The night the Cavs won the 2003 draft lottery to take Lebron James I was driving up Euclid Hts. Boulevard to a party in the heights with people who I don’t even remember anymore. Like so many milestones in CLE sports, I heard the miracle happen on the radio. It was just a few months after my conviction, with thirteen more years of futility invisibly stretching out before me, still long and desolate.
I would cling to Lebron James like a life raft in those years…kept telling myself if that miracle could happen…. By March, 2004, I moved to Tremont after landing another in a litany of gigs I would lose within the month thanks to the conviction. Suddenly stuck with no income and on the hook for a year lease on an apartment and a three year lease on a car, my Cavs watching was reduced to one beer during the first half, one beer during the second, at the newly opened Southside (formerly the Hi & Dry) down the block from my place.
The years passed, and when Lebron left town, I felt like the only person in CLE who granted immediate forgiveness. When you’re brought up Catholic, you learn a very specific way of gaining forgiveness. First you have to repent (sincerely apologize), then make amends (somehow compensate for your sin, what we call pennace), then promise to never do it again, then prove you’ll never do it again. As Catholics, we’re not supposed to wait for all the steps, we’re supposed to forgive as Jesus would, immediately. It is for the sinner to complete the steps and thus be worthy of such grace from God.
But when you hurt people so deeply, it takes more than a step by step Catholic process for those you hurt to get over the hurt. Don’t let anyone fool you; CLE was not particularly “all in” the last two years. Ya’ll know who you are! Watching Cavs games in bars around town you could cut that tension with a knife. Folks kept this Cavs team at arms length until the very last minute, certain they’d be hurt again, convinced Lebron would leave for somehwere else, again. That it was all a sham somehow. That’s before you get to the decades of scar tissue from Cleveland sports woe. No one wants to subject themselves to pain voluntarily.
Lebron went to a Catholic school, so I knew he’d be back to make amends, and all the rest of it, if he knew what was good for him. Does forgiveness require such a towering, historic achievement as Lebron James just delivered? No, it doesn’t. But it helps. We’ve all been Witnesses. Now we’re Champs, too, and we’ll all be Witnesses to more, thanks to Lebron seeking, and us granting, forgiveness. This redemption song will sing on for a very long time.