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LeBron James and Dustin Johnson flip the script

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One year ago LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers were the talk of the sports world for the wrong reasons. So was pro golfer Dustin Johnson.

On June 16, 2015 James and his crippled Cavaliers fell to the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals. On Father’s Day, 2015 Johnson three-putted the 18th green and lost the U.S. Open title to Jordan Spieth.

Today, James, the Cavs and Johnson are all “trending,” but this year they are happy about that. Each completely reversed their fortunes from a year ago and won the most prestigious titles in their respective sport.

The odds were long against both. A week ago the Cavaliers were down three games to one to the defending champion Golden State Warriors. No team in NBA Finals history had ever overcome such a deficit.

Not only were they in such a hole, Cleveland would be required to win two games in Oakland to take home the trophy. That would mean winning three straight against a team that lost only nine regular season games the entire season and never three in a row.

That is precisely what they did, winning the city’s first title of any kind since Lyndon B. Johnson was President.

“Just knowing what our city has been through, northeast Ohio has been through, as far as our sports and everything for the last 50-plus years” made Sunday’s win epic, said James.

Just to be in a seventh game is special, he told his teammates. “Don’t take it for granted,” he advised.

He didn’t and they didn’t. Along with his triple-double, James’ block of a layup attempt by Andre Iguodala in the final moments with the score tied will be remembered for years to come. He was a unanimous MVP of the finals.

Johnson began Sunday’s final round at Oakmont, Pa. Country Club four shots behind leader Shane Lowry of Ireland. In the end, Johnson overcame Lowry and the rest of the field to become a major champion for the first time.

He also had to overcome the bizarre behavior of the U.S. Golf Association. Johnson was originally cleared of any penalty on the fifth hole when his ball moved slightly backward before he addressed it.

A few minutes later, the USGA told Johnson as he was playing his round that he might indeed be penalized later. Despite such nonsense, Johnson persevered.

“I was just tried to focus on what I was doing and just playing golf until I got to the house,” Johnson said afterward.

Johnson’s four-shot victory saved the USGA from an enormous black eye. Had he finished tied or one stroke in front only to have the governing body dream up a phantom penalty to change the outcome would have brought every bit of scorn they deserved.

Two superior athletes came up big on the biggest stage on Sunday. Such displays of mental toughness enabled them to help forge different outcomes than one year before.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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