Moments after being so overcome with emotion that he kept his head buried in his hands, Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue was called on to speak Sunday night on national television.
Somehow, he had the presence of mind to give two shoutouts to his hometown of Mexico, Missouri.
Who knows how many people instantly googled the name, John Fennewald figured Monday in The Dugout Bar and Grill on East Monroe Street off the town square, wondering just where and what this town of about 12,000 in mid-Missouri was all about.
As the mentions on Twitter and Facebook zoomed towards trending, Lue’s grandmother, Olivia George, cried with joy.
Then by popular demand, she greeted people from all over town at Garfield Park — the one where Lue learned the game and now is bounded by a street that bears his name.
Beneath a sign for Tyronn Lue Blvd., a young boy stood dribbling a basketball at 6:45 A.M., a sight that perhaps moved Dana Keller, the director of the Mexico Area Chamber of Commerce, as much as the 44,000 page views the chamber’s Facebook page with video of Lue had garnered as of Monday night.
“This will never in my lifetime happen again,” she said. “It’s all precious.”
When he heard Lue utter the words on Sunday night, Mexico mayor Greg Miller choked up.
“By golly,” he said, “there were a lot of people I think that maybe walked a little straighter and had their chest stuck out a little bit more because they were remembered by a great guy.”
But the thrill wasn’t just that Lue made what they considered a grand gesture in the pandemonium of such a moment: a rookie head coach steering the Cavaliers back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Golden State for the title – an unprecedented achievement in an NBA title series.
It was because Lue has always stayed tethered to and grateful for his hometown, which got an instant estimated $416,000 in advertising value for the mention (according to Joyce Julius & Associates) when compared to the cost of a commercial during the broadcast.
It was because it brought an infinite amount more of goodwill.
“We really appreciate what he gives back to the community where he comes from,” said Tony Gibbs, among those gathered with Fennewald at The Dugout. “He’s a good fellow.”
According to Chad Shoemaker, Mexico’s Director of Parks and Recreation, over the years Lue has helped pay to pave basketball courts, put on pool parties for disadvantaged children and taken buses of children to professional sports events and Six Flags.
He also funds the annual July 4 fireworks show attended by thousands — a celebration that carries the added meaning to Lue of falling on the birthday of his late grandfather, Tyrone.
Among a number of other contributions he makes that are less known.
“I know there’s a whole lot of little feet that didn’t have great shoes,” Miller said, “until he came and saw it and saw to it that they had the shoes.”
Before he played on two NBA championship teams with the Lakers, Lue played college basketball at Nebraska after moving in with an uncle so he could attend Raytown High to get more exposure.
Some were disappointed that he hadn’t made mention of those key stops along the way, too.
But it wasn’t a slight to them.
It was simply a declaration of his pure and deep allegiance to a town also known for producing, among others, former Missouri governor and senator Christopher Bond, former Missouri Gov. Charles Hardin, football coach Gary Barnett and renowned horse trainer Tom Bass.
Lue’s parents divorced when he was young, and his mother, Kim, has moved to Houston.
But the nucleus of the family remains here.
“I never wanted to go anywhere else,” said his grandmother, who has resisted Tyronn’s suggestions she move elsewhere and remains in the same house she’s been in for decades.
One of a number of Missouri towns named after foreign countries, Mexico was incorporated in 1855 and once was known as the “Fire Brick Capital of the World.”
But the two major plants closed in 2002, and the economic ripples were painful.
“There was a lot of sadness when that happened,” said Miller, formerly the chief of Mexico’s public safety department.
These days, the area still has a heavy agricultural and manufacturing base and a growing plant-science emphasis.
It’s gone from having a sign touting it’s a “Honey Of A Place To Bee,” which Miller said “has fallen by the wayside,” to calling itself the “Main Street of the Midwest.”
But even amid what Miller believes is a sense of rebuilding, Lue’s words were good for moral and pride.
“I don’t know if anything will ever come of it. I don’t care,” he said. “It was worth it for the people of the community.”
In the end, that’s why Lue, a guy who says he never cries, found himself overwhelmed Sunday.
“It’s just crazy that a guy from a small town, Mexico, Missouri (could be part of this),” he said during his postgame news conference, adding, “And (I’m) just happy that small-town boy could do something positive and show the younger kids that there is hope. There is time to grow as a person and to do the right thing.”
To many in Mexico, that’s the essence of this: a living example of what someone from a small town can do if he stays humble and works hard.
Lue doesn’t smoke or drink, his grandmother says, and he’s sweet and “mannerable” and a “just-got-to-love-him” guy who never saw limits.
She still was deciding as of Monday evening whether to go to Cleveland for the parade on Wednesday, but if she doesn’t she can expect to see him for the Fourth of July.
And Mexico already is preparing to greet him as never before.
After being recognized as never before.