In 1969, my father took me to my first basketball game. The old Cincinnati Royals were playing at the even older Cleveland Arena, a stoic nine-thousand-seat neoclassical structure built during the Depression. One year later, we were cheering for the newly minted Cleveland Cavaliers. Though the Great Depression was over, Cleveland’s great sports depression was just getting under way. Since then, my father and I have followed a lot of Cavs basketball together.
With the passing of many seasons, our oldest son took my place as my father’s favored Cavalier companion. Oh how their hopes rose when a teenager from down the road in Akron named LeBron joined our team. Oh how they cheered. There is no competing with that special grandfather-grandson bond. Besides, as a long-suffering fan—it’s been 162 seasons since any Cleveland team won a championship—it was my duty to bequeath that unique, hope-dashed despair to my son. Not long after LeBron took his talents to South Beach, we packed up and headed home: To Israel.
Now, as my son and I sit in Jerusalem and discuss the finals with my father in Cleveland, we can’t help but wonder: Maybe, just maybe, what we have needed all along is a Holy Land connection to spark a miracle of biblical proportions.
Tell me, do you really think it’s a coincidence the Cavs are led by a star known as the King, and an Israeli coach whose first name “just happens” to be David? Did not King David of yore lead us to victory over the Philistine warriors from the west? Did not King David write the book of Psalms, the timeless source of supplication for victory? Coincidence?
Not convinced? Consider Maimonides on repentance and forgiveness. True repentance, he taught, is when someone does the wrong thing, regrets it, returns to the same situation, and then does the right thing. In Cleveland, more people can recite the litany of dashed hopes and defeats than the Pledge of Allegiance. Everyone remembers LeBron’s last game before his departure. Everyone said, “He gave up, he quit.” And then he had the audacity to break the heart of every kid from Cleveland to Akron and “guarantee” multiple championships for the people of Miami. Miami!
But time passed, he returned, and was re-embraced. What’s more, in these playoffs, we’ve seen anything but a quitter. When asked if he could guarantee a championship, this time he said, ‘The only thing I can guarantee is that we will play our &%#’s off.” If that’s not Talmudic quality repentance, what is?
And, what could possibly be more fitting for an Israel connection than the title of LeBron’s open letter to Cleveland, “I’m coming home.” Do you not hear the thrilling echoes of Aliya, of exile drawing to an end—of elevating our game to the next level—in those words?
Last year, here in the land of miracles, we watched coach David Blatt steer an underdog Tel Aviv team to a thrilling European championship. And this year? Could the writing be on the Wall?
The only thing I know for sure is that when tipoff time comes at 9:00 pm, it will be 4:00 am here. My parents will be watching from my cousin’s house, a cousin whose name just happens to be Moses. I’ll be at my son and daughter-in-law’s watching from here, and thanks to Skype, we will be, All In!
Barring another overtime, the game should end just in time for me to make it to my 7:00 am morning minyan.