'The Crying Game:' LeBron James and Cavs get emotional after NBA title win

Story highlights

  • Cavs bring first pro championship to Ohio in 52 years
  • Emotional LeBron dedicates win to Cleveland fans
  • Guard JR Smith breaks down while thanking his father
  • Coach Tyronn Lue weeps on sideline after final buzzer

For updates, stories, video and features about the NBA playoffs, go to cnn.com/nba

(CNN)No major sporting event is complete without tears these days -- preferably lots of them.

Up in the bleachers, TV directors can't wait to zoom in on blubbering, sobbing and wailing fans as they come to terms with their team's heartbreaking defeat, or even their dizzying wins.
    But now more than ever, the tough guys are getting in on the act too.
    Look no further than the NBA's grand finale on Sunday. The tears flowed and flowed. And then they kept on flowing.
    From the hardwood court in Oracle Arena, to the Cleveland Cavaliers' bench, to the locker room and even the press room: Grown men -- champions, no less -- bawled their eyes out.
    It started with NBA finals MVP LeBron James, who was carrying 52 years of Cleveland futility on his Herculean shoulders going into Game 7, not to mention the weight of a potential third straight finals loss.
    Seconds after the final whistle, James was mobbed by teammates before collapsing onto the court, where a combination of relief and joy manifested into thick salty tears dribbling down his cheeks.
    "Oh my God!" he repeated, to everyone and no one in particular. The tears kept on flowing during the on-court interview with ESPN's Doris Burke.
    "I set out a goal two years (ago) when I came back to bring a championship to this city," said the 31-year-old native of Akron, Ohio, taking long pauses to breathe through tears.
    "I gave everything that I have ... I put my heart, my blood, my sweat, my tears to this game," he continued, wiping away the aforementioned tears.

    'Stories shape emotions'

    Why all the crying? After all, this wasn't LeBron's first championship, and he never once got choked up in Miami.
    "This is a way for an athlete to deliver his story to us," Dr. Adam Naylor, professor of sports psychology at Boston University, told CNN.
    "When we listen to LeBron's story, he's telling us there was incredible adversity to his season. Whether we believe it or not, that's the story that drove him this year. Those stories can shape our emotions."
    The adversity -- articulated in a long Instagram post on Tuesday -- featured accusations of orchestrating a mid-season coaching upheaval, along with other personnel decisions that appeared to be backfiring when the Cavaliers were on the brink of elimination down three games to one.
    It was a hole that no team in finals history had been able to dig itself out of to that point.
    "If you listen to everything he said, it's like of course he's crying, he climbed the mountaintop somehow," Naylor adds.
    James' interview was delayed by a positively giddy Kyrie Irving, the point guard who saved the day with a clutch three-point shot over MVP Stephen Curry with less than a minute remaining.
    There were no tears on Irving's face, nor, it should be noted, on the faces of any of the devastated Golden State Warriors -- not publicly anyway.
    Meanwhile, 39-year-old coach Tyronn Lue was working his own crying session on the bench, burying his face into his hands and blubbering in disbelief.
    Although Lue had been a head coach for a mere five months, and won two rings as a backup point guard with the Lakers, he cried like 30-year coaching veteran who thought the day would never come.
    "I've always been tough and never cried," he later told reporters. "A lot of emotions just built up."

    New spectacle

    An acceptance of being public with private matters in the age of social media partly explains this relatively new spectacle in the macho world of sports, says Naylor.
    "There is almost a level (of expectation) that you are supposed to be emotional to show how wonderful it was," he says. "Let's face it, it's a good celebration."
    After the on-court madness dissipated, guard J.R. Smith -- who had been composed until then -- was asked in the press room what the victory meant to him on Father's Day.
    And then the waterworks kicked in.
    "My daddy was easily my biggest inspiration to play the game," Smith said, while breaking down like an innocent child who lost his puppy. "To hear people talk bad about me hurts me because I know it hurts him, and that's not who I am."

    Happy Mother's Day.

    A photo posted by Jordan (@jumpman23) on

    Then he hobbled off the podium and into the arms of his father, sobbing deep into his chest.
    Why is victory an uncontrollable emotional affair for some, and chance to laugh for others?
    Maybe Michael Jordan can answer that. In 1991, Jordan wept as he clutched the Larry O'Brien Trophy, celebrating the first of his six championships.
    Then in 1996, His Airness earned his first title since taking a shocking two-year hiatus to play baseball, a move he dedicated to his slain father. Jordan openly wept on the floor after the buzzer sounded, and again in the locker room.

    Tennis tears

    The trend never really picked up in basketball again until Sunday night. Oddly, however, it took off in tennis, first after grueling losses, and then following somewhat ordinary wins (though, interestingly, not so much on the women's circuit).
    Roger Federer cried when he lost a marathon Wimbledon final against Rafael Nadal -- a grueling match that took four hours and 48 minutes on court and several more hours in rain delays.
    Since then every member of tennis' big four (which includes Andy Murray and Novak Djokovic) has wept regularly in competition.
    Murray cried after a Davis Cup victory on home soil in Glasgow in 2011 and was inconsolable in defeat a year later after losing to Roger Federer at Wimbledon, though he did manage to hold back tears after winning a gold for Great Britain in the 2012 Olympics.
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    For years, crying accompanied the agony of defeat in sports, most famously when runner Mary Decker went down in a collision and bawled into the arms of an aid at the 1984 Olympics, and Derek Redmond pulled a hamstring before emotionally limping to the finish line with the help of his father at the 1992 Games.
    "Sports has become such a cultural phenomenon that we are supposed to act like it's the biggest deal ever -- and in some ways it is," adds Naylor. "I feel like it's easier than ever to put it out of whack emotionally."
    For James, his historic Game 7 performance will forever be linked to his emotional reaction afterward, no matter how excessive it may have appeared at the time.
    "You can write a movie after what he did, and I can imagine it will be," said Cleveland Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown to ESPN.
    Producers, however, will struggle to find a more fitting name than one that has already been taken: The Crying Game.
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