Reflections on the FIFA World Cup & A Thank You to LeBron James

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The FIFA World Cup has come to a close, and with Germany’s victory over Argentina comes the opportunity to look back at my predictions made before the tournament.

  Firstly, the matter of Lionel Messi.

  As I noted in my preview, Messi has always seemed to me to be a player that is touted as the best in the world but always shows up as a quiet mouse.

  Having only scored once in a World Cup final match before, the Argentine star scored in each of his team’s first three games in the group stages, including the dramatic game winner against upset-minded Iran.

  Afterwards, Messi went quiet again, not scoring a single goal in the knockout rounds and looking quite below average in the final.

  Somehow, this performance translated into a Golden Ball award, something that elicited a “What?!” response from me directed at my TV screen once it was announced.

  Next, the United States did again what they had previously; captured our attention only to fall in a heartbreaker.

  Despite the loss, however, this one seemed different.

  There’s hope thanks to Coach Klinsmann.

  And he writes such amazing get-out-of-work letters too.

Brazil didn’t win their home tournament, and Spain never posed a threat to win it either, falling out of the hunt in the group stages.

  My “dark horses” of Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Russia never made much noise.

  Algeria didn’t “fall to the bottom” of their group, nor did Mexico play as terribly as their previous performances had predicted.

  Easily the biggest shock of the World Cup was the performances from Costa Rica, a small country that became the fan favorite.

  And, no, they did not blame losing on the “snow game” against the USA.

  England came ever so close to making it out of the group stage.

  Even with Wayne Rooney finally scoring that World Cup goal he has been trying to get, the Three Lions were unable to advance.

  Ecuador was in the same basket as England, with Chile being another big shocker to advance instead.

  Ultimately, the tournament was one of the best ever, and one I will not soon forget.

  See everyone next year for the Women’s World Cup (a football tournament the USA is actually the favorite in).

Thanks for the Memories

  With half of my family hailing from the greater Cleveland area, I was dismayed by LeBron James’ decision to leave the Cavaliers back in 2010.

  Practically gone was my chance to FINALLY see Cleveland win a sports title, at least for the foreseeable future.

  With neither the Browns nor Indians in any real state of success at the time, the road ahead seemed bleak and bumpy at best.

  At the same time, as a Miami Heat fan, I was thrilled!

  Finally, I would have the chance to see a championship team play in my back yard.

  Ultimately, during the 2011 NBA Finals, I watched the Heat fall to the Dallas Mavericks…while on vacation in Cleveland.

  Despite wearing my NBA Finals Miami Heat t-shirt around town in a pseudo social experiment to see how long it would take to be confronted by an angry Cavs fan, I was greeted several times by people who expressed support or respect for LeBron in his “Decision” to take his talents to South Beach.

  I will never forget spending half an hour in a deep, facts-based debate with two workers at Menard’s in Sandusky, Ohio about which team was the better team in the Finals.

  The next season came the big push for the title, and the Miami Heat won their second NBA Championship in franchise history.

  My goal was to attend the championship parade, and having missed the opportunity to do so in 2006, I was determined to not let this one slip away.

  Donning my best professional photographers’ gear and armed with press credentials from former major sporting events I had covered to legitimize myself from being just another “fan”, I ended up walking the entire parade route in the parade as a media photographer, followed by walking with the team into the arena and being escorted to the floor to shoot right in front of the stage.

  Somewhere between shaking LeBron James’ hand and standing next to Gabrielle Union, I realized that this was the sort of career-defining moment that I would never get the chance to experience again.

  The photography I was able to capture from that day remains some of the best I have ever shot, and to this very day, the memory of the video screen splitting in half to reveal the entire team on the stage gives me chills.

  I realized that this is what it felt like to be a member of the media, and this is what my career could be someday.

  Indeed, I will never forget the 2012 Championship Parade and Celebration.

  During the 2013 NBA Finals, my father was in the hospital having a partial knee replacement.

  The cafeteria at Doctors’ Hospital was filled with heat-gear clad nurses and doctors with news crews there to document the “Heat mania” during the finals.

  Back home, during game six, my mother and I watched in awe as LeBron James lost his signature headband and became superhuman, followed by the biggest explosive “YES!” scream I have ever let out in my life when Ray Allen drained the now historic three-pointer.

The next game brought with it yet another championship, and my mother and I, as we had the year before, raced out to the Homestead Sports Authority to be among the first to purchase our Miami Heat championship gear.

  It was becoming a tradition.

  This time, the parade was more structured, and even with an actual official press pass and an assignment, getting into the parade route was more difficult.

  After being denied entry to the celebration because the sign up procedures had changed and I had not checked in, I walked to the food court at Bayside with to other AP photographers and a fellow newspaper writer to grab lunch.

  It wasn’t the ending to the day I was hoping for, but it was an ending that I will forever remember nonetheless.

  Finally, 2014 brought with it a sense of excitement.

  Knowing Pat Riley had trademarked three-peat all those years ago, I looked forward to the chance to see it used to describe the Heat.

  Alas, a rematch with the Spurs brought with it the end of the Heat’s run and ultimately spelled the end of LeBron James’ tenure in Miami.

  As a Heat fan, I am again dismayed at The King’s decision to leave a city I so desperately wanted to see win again.

  However, as a Cleveland fan, I look to this return as a sign of hope once again in city that is cursed even more so than Chicago (at least the Blackhawks, Bears, and Fire have title shots).

  Thank you LeBron James for the memories.

  Indeed, they will last a lifetime for me.