Kris Shannon: Seeing LeBron James secure title priceless

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Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, center, celebrates with teammates after Game 7 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Photo / AP.
Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James, center, celebrates with teammates after Game 7 of basketball's NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Photo / AP.

The BART train pulls to a stop after an atmospheric 20-minute ride, unloading the Warriors fans who made the trip under the San Francisco Bay, including a trio discussing the possibility of tossing their singlets in the harbour if Golden State lose.

It's been that kind of week. A 3-1 series lead has been chipped away by LeBron James and the Cavaliers and a second straight title suddenly seems in serious doubt.

But anticipation, rather than anxiety, is the prevailing sentiment. The Warriors, after all, have unarguably the better all-round team, and they're back at home, awaiting a sea of yellow that now packs the path en route to Oracle Arena, as a steady drumbeat emanating from cannily placed buskers provides what in hindsight proves a foreboding soundtrack for the short walk.

The odd flash of maroon dotted around the arena reveals the presence of the enemy: Cavaliers fans. While American supporters rarely travel in force, many Clevelanders have snatched the chance to watch their heroes snap a 52-year title drought for the city, with opportunistic locals happy to cash in and oblige that desperation.

Tickets on the secondary market, I had discovered, were easy to acquire. The day before the most-anticipated basketball game in 20 years, seats were being offered for no more than a mere pay cheque. Who could decline such a bargain, even if the view was three rows from the back in the uppermost corner of an 18,000-strong crowd?

The sight of so many transplants in their midst irks the regulars. "Real fan coming through," announces one woman wearing a Klay Thompson jersey as she shuffles past, proceeding to yell herself hoarse in the pre-game intros alone.

But, for a neutral, there's no better place to be. While I dutifully don the oversize "Strength in Numbers" T-shirt found pre-game on the back of every seat - those who refuse are summarily shamed on the big screen - that's more about fitting in than fandom.

And while a potential Sunday night victory party in San Francisco will likely match anything seen after the following weekend's Pride Parade, it will also be cause for celebration if James wins a ring with his hometown team.

The intruding Cavs contingent certainly agrees: one young man behind me, having travelled alone to the game, sees in my neutrality a friendly face, an opportunity to unload all the angst that arrives with being born in the cursed city of Cleveland, while one couple to my right, with whom my new buddy will come to form far stronger bonds, find their voices as the game progresses.

They're outnumbered but loud, these interlopers. A "Let's go Cavs" chant even breaks out
during the third quarter, before a cacophony of boos quickly quells the attempted uprising.

Those jeers are the exception in the three hours that will precede King James' crowning moment. Whether loosened by the US$14 (NZ$19) Coors Light, whether appeased by the previous season's triumph, Warriors fans are never paralysed by the tension.

Expecting a jittery and quiet congregation to match the sloppy on-court action that usually greets deciding seventh games, I'm thrilled to find neither. The crowd is deafening, rarely using their exorbitant seats, and the game ... well, by now you know.
Time stood still for the three-and-a-half minutes the foes were locked at 89 late in the fourth quarter, as the Cavs fan at my back alternated between pacing in his row and rubbing my shoulders in a bid to burn off nervous energy.

One decisive shot appeared destined to win the championship and after Kyrie Irving made that a reality - after James fell to the floor with tears flowing down his face, after the arena rapidly emptied save for the victorious visitors - all that remained was to fete the champs.

And to avoid reading any bank statements for the foreseeable future.

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