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The Cleveland Cavaliers Are NBA Champs, And LeBron James' Akron Alma Mater is Celebrating

photo of St. Vincent-St. Mary students

The Cleveland Cavaliers are the 2016 NBA Champs after beating the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in Game 7. WKSU’sKabirBhatia was at LeBron James’ alma mater in Akron for the game.

The St. Vincent-St. Mary pep band greeted about 500 fans as they filed into sweltering LeBron James Arenato watch Game 7 in Oakland. The fans were tense, but primed for the Cavs to do battle with Steph Curry and the Warriors.

St. Vincent-St. Mary Athletic Director Willie McGee was a high school teammate of LeBron James.

“This is huge for me. Obviously, I'm very proud of LeBron James and who he is and who he's become. Making the decision to come back here to Akron, and do this for Ohio; this is epic for us. In Ohio, we haven't had success to this extent in 52 years. Making it to the finals is huge. Once he left, we didn't even make it to the playoffs.”

During those years, James won two championships in four seasons with the Miami Heat, but after this victory he said it’s different because it’s for his hometown.

Quiet storm
The fans in Akron sat relatively quiet for about 3 1/2 quarters. Every time the Cavs scored, there 

photo of St. Vincent-St. Mary
As game time approached, fans in the LeBron James Arena were actually quiet -- and stayed that way until late in the fourth quarter.

were enough cheers to puncture the low murmur in the gym.

At the half, Jerry Kelly – a longtime St. Vincent-St. Mary volunteer whose late husband graduated from the school in 1950 – said she had mixed emotions while watching the game.

“Dear, dear, dear, dear, dear. Wonderful in one way, because we made history. We're the only team that's come back from a 3-1 deficit. ... I couldn't stay in my seat tonight. Because I was so nervous. I had to get up and come out there. I have to keep asking people, 'What's the score, what's the score?'"

Nearing the end
Late in the fourth quarter, as the score seemed stuck in an endless tie, most of the fans left the bleachers and stood directly in front of the large projection screen on the gym floor. They cheered again when Kyrie Irving broke the tie with a 3-pointer. But then, with 10 seconds left, LeBron James appeared to be hurt. As he shook it off – with the score 92-89 Cavs with LeBron taking a foul shot – Jerry Kelly was ecstatic.

“Oh my gosh -- wonderful! I'm about to cry.”

And then, the moment Cleveland sports fans have not experienced in 52 years.  The Cavs won 93-89.

photo of Jerry Kelly and Stacey Hentosz
Jerry Kelly (left) and Stacey Hentosz do a great deal of volunteering at St. Vincent-St. Mary's, and were too nervous to watch much of Game 7, staying just outside of the gym.

Celebration time
As fans celebrated, Courtney Conley – the school’s alumni director – joined them.

“Absolutely amazing. No words. No words can describe.”

Among the fans was John Jackson, a junior. He says when you come right down to it, LeBron James and Northeast Ohio were hungrier for the championship than Golden State.

“They've had other sports that won championships, too. Cleveland is just so hungry for a championship that they need this. He (James) can say he got it for his hometown this time.”

Also in the crowd was Stacey Hentosz with the school’s athletic boosters.

“I’m over-the-moon. I am so excited, I could cry.”

How did they do it?
Afterwards, St. Vincent-St. Mary juniors Marcus Johnson and Lemontee Stevenson left the gym to stand out front where it was cooler. Drivers passing the school honked to show their support for the Cavs.

“They brung a team back together that had great people for each position. And they found a way to beat the Warriors.

“I think they did teamwork and moved the ball and played how they play, not how the Warriors play. And  (they) just kept pushing.”

Andrea Rose has no connection to the school. She came simply to watch the game. She sees the NBA title as a sign of good times for Northeast Ohio.

“It means it's a new beginning. The Indians are doing well, you know, maybe they'll win a championship? We're having the [Republican National] Convention here. I mean, it's just a happening place.”

There are celebrations in the works for the Cavs. A rally and parade are planned for Wednesday in Cleveland, and Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan issued a statement saying his office is working with representatives for LeBron James and his foundation to plan a celebration in Akron.


Kabir Bhatia is a senior reporter for Ideastream Public Media's arts & culture team.