Over the past year, I’ve achieved more than I ever dreamed.
I’ve also had more taken away than I ever knew I could handle.
During a game midway through the season, I was completely lost emotionally. I wasn’t smiling. I wasn’t enjoying the game. I was just going through the motions. LeBron noticed that I was withdrawn, and he walked over to me during a timeout.
“Channing,” he said.
I snapped out of my daze for a moment and looked over at Bron. He looked really serious. No expression.
And then he said….
“Did you just fart?”
I couldn’t help but laugh. Everyone knows I love a good fart joke! Everyone on the team — in particular Richard and LeBron — knows how to pull me out of a funk.
And they’re not alone.
When I’m feeling out of it, Kevin brings up his favorite topic: his famous cheese plates. He’s like, “Channing, you gotta come over and check out these cheese plates, man. They’re top of the line.” They’ve got more types of cheeses than I knew existed, plus this honey he gets straight off the comb. (Portland guys, amirite?)
James Jones comes over and says, “Bro, how good is life? We’re playing basketball for a living.”
Shump, well — I have a feeling that sometimes, when Shump is wearing a particularly ridiculous outfit, he’s doing it just to make me smile. (And dammit, it works.)
Kyrie will hit me with his latest, hottest conspiracy theory.
It’s truly a team effort. They want to make sure I’m smiling. I’m not sure they will ever understand what I was going through, but they knew they needed to step in.
Even though I’ve only been here in Cleveland since last season, my teammates have become my brothers — I’ve never been this close with any team that I’ve ever been on. You’ll play hard for your teammates. But you’ll run through a wall for your brothers.
Also, just for the record: I definitely didn’t fart. We have a team full of guys with “upset stomachs,” so who knows who crop-dusted us that time?
I came into the regular season with a great rhythm off of last year’s championship. I was shooting the ball really well. Mind you, these are things that naturally come and go a little bit.
But I was in a groove.
Then I got word that my mother’s cancer had progressed and that her outlook was dire. I was at the Game 2 of the World Series with one of my best friends, and all my teammates, when I got the call. We were celebrating, coasting on the electric energy of Cleveland during that time. We were glowing. Things couldn’t have been going better, so getting the news about my mother crumbled me literally to the ground.
I rushed back to California to be with her. She died the next morning.
That crushed my world.
After the funeral, I focused on basketball and my father’s health — he had gotten really depressed since my mom’s passing, and I checked in on him daily. We were both defeated, our spirits ruined, but I just had to believe that we would get through this together.
A few weeks later, he died too, alone in his apartment in Phoenix on Thanksgiving day.
When I got the call, I was at my house celebrating the holiday with my family, Richard and his family, and Birdman and a few other friends.
I thought I was going to die.
Every day I’m in Cleveland, I have at least a 20-minute drive to our facilities. My parents used to like to get up early, so during those drives was when I’d usually check in with them. My dad would try to coach me like I was a sixth-grader. My mom would ask about my kids and we’d talk about what was going on with her family. That was my daily time with them.
When I got back to Cleveland after the funerals, those car rides tore me apart. They became a daily reminder — double daily, actually, because I had to make the trip twice. Also, there was a cemetery by the practice facility, so I couldn’t help but think of them. I was losing my s*** the entire drive. Music didn’t really cut it, and I bet a lot of my friends noticed that I was calling them a lot more — no matter if it was 4 a.m. on the West Coast.
Listen, I’m a super happy guy. But some days on the court — to be honest — I just didn’t have it emotionally. There was nothing in my tank. Many mornings, it was hard enough to get out of bed, not to mention to emotionally invest myself in regular-season NBA games. I felt on the verge of tears a few times on the court — out of the blue, my thoughts would return to my parents, and I’d be overcome with sadness that they weren’t out there watching me anymore.
I was a wreck.
Looking back, the only thing that could bring me out was a heavy dose of love from my family, my teammates and this city.
And the city of Cleveland as a whole has been amazing. I can’t explain to you how much the fans help, just knowing that you have all this love and support. I gotta admit, at times it was overwhelming — I didn’t know that what was going on in my personal life could affect that many people. I was playing pretty poorly for a while, but the fans gave me space. They knew that it was an accomplishment for me to even make it out on the court and give it all I had, and they propped me up.
One thing that really helped me to move forward was the podcast that I do with Richard called Road Trip.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
When Richard and Allie approached me to do it, I was like, Why not? I give Richard a lot of s*** because I act like I don’t want to do it all the time, but it’s a special thing. I’ve learned so much about Kyle, about Kyrie, about all the other guys we’ve had on the show. The podcast has been an incredible way to peel back these guys’ layers in a space where they feel safe.
How are you gonna grow with your teammates if you don’t know where they come from, if you don’t know their story?
For instance, I didn’t know about Tristan’s upbringing — like, I didn’t know he was dealing with a brother who has a disability. Everyone has their own personal spaces in the locker room, so we don’t really have a ton of deep conversations in there.
Two things I didn’t know that I learned this year were that LeBron and Jimmy Buffett are really tight — and that Kyle and Jimmy Buffett are from the same town in Nebraska.
Wait. My wife just informed me that who I really mean is Warren Buffett.
That’s my fault, but you know what? Jimmy Buffett, if you’re reading this, I’m a fan. I’d definitely love some passes to Margaritaville, you know? That’d be tight.
I got here late last year, so maybe I didn’t have time to learn about everyone’s different experiences and origin stories. A really cool thing is, every time we’re doing the podcast on the plane,
A really cool thing is, every time we’re doing the podcast on the plane, four or five guys come over to where we’re sitting just to listen. They’ve allowed themselves to become vulnerable a little bit, and that’s given this team a lot of emotional strength. Investing in my teammates and what they’re going through helped me get through the darkest time of my life.
So can I talk about my guys for a minute?
It’s been amazing to see guys like Kyrie and Kevin grow as professionals. With Kyrie, it’s rare to find a guy that young who’s an old soul and a meticulous student of the game, who runs old Jordan and Kobe replays on his iPad in order to pick up some of their little moves. Something I’ve come to really admire about Kyrie is that he’s always computing out there — he’s logging everything that happens, and since nobody can guard him, that’s scary to think about. Listen, he’s a young guy who is gonna have ups and downs, and we often forget how young he is. But my respect for him has grown astronomically this season, and no, that’s not a wordplay on the whole “flat earth” thing.
Kevin, man — Kevin’s one of my guys. He’s part of what me and Richard call “the Triangle.” This year, Kevin knows we expect more out of him, and he’s embraced that. The more aggressive Kevin is, the more dangerous we are. He knows that sometime he’s the third option, but he’s really leaned into the times when he’s our first option, too. I like to tell LBJ, Kevin and Kyrie that if one of them is double-teamed and I miss the three, it’s on me — but if they’re playing one-on-one and they don’t get 30, that’s on them. And they all take that pretty seriously.
Like everything on the Cavs, all the attention comes back to LeBron. A lot of the misunderstanding of this team has to do with LeBron — I think that’s because this year, he’s done a better job telling us about what he doesn’t like. He’s gotten some flack from the media for visibly yelling at guys like Tristan, but you name me one team out there where teammates don’t argue. Guess what happened after that game? He and Tristan went out and got a glass of wine together. It was like, “Sorry for yelling at you, but we’re brothers and sometimes that happens. Let’s go get a juice box.”
When it comes down to it, LBJ is speaking out of emotion. He wants to win. It’s about his legacy. We know we gotta evolve to win it again, and LeBron is leading that evolution.
One of wildest parts of the ride this year has been just how fleeting the joy of the title was. As an athlete, something that’s really hard to balance mentally is maintaining confidence that you’re the best team in the game while also addressing your flaws and growing as a group.
Luckily, I know Cleveland is the best place to do that. The fans have gotten a chance to see us as real humans this year, and that has only made them embrace us more. There’s been times this year when I wanted to be under the covers or balled up in a closet, but the love and support of the fans and my teammates has made me into someone stronger than I ever knew I could be.
To the fans of Cleveland: I want to say thank you, number one. You all understand that it’s deeper than just a game. We’re here for a reason, we’re here to do something special, to create a legacy not only for the Cavs’ organization, but also for the state of Ohio and the city of Cleveland. Let’s enjoy this moment and these playoffs — they won’t last forever.
Listen, if there’s one thing that I know now, it’s that. It doesn’t last forever.
When the fan base is locked in … it’s like Captain Planet, a comparison I’m using even though all my teammates know I hate Captain Planet. (Like, if you take your office trash can and dump it on Captain Planet, he melts or something. It’s so weak. He’s the weakest superhero ever.)
Can I get to my point, though?
My point is, our forces combined gets the job done. That includes the fans. You’re on this journey with us, so ride with us. Make that arena louder. Wear more Cavs gear. Be the most annoying Cavs fans possible.