For Cleveland’s special secret trophy, there was another ritual. After each win in the playoffs, a different player would come forward to add his piece to the puzzle. During the Finals when there were constant cameras in the locker room, the players would kick the media out to keep it secret. Sometimes the honor went to the hero of the win. Sometimes it went to a player who needed a pick-me-up.
Kevin Love slid his piece into place after he had to miss Game 3 with a concussion.
With the real trophy in the room and champagne flying, it came time for the 16th piece. All 15 players had placed their piece, leaving a hole in the middle. The last piece was in the shape of the state of Ohio. As cheers raged, coach Tyronn Lue placed the final piece into place.
The puzzle, the trophy, the journey was finished.
“Together, that’s how you win a championship,” Jones said. “Individually, we are all just a piece. Everyone had to have their role; everyone has to have their piece.”
Carter, who manages James’ various non-basketball businesses, marveled at a photo as he studied it on a cellphone. As bar taps were surely simultaneously being pulled back in Cleveland, there were tears falling down James’ face in the moments after he’d finished leading the greatest comeback in Finals history.
In the middle of the chaos, Carter found James, and the pair hugged under the basket with “0.0” shining in red fluorescent lights on the game clock above them.
“Wow,” said Carter, who was a high school teammate with James at St. Vincent-St. Mary in Akron. “That’s a great photo. Wow. That moment was one friend feeling fantastic, exhilarated, exhausted and another friend just telling the other friend, ‘Nobody in the world deserves it more than you.'”
Mancias is one of the people James trusts the most. He’s been his personal trainer for years. He followed him to the Heat and then came back to Cleveland with him. It was at Mancias’ summer wedding in 2014 in Miami where Riley had hoped to meet with James and seal his re-signing. There was a signing that night; James acted as the witness for their marriage license.
This past Thursday night, the Cavs won Game 6 in Cleveland. James needed extra treatment, as he’d been kneed in the thigh. Mancias stayed late at the arena to do it, knowing the vital importance of the recovery time before Game 7.
A few hours later, Mancias was at a hospital to be with his wife, Heather, who was in labor with their first child. It lasted a brutal 26 hours, into Saturday. James and the Cavs flew in to San Francisco without him.
Finally, little Malcolm Ray Mancias came into the world. Mother and baby were fine. After they shared their moment with their son, Heather turned and said: “Go, go to Game 7.”
Mancias took a charter with Cavs employees Sunday morning. He came to the arena right from the airport. Fifteen minutes later James arrived, and Mancias was there to stretch and tape him.
He’ll never forget his first Father’s Day.
J.R. Smith will never forget this Father’s Day, either. He started weeping on the podium after the victory when talking about his family. When he got to talking about his father, he almost couldn’t continue as he described the support he’s gotten during difficult times in his career.
“I mean, my dad is easily one of my biggest inspirations to play this game,” said Smith, who scored eight straight points in the third quarter to begin the Cavs’ second-half turnaround.
“To hear people talk bad about me, it hurts me because I know it hurts him, and that’s not who I am. And I know he raised [me] better, and I know I want to do better. Just everything I do is for my parents and my family.
“The cars are nice, the houses are nice, but none of this matters without them. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. I don’t know where I would be, honestly. If it wasn’t for them, if it wasn’t for the structure and the backbone that I have, I wouldn’t be able to mess up and keep coming back and being able to sit in front of you as a world champion.”
Kevin Love, on LeBron James delivering a title to Cleveland
As he prepared to leave the arena, James kissed his wife goodbye. She had playfully scolded him earlier when he took his daughter to his postgame news conference while he was drenched in champagne. First a shower then into the night, a three-time champion already on the lookout for a new challenge.
“I want to continue to be great. I want to continue to lead the 14 guys that I got on my team. I want to continue to lead this franchise. I got to continue to be great,” James said. “That’s it. I owe that to myself. I’m true to myself. I’m my biggest critic. All the other conversation that goes on out there, yeah, that’s fine and dandy, but I’m my biggest critic. I owe it to myself to continue to be great.”
His teammates, euphoric in the moment, had no thoughts of the future. They were finally content to be in the present and in James’ presence.
“He protects every single one of us, and we are just very, very thrilled for our team,” said Kevin Love, wearing a Stone Cold Steve Austin shirt but sounding warm and fuzzy.
“But for him to come back here and go through what he did, it’s just pretty remarkable, and we’re very proud of him, and we love our leader.”