LeBron James’ opening-night chalk toss “something like a prayer”


LeBron James’ return to Cleveland was disappointing in a lot of ways. He played terribly and the Cavaliers lost to the New York Knicks. But it was just one game, and the symbolism of the return was bigger than the result.

Over at NBC SportsWorld, Joe Posnanski discusses the scene of the return, which was more of a religious experience than a basketball game for Cleveland fans:




The Q features a new video board that that the team, somewhat modestly, calls “Humongotron.” According to the three-page press release, Humongotron has “5,550 total square feet of LED technology, aka, the largest HD scoreboard in any arena in the country!” Humongotron also has flaming sabers, meaning fire comes out of all four corners, which could be useful should the arena be attacked by Godzilla.

It is on Humongotron that the world premier of LeBron James’ new Nike commercial plays. The commercial is called, “Together.” Like “Casablanca,” it is filmed in black and white. The fans in the arena watch in quiet awe.

“Bring it all in,” LeBron James says as he gathers his teammates together into a huddle on Humongotron.

“It’s our city! We’ve got to do it for them, dawgs!” James says. “We’ve got to do it for Cleveland! They’re waiting on us!”

Music begins to play. The camera turns on to show – people. Cleveland people. Big and small, white and black, women and men. They are on the screen, moving together as one, crowded together exactly the way they like they were East 4th Street moments before. Only now, the Clevelanders put their arms around each other, and they bow their heads, like they are going into a giant sports huddle themselves.

“Every single night, every single practice, every single game, we’ve got to give it all we’ve got,” James says on Humongotron, and inside the real arena you can begin to hear cheers building. “They’re going to ride with us.”

The film cuts to the outside of The Q, and the people huddling around it, and James’ voice continues: “Everything that we do on this floor is because of this city. We owe them.”

People huddled in a Cleveland alley. 

“We owe them,” James says.

A shot of the Terminal Tower, once an iconic American building.

“We’re going to grind for this city.”

A shot of the Cuyahoga River with a “Cleveland” sign in the background.

They’re going to support us, man, but we’ve got to give it all back to them.”

A shot from above of East 4th Street.

“The toughness that we have on the court is gonna come from this city.”

Closeups of Clevelanders nodding, full of optimism.

“The whole city of Cleveland. That’s what it’s all about. It’s time to bring them something special.”

And that’s when the arena, the real arena, explodes in cheers and goose bumps and tears. Manipulative? Damn right, it is manipulative. But it’s been fifty years, man. Fifty years.

“Cleveland on three!” LeBron James shouts on Humongotron. “One-two-three!”

“Cleveland!” the black-and-white people shout on the video screen.

“Cleveland!” the full-color people shout from their seats in the arena.

The real LeBron James gets introduced for this first game against the New York Knicks, and he hugs his teammates. He walks over to halfcourt and chalks up his hands and throws the chalk into the air. The crazy sound in the arena is like wailing. It sounds something like a prayer.

The entire piece is worth reading, as a look into the minds of Cleveland sports fans, for whom renewed championship hopes would redeem a lifetime of torture.