Cleveland celebrates Cavs with huge NBA victory parade

Hundreds of thousands of fans pack downtown Cleveland to celebrate the Cavaliers and LeBron James winning the NBA championship, the city's first professional sports title in 52 years.
Cleveland Cavaliers' JR Smith takes a selfie during the parade.
Cleveland Cavaliers' JR Smith takes a selfie during the parade.PHOTO: REUTERS
Cleveland Cavaliers fans out in force for the parade on June 22, 2016.
Cleveland Cavaliers fans out in force for the parade on June 22, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

CLEVELAND, Ohio (AFP) - Downtown Cleveland was a sea of wine and gold Wednesday as jubilant fans gave a hero’s welcome to NBA superstar LeBron James and his Cavaliers teammates, who brought home the city’s first major sports title in more than 50 years.

Confetti in the team’s colors rained down as the parade snaked through the city, with the NBA championship trophy in a black pickup truck, and team members travelling in separate vehicles.

The Cavaliers, led by series MVP James, pulled off the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history to dethrone the Golden State Warriors, winning Game 7 on Sunday 93-89 to complete an improbable rally from a 3-1 deficit to take the title.

The win brought Cleveland its first major sports champion since the Browns took the National Football League title in 1964, ending the longest such title drought for any American city.

“The victory feels unreal,” said parade goer Jerame Provitt, who had attended the final game in Oakland, California.

Many fans wore team jerseys – 23 for James or 2 for Kyrie Irving were the most popular – and waved team flags, some of them dancing with joy.

Officials expected hundreds of thousands to take part in the celebration.

Revellers lined up on the streets for the best spots from the early morning hours. Some even climbed light poles and bus shelters for a better view.

James – who turned in a performance for the ages in the Finals, sealing his place in the pantheon of the sport’s greats – stood atop the convertible in which he was travelling, extending his arms to the crowd.

“King” James also documented the festivities with his smartphone, while Irving hopped off his pickup truck, high-fiving fans and gesturing to the crowd.

James turned in a performance for the ages in the Finals, sealing his place in the pantheon of the sport’s greats.

He averaged NBA Finals highs of 29.7 points, 11.3 rebounds and 8.9 assists and led the way with more than two steals and blocked shots a game as well – not to mention his pinpoint passing and defensive swagger.

Much of Cleveland – home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and soon to host the Republican National Convention in July – was engulfed in celebration, with reports of local employers giving workers the day off.

Two theaters rescheduled performances due to the large crowds, and a local courthouse even planned to reschedule some hearings, should the parties involved be unable to attend.

Cleveland’s public transit system, which had offered free parking to parade goers, announced early in the day that lots were at capacity. The Cleveland airport’s lots were similarly congested, and hotels were fully booked.

There was almost no visible green lawn at the city’s open field known as The Mall, where a crowd had gathered for the post-parade rally.

Despite being represented in three major sports – baseball, basketball and football – a Cleveland franchise has not come home with a season-ending trophy since the Browns in 1964.

When James returned to the Cavaliers, he pledged to bring home a trophy – and made good on his promise.

The victory was also a welcome occasion to celebrate for a city that has had little opportunity to do so. The Rust Belt town has suffered economic decline. A recent economic study labeled it the “most distressed large city in America.” Cleveland has also been dealing with a controversial police shooting incident.

In April, it paid US$6 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the family of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy playing with a toy gun who was fatally shot by a city police officer.

“The whole city needed this,” said parade goer Anthony Shaw. “We really needed it to bring us up a little bit.”