The city of Cleveland has gone 50 years without a championship, the longest drought of any U.S. city with three major sports teams. National Football League legend Jim Brown and the Browns gave Cleveland their most recent championship, and that was back in 1964 when G.I. Joe dolls first hit store shelves.
Now, the city of Cleveland and the Cavaliers stand just three wins away from capturing that elusive title. But only Christ can bring Ohio the hope it truly needs, said pastor David Gray, who leads First Baptist Church, Garrettsville, located about 35 miles from Akron, LeBron James’ hometown, and 45 miles from Cleveland.
“Sports is often thought of being transcendent in Northeast Ohio and so there’s been a thirst on the part of the people here to be a part of championships,” said Gray, a former president of the State Convention of Baptists in Ohio. “Not just championships in basketball, but championships in any way possible.”
National Basketball Association (NBA) superstar LeBron James garnered national headlines when he decided to return to the Cavaliers after a four-year stint with the Miami Heat. The return of James brought hope to Cleveland fans, some of whom were not so pleased when LeBron joined the Heat back in 2010.
“Some people felt betrayed because they were looking to him as a savior…. So many people look to sports figures maybe more than they should,” Gray said.
The successful reunion of James and the Cavaliers has made many fans treat the star as a prodigal son to the city. Cleveland reached the finals this season for the first time since 2007 during James’ initial campaign with the team. Cleveland owes much of their recent success to James, yet Gray warns fans to be cautious in their praise of the four-time Most Valuable Player.
“Those folks are getting their identity and hope from a person. I think LeBron would be the first to tell you he’s only human. He’s a great basketball player and he knows that, but he’s still only a basketball player,” Gray said.
Gray noted the Cavaliers and James have a good reputation in the Cleveland community.
“[James] does try to give back in numerous ways…. Many people see him as just a wonderful symbol of what the gritty, strong, passionate people of northeastern Ohio can do when they set their minds to it,” Gray said.
James has a foundation in his name designed to help Akron youth have better access to education, and he has partnered with the Boys and Girls Club on several initiatives. And while he was criticized for televising his controversial decision to join the Heat in 2010, James raised $6 million for charity from the TV event.
While James remains a polarizing figure, Gray urges Christian sports fans to keep a proper perspective of the game and remain steady in their convictions.
“One of the most important things that we as Christians should understand is that sports is not our salvation,” Gray said. Sports is not the salvation of Northeast Ohio. … Our only salvation is in Christ.”
Game four of the NBA Finals tips off 9 p.m. ET on June 11.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Daniel Woodman, who will be a sophomore journalism major at the University of Missouri, is a summer intern with Baptist Press.)