How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
And have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
This is terribly out of context, but I imagine longtime residents and sports fans in Cleveland understand King David’s feelings of despair.
After 52 years – half a century – without a major sports championship, this city on the shores of Lake Erie finally got its prayers answered on Sunday night when the Cleveland Cavaliers won the National Basketball Association championship over the favored (and defending champion) Golden State Warriors.
The Cavs are led by a king. (That’s LeBron James’ nickname. King James. A tough moniker to live up to, but he’s done it.)
Cleveland sports history
The Cavaliers began as an NBA expansion team in 1970. The franchise has won five Central Division championships (1976, 2009, 2010, 2015 and 2016), three Eastern Conference championships (2007, 2015 and 2016) and reached the playoffs 20 times in its 46-year history, but had not won a championship until this week.
The Cleveland Indians, the city’s Major League Baseball team, was one of the American League’s eight charter franchises when the league was formed in 1901. In more than 100 years playing the grand old game, the team has won the World Series only twice – in 1920 and 1948.
Diehard Indians fans remember 1997, when closer Jose Mesa gave up the game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7 against the Florida Marlins. The Marlins would win the game – and the Series – by scoring a run in the 11th inning.
So close, and yet …
Then there’s the Browns, the team that Cleveland fans follow with the most passion, year in and year out. Colleagues at my former workplace call Cleveland “Browns Town.”
The National Football League’s Browns won the city’s last major sports championship in 1964 – when Lyndon Johnson was president and a year after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated – defeating the Baltimore Colts 27-0.
Back then the Browns were a powerhouse. They also won the NFL championship three times in the 1950s; every year from 1946 to 1949, they won the championship of the All-America Football Conference, before joining the NFL.
The Browns left for Baltimore in 1996 as the Ravens, still a sore spot among fans, and re-formed in Cleveland as an expansion team in 1999. They have not won their division since re-forming, and have made the playoffs only once since then.
A long, bumpy road
Hope springs eternal in the human breast.
“An Essay on Man” (1734) by Alexander Pope
Since moving to the Cleveland area 2.5 years ago, I’ve felt that the residents of Northeast Ohio have an inferiority complex, almost a “here we go again” mentality, only worse. We expect our teams to come up short. We blame the refs. Karma. Bad luck. Weather. The Drive. The Shot. The Fumble.
Cleveland fans have stories. Oh, they have stories.
Even last week some Cavaliers fans were saying the NBA Finals were rigged against them, so Golden State could begin a dynasty and so ABC could improve its TV ratings.
And yet …
The Cavaliers drafted LeBron James – who grew up in nearby Akron – with the first overall pick in 2003. After playing for seven seasons in Cleveland, he bolted for the Miami Heat. When LeBron returned to the Cavaliers in 2014 after winning two NBA titles with the Heat, the Cavs became relevant again. An instant title contender. Overnight, top players wanted to play in Cleveland with LeBron.
The team reached the NBA Finals a year ago, but with two top players – Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – sidelined with injuries, the Cavs could not defeat Golden State’s talent.
Although LeBron had won championships before, many of his Cleveland teammates had not. By living through the pressure of a long playoff run and the bright lights of the championship spotlight, they learned what it takes to win at that level.
This year, they completed the task.
Time to celebrate
The Indians today are in first place in the American League’s Central Division. After a 52-year drought, can two Cleveland teams bring home championships in the same year?
The spell is broken. (We never had a curse, like the Chicago Cubs do or the Boston Red Sox did.)
Today, Cleveland is a championship city.
A parade to honor the Cavaliers is scheduled for Wednesday morning, with hundreds of thousands expected to flood downtown for the celebration.
Let’s keep the party rolling. With all that’s going on in politics and life in general these days, we need some good news around here.
We got some good news. Great news. Champions!
Thank you, LeBron. Your leadership, by word and by example, has proved invaluable.
It’s time to step back and celebrate.
Difficult times will come again, I’m sure. But for 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers are NBA champions. Period. They earned it.
Now, they are sharing it with us.
“Believeland” is real.