These are all easily identifiable to the average sports fan as tragic events that occurred to Cleveland sports’ franchises. It is well-documented that no professional sports franchise in Cleveland has won a championship since the Cleveland Browns won an NFL Championship in 1964 (it was so long ago, it wasn’t even called the Super Bowl yet!).
But the list of Cleveland sports plight runs deeper than the most well-known events listed above. For the Cleveland Browns, in addition to “The Drive” and “The Fumble”, they lost a chance to win a championship in 1981 with the infamous “Red Right 88” call, when the Browns could have easily kicked a field goal to win but called a pass that was intercepted. After longtime owner Art Modell moved the Browns to Baltimore in 1996, the return of the Browns three years later has produced just one playoff team and a laundry list of laughable starting quarterbacks.
For the Cleveland Indians, they had one incredible era in the 1990s. They made the World Series in both 1995 and 1997, losing both to the Atlanta Braves and Florida Marlins, respectively. The 1997 series was particularly painful, as the Indians held the lead in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7, but Jose Mesa blew the save, and the Indians would go on to lose in extra innings. Their next best chance at coronation atop the baseball world came in 2007, when the Indians held a 3-1 series lead over the Boston Red Sox with a chance to face the overachieving Colorado Rockies on the line. However, the Indians managed to blow that lead and lose to the Red Sox in 7 games.
And of course, the Cavaliers have had some major plight as well. They were never really a threat to win anything until the 1990s, when they were led by Mark Price, Brad Daugherty, and Larry Nance. Unfortunately, their peak coincided with that of Michael Jordan, and the Cavs could never get past the Bulls’ star. They were back near the top when LeBron James came to town, and came close to the title in 2007, making the NBA Finals for the first time in their history before being swept by the experience-laden San Antonio Spurs. Unfortunately, the right team could not be built around James, and he bolted for Miami in 2010, where he would finish no worse than NBA runner-up in each of his seasons there and win two titles.
If you think that is bad, that’s just a fraction of Cleveland sports history. For much of the Browns’, Indians’, and Cavs’ post-1964 existence, they fielded bottom-dwellers that are not even worth mentioning.
Basically, as everyone has noted, Cleveland was just cursed. And there was nothing anyone could do about it.
However, in recent years, things have looked up. The Indians hired Terry Francona, viewed as one of the best managers in baseball today, to run their team. They compiled a promising young core that made the playoffs in 2013 and fell just short last year. They were a popular World Series pick this season, and despite their poor start, they have been playing incredibly well as of recent weeks.
The Browns have developed the most talent they’ve had across the board since their rebirth in 1999, and were just a quarterback away from contending. Fans thought they found the guy when they drafted the electrifying, polarizing Johnny Manziel last year, but a rookie season marked by immaturity left the Browns searching for answers yet again. After an extended stay in rehab this past off-season, teammates swear he’s a changed man, but whether that translates into success on the football field remains to be seen.
However, despite all of that, spirits in Cleveland were never higher than on July 11th, 2014, when LeBron James announced he would be returning to play for the Cavaliers. With a young core around him including the flashy Kyrie Irving, fans believed they had a great chance for a championship. This only felt more likely when they traded Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins for Kevin Love, who was said to be a perfect fit.
I don’t need to explain the narrative of this season, because you probably are quite familiar with all the story lines the Cavs generated if you don’t live under a rock. They started 19-20, and after questions about David Blatt and the roster, they traded for J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert, and Timofey Mozgov. With their additions plus the return of James after missing two weeks with injuries, they subsequently went on a tear the rest of the season, looking like the best team in the league heading into the playoffs.
Despite injuries to Kevin Love (out for the season with a shoulder injury) and Kyrie Irving (in and out of the lineup due to knee and foot injuries), the Cavaliers dominated the rest of the East and beat the odds to make the NBA Finals, where they now await the Golden State Warriors.
So why am I writing all of this, and why did I spend more than 800 words just giving the general background of the “curse” that has been placed on Cleveland sports? It’s pretty simple, actually; in Northeast Ohio, it’s about more than just sports. The entire area rallies behind these teams, a major part of the economy lives and dies with these teams (LeBron James alone is worth an estimated $500 million to the Cleveland area), and in general, the fans just bleed passion for these teams.
Not only that, but the sports in Cleveland symbolizes the city as a whole; the city itself has struggled mightily over the last 50 years economically and was not a very desirable city for people to live. However, that has changed in a big way lately; there is no doubt Cleveland is on the rise, based on its selection for the 2016 Republican National Convention. In addition, NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the city is ready to host All-Star Game in the near future, with the condition that Quicken Loans Arena undergoes a few renovations.
Despite all of that, there is one major thing Cleveland doesn’t have that most major cities do; a championship. Cleveland’s championship drought is the longest of any city with at least two professional sports franchises, and everyone in Northeast Ohio is “All In” for the Cavs, hoping they break the curse.
It will not be easy. The Warriors have the statistical background of one of the best teams in NBA history, and while looking at their roster, they do not have any glaring weaknesses. They can score in a variety of ways (most notably with three point shooting, but they are not a team that NEEDS the three point shot to fall to score), they rebound, and they defend. They win fast paced games, they win slow paced games, they win offensive shootouts, they win defensive slug fests. They are incredibly hard to beat, which is why the Warriors were already instilled as big favorites to beat the Cavs. And don’t get me wrong: while I will be rooting as hard as ever for the Cavs, I expect the Warriors to bring the title to Oakland this season.
However, if there is any team – any city – that can overcome the odds, it is Cleveland. Just in the playoffs alone, analysts said the Cavs would lose to the Bulls without Kevin Love. Then they said the ball movement and teamwork of the Hawks would shred the Cavs’ defense. That’s not even to mention the numerous times the Cavs were counted out this season, most notably when they sat at 19-20 midway through January.
All in all, I guess what I’m trying to say here is: Cleveland’s passion and struggle has been much more incredible than that of any other city. The fans in Cleveland and all throughout Northeast Ohio have experienced so much pain and so much disappointment, that when we finally feel what it’s like to be at the top of the mountain, it will be unlike anything experienced in any other city. This is why being a Cleveland fan is so special; you can’t fully appreciate the top of the mountain unless you have spent time at the bottom.
Cavs legend J.R. Smith summed it up perfectly after single-handedly (OK, not really, but he has been a key contributor this season, for real!) clinching the Eastern Conference Title for the Cavs. He was talking to his mom on the court who said, “Talk about ‘started from the bottom now we’re here’.”
Behind James, Smith, Irving, and the rest of the Cavaliers, Cleveland can finally reach the promised land. And if they do, man, will it be one hell of an experience.