On June 16, 2016 the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Golden State Warriors in Game 6 of the NBA Finals to tie the series and force a deciding Game 7. After watching the first six games of the series in my own home, I decided that I wanted to watch Game 7 in a public setting. I figured that it would be either an occasion for communal celebration or commiseration. (Given Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought and the fact that no NBA team had ever recovered from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA Finals, the smart money was on commiseration.)
It didn’t take me long to choose my location: the Academy Tavern on Larchmere Boulevard. The Academy might have seemed like a strange choice for a guy who lives in South Euclid and doesn’t drink. But I’ve worked as a community organizer in the Larchmere neighborhood since 2008, and I’ve had many a conversation with neighborhood residents over lunch at the Academy, a neighborhood institution for more than 75 years.
I like the Academy for its unpretentious, inclusive atmosphere. On any given day at the Academy, you might run into postal workers, police officers, and politicians; shoppers and shop owners; residents of Moreland Courts and Woodhill Homes.
That diversity was in evidence for Game 7, both in the small group of friends that I had invited and in the overall crowd that packed the tavern. Our crew included Ali and Shila, librarians and Buckeye residents; Sylvia, a horticulturist and lifelong Ludlow resident; and Doug, a master carpenter and Collinwood resident.
It was Sunday, June 19 — Father’s Day. My wife, Lee, and I had spent most of the previous day walking up and down the streets of Larchmere during PorchFest, an annual festival that features 30 bands on 30 porches throughout the neighborhood. Now we were back on Larchmere for one of the biggest events in Cleveland sports history.
From the start of the game, there was loud noise in the tavern — cheers when the Cavs scored, groans when they missed open shots or committed turnovers, boos when the Warriors complained about calls. Shila, who had never watched a sporting event at a bar, was shocked at the level of noise. It was impossible to hear the TV commentators.
As the game progressed, the atmosphere in the tavern grew less festive and more tense — especially during an excruciating four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter when neither team could score. It looked as though the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala would break the scoring drought with a fastbreak layup, but LeBron flew out of nowhere and pinned Iguodala’s shot against the backboard. The entire tavern erupted in elation and amazement. Minutes later, we exploded in cheers again as Kyrie Irving made what turned out to be the game-winning three-pointer.
When the final buzzer sounded, it took an extra fraction of a second for us to come to the realization that the Cavs had won. Then we began to cheer wildly, hugging and high-fiving one another. The revelry went on for several minutes — until ESPN’s Doris Burke got hold of LeBron for a post-game courtside interview. We grew reverently quiet as he spoke. At the conclusion of the interview, we burst into applause again.
Eventually, our crew decided to head outside. Ali and Shila rode their bikes home in the dark. Sylvia walked with us to the parking lot. We heard gunshots — of the New Year's variety — coming from somewhere in the neighborhood.
I don’t consider myself a diehard sports fan. Those of you who are may disagree with what I’m about to say. It seems to me that what we’re yearning for — more than wins, more than championships — is a feeling of connection, of being part of something larger than ourselves. That’s why neighbors have been going to the Academy Tavern for more than 75 years — through changes in ownership, changes in the menu, changes in population, changes in the businesses on the street — and through “Red Right 88,” “The Fumble,” “The Drive,” “The Shot,” and all the other near misses. Because, deep down, in spite of our differences, we want to feel connected to our neighbors and our neighborhood.
Kevin Kay is a partner in Kay Coaching, a consulting company. He has been working in the Buckeye, Larchmere, Ludlow, Mt. Pleasant, Shaker Square, and Woodland Hills neighborhoods since 2008. He appreciates the kind, generous, and fascinating people that he meets every day through his work as a community network builder.
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Who We Are, Where We Live is a free community writing program giving voice to people who live and work in the Buckeye/Shaker community. Participants write stories, learn about their neighborhood, and share with their neighbors. Annually, selected writings are published here in an online anthology and presented at a final reading and celebration.