Last night, the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA championship, beating the Golden State Warriors 93–89 in Oakland, the Warriors’ home court. It was a series with so many crazy storylines.
What a comeback! The Cavs were not only the first NBA team ever to come back from 3 games to 1 down in the finals, they did it against a Warriors team that had just finished with the greatest regular season record in league history: 73 wins and only 9 losses. In the first two games of the series, the Warriors beat the Cavaliers so badly, that many wondered if Cleveland would even win a single game.
Saving the best for last! The first six games of the series had four complete blowout wins (as in one team was already well in control by halftime), and two games that were essentially in the bag by the start of the fourth quarter. In other words, once a team got in the lead, they pretty much stayed there (Bor-ing). Then last night, we had a game where the teams traded who was in the lead 21 times and 11 moments where the game was tied. The game was decided in the final minute, was full of wild excitement and drama, and was won on this terrific 3-point shot by Kyrie Irving.
But in the end, everything came down to one superhuman basketball player, LeBron James, and the city he made a promise to, Cleveland.
There can be only one champion
Think about that for a second. There can be only one champion.
Because when you think about how many times a city watches its teams lose — whether early in the regular season or deep in the playoffs — it’s a bit of a wonder why we watch sports at all.
More often than not (way more often), the team that you love will end its season with a loss. That’s okay, you say. There’s always next season. Or, in the case of many big cities, there’s always the city’s other team. Your football team just lost? That’s cool, just turn your attention to the local hockey team. Or baseball. Or…
So really, these losses aren’t that bad after all. You just dust yourself off and look forward to another chance.
Okay. Now pretend that you live in Cleveland, Ohio.
The cursed city
Cleveland has three major sports teams: the NFL’s Browns, MLB’s Indians, and the NBA’s Cavaliers. In 1964, the Browns won the NFL Championship game. That’s so long ago, the Super Bowl didn’t even exist yet. Since then, none of these teams ever won anything. Ever. For decades, all these three teams ever did was lose. For most of this time, their teams couldn’t even get close to a finals appearance. They were just really, really bad, all the time.
Then along came LeBron James.
James was from Akron, Ohio. That essentially made him a local boy. Everyone called him King James because he was the very best young player in the sport. Maybe the best player since legends like Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan. And in 2003, Cleveland (who were the worst team in the NBA) got to pick first and draft him. Finally, the city looked like they would have a winner. The whole town loved him. A lot. Like, a lot a lot.
Slowly but surely, the Cavs got better. And better. In 2007, only James’ fourth season in the league, they made the NBA finals… and got swatted away like an annoying fly by the San Antonio Spurs. Cleveland didn’t even win a single game in the series.
The problem was simple. James was the best player in the game. But no one else on the Cavaliers was very good. They still weren’t a great team. James knew it, too. And so in the summer of 2010, he left and joined the Miami Heat, to play alongside Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
For James, it worked out perfectly. That superstar Heat team was great. They won 2 NBA Championships and appeared in four straight finals.
Meanwhile, over those four same seasons, the Cavaliers were the worst team in the league. Lebron James, local hero, was now the city’s worst villain. The romance looked completely over, Cleveland’s heart broken.
Then in 2014, as James’ contract expired in Miami, he declared he wanted to come back to Cleveland. And he made a big promise. He was going to bring the city a championship. Suddenly, all was forgiven. James was the hero again.
Last season, with LeBron back and whole crew of new players, the Cavaliers made it to the NBA finals again, losing 4 games to 2 to Golden State. The Cavaliers were better, but once again, it looked like the team simply didn’t know how to win when it mattered.
So with all of that said, you can maybe understand just how familiar this NBA finals must have felt for people in Cleveland. Down 3 games to 1 to the defending NBA champs and the greatest regular season team of all time. Yet again, the Cavaliers were going to end their season with a loss. Just like Cleveland teams always do, right?
Except that they didn’t. They won three straight games. Players like guard Kyrie Irving, veteran Richard Jefferson, and young Canadian centre Tristan Thompson played the best basketball of their lives.
And then there’s LeBron James. The promising local kid who made a promise. The hero turned into villain turned back into hero. The giant sequoia (that’s a really big tree, by the way) of an athlete who ended last night crouched down on the court crying, then shouting at the top of his lungs, “CLEVELAND!”
So why do people watch sports when the story nearly always ends with their idols losing? Because sooner or later, they don’t lose. They win. And for those fans who wait the longest, that one win is something very, very special.
Congratulations, Cleveland. Your curse has been lifted.
SUPER AWESOME BONUS ROUND: In a really interesting twist of fate, eight days before the Cavaliers won their championship, the Lake Erie Monsters of the American Hockey League won this year’s Calder Cup. They did it playing in the same arena as the Cavs, Quicken Loans Arena. The AHL is the minor farm league for the NHL, so it wasn’t a major sports championship. BUT. Can you guess the last time a Cleveland AHL team won the Calder Cup? Yep, you guessed it. 1964. The same year the Browns won in the NFL. Crazy, right?