiet, but she showed up.
It was halftime and we were down seven. It felt like the game was already slipping away, and there was still an entire half to be played.
“Goddamn it,” Joe said. “Can somebody please kick Draymond in the dick before he makes another three?”
“Someone has to help LeBron, or we’re done.”
“Like a fuckin’ steak, I’ll tell ya,” Joe said.
I remember when LeBron left Cleveland the first time. You’d never know it by the way people around here talk about him now, including Dad and Joe, but he was exiled by the city. Dad and Joe, and some of the other guys from the trailer park, they made a bonfire and burned all their LeBron jerseys, some shoes, even some posters. It went up in a great ball of fire, and they cheered, dousing the fire with gasoline, cheering louder as the fire got bigger. Mom had gotten sick a few years before that, and we’d had to leave the city, too. We moved outside of it, into the trailer park. Mom’s bills were piling up. Mom had to stop working, too. I wasn’t remotely old enough to get a job that wasn’t under the table, and Dad didn’t want to be in the city anymore. I think a part of him is convinced Mom got sick from something in the city. Like moving away would cure her. LeBron came back after spending some time in Miami. Learned how to win, Dad said. It’s like when you break up with a broad, and then you get to bang her years later and she knows so many new tricks, Joe said. He was welcomed back like he never broke our hearts in the first place. Like he never found something better and said, catch ya in the next life. That’s what Mom told Dad before she died. That she’d be waiting. Waiting and watching.
Late in the fourth, the game was tied. Dad sweated through his tank top. His mustache was drenched, his forehead looked like a waterslide, and on the opposite side of him Joe was eyeing the television.
“It’s getting away from us,” I said.
“We don’t need your negativity,” Dad said. “They’ll be okay.”
“We’ll be okay,” Joe said.
And then it happened. The Block. The play that would go down in history. Iguodala passed to Curry on a fast break. Curry gave it back. Iguodala had an easy layup. LeBron was sprinting from half court when Iguodala began his motion for the layup, yet somehow LeBron got there first. Finally, Cleveland—we—had a signature play that didn’t involve a massive collapse. The Cavaliers scored on the next play, and the Warriors couldn’t score for the remainder of the game. It didn’t matter that Kyrie Irving scored the winning basket, and not LeBron. That someone else had made the dream a reality. It didn’t matter that Kevin Love ran onto the court to celebrate before the game was officially over. It didn’t matter that Cleveland hadn’t won anything in fifty years. It didn’t matter.
The buzzer sounded, and Dad slapped Joe across the face. A real hearty one, and Joe laughed. He slapped Dad back and they both turned to me, their bodies quivering with laughter. I didn’t know if they were going to slap me too. They both ran out the front door, like their routine was rehearsed, and Dad hopped into the front seat of his car, an IROC Z from ’85. His most prized possession. Everybody in the park knew that. He blasted the horn. Joe was dancing on the outside, hop-stepping like a dumb moron about to score his first touchdown in college.
Next door, Petey, who lived in the black trailer, did the same. He linked arms with Joe and they spun each other around while Dad was wailing on the horn, his head hanging out the side window laughing, his mustache flaring up like two feathers and sweat dripping down his forehead. Frankie-Four-Beers, the guy who lived a few trailers down and almost never came outside, started blaring on his horn, too. Before I knew it there was a symphony of horns throughout the trailer park. The people that made Cleveland spin around with the rest of the globe—the garbage men, the paramedics, the janitors—they were all here yelling and dancing. I had no clue if this was how you were supposed to celebrate a championship—to celebrate the end of suffering—but it was how we were doing it now. Just a bunch of prematurely balding old men with women problems and kids they didn’t want, sounding their horns and watching their neighbors dance like jackasses. I don’t think this was how I dreamt of a championship, but sometimes people forget their dreams, and sometimes people wake up never realizing just how lucky they were to have dreams at all.