June 20, 2016
The city of Cleveland had endured 52 years of sport agony. Sports defeats so gut-punching that they were given names, so most sports fans could recognize the moment of disappointment.
Red Right 88 was the play call that ended the Cleveland Browns' 1980-'81 season with an interception from the Oakland Raiders. The Drive was the Denver Broncos' 98-yard march to a win over the Browns in the 1986 AFC Championship Game.
The Fumble was the costly turnover from Browns running back Earnest Byner as the Broncos won the 1987 AFC Championship Game. But it wasn’t just football that broke Cleveland hearts.
Baseball moments include The Catch by Willie Mays in game one of the 1954 World Series between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians and Off Nagy’s Glove, a blown save from Indians closer Charles Nagy that gave the Atlanta Braves their only World Series win of the 1990s.
Basketball in Cleveland saw The Shot by Michael Jordan, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the 1989 Eastern Conference Playoffs. The Shot ushered in the era of Jordan, as he victimized the Cavaliers including the 1993 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Cleveland sports also suffered through The Move that saw the Browns move the Baltimore, Md. by owner Art Modell. The former Browns would become the Ravens and win two Super Bowls as the last Browns' title came in 1964 in the NFL Championship before the invention of the Super Bowl.
Of course there was also The Decision, when native son LeBron James left Cleveland for the Miami Heat. James won two titles with the Heat, as the Cavaliers became the worst franchise in the NBA after he left.
There were other moments in Cleveland history that didn’t earn names but left a mark—events like the 1994 MLB strike that ended one of the best Indians seasons in team history.
Even the NBA Finals last season saw the Cavaliers lose stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving before and during the finals. The Golden State Warriors ended up winning the NBA Championship.
Cleveland fans had to think that this finals would be just another moment of "almost," as the Cavaliers fell behind the Warriors 3-1 in the series. The Cavaliers got back in the series with Draymond Green being suspended in game five and a bit of a Warriors meltdown at the end of game six, as reigning MVP Steph Curry was ejected for the first time in his career.
Wins in game five and six allowed Cleveland to tie the series and force a game seven. Everything seemed in place for another sports moment that would rip the hearts out of Cleveland fans.
With the game tied 89-89 in the fourth quarter, every Cavaliers fan had to be thinking, "How would the sports gods gut-punch Cleveland?" But this time things were different, as what looked to be sure layup from Andre Iguodala turned into a game-changing block from James.
James, who chased down Iguodala from half court, got an assist on the block from Cavaliers guard J.R. Smith. Smith had forced Iguodala to alter his shot from a dunk to a layup and allowed James the chance to accelerate down the court to get the block.
That block kept the game tied and allowed Irving to hit what would become the game-winning three-point shot with 53 seconds left in the game. James added a free throw to put Cleveland up 93-89 and seal the win.
This finals will undoubtedly bring comparisons to the 2004 Boston Red Sox. Both Cleveland and Red Sox were seemingly cursed, and both came back from series deficits.
The Red Sox came back from 3-0 down to the New York Yankees, winning game seven and beating their arch-nemesis. Boston went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series for the first Red Sox title since 1918 and selling Babe Ruth in 1919 to the Yankees.
Much like that win, this win hold more weight than normal championships. Even though the Red Sox won two more titles during the 2007 and 2013 seasons.
Those Red Sox from the 2004 team will be remembered for finally providing a breakthrough for a long-suffering franchise. That year's World Series win means more in the grand scheme of sports lore.
This NBA title means more than a normal one because of the city of Cleveland’s long-suffering sports history. All those heartbreaking moments didn’t just affect the Cavaliers but all the major sport franchises.
You can add bonus points for James delivering on his promise to bring a title to the city and being a native of Ohio. This also will mark a turn for him.
James really can never live up to the expectations placed upon him when he was just in high school and was anointed King James by the press. Only by going 7-0 in NBA Finals and passing Jordan in every way possible could James even hope to live up to the hype.
James will always have his share of haters, but in his return to Cleveland, his public perception was beginning to change. Instead of hoping for James to lose in the finals, fans began to hope he could deliver a title to Cleveland.
His play in the finals last season also helped change perceptions. James was excellent in this year's finals, as he led all players in points, rebounds, blocks, assists and steals after seven games.
In game seven, James posted a triple-double as he went for 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. James joins James Worthy in the 1988 finals and Jerry West in the 1969 finals as the only players to post a triple-double in a game seven. All three won.
While this will be the title that everyone points back to as the legacy-defining moment for James, it will be the what-if finals for the Warriors—the team that finished with an NBA record 73-9 but failed to win the title.
Golden State joins the Seattle Mariners, Detroit Red Wings and New England Patriots as teams to set regular-season records for wins but fail to win the title in the same year. That leaves the debate open of who really was the best team between the Warriors and the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls.
In the loss, the Warriors ended up with nine losses in the playoffs. The same amount they lost during the regular season.
Golden State also became the first team in NBA Finals history to blow a 3-1 series lead. The Warriors also became the first team to win a series down 3-1 (against the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Finals) and lose a series up 3-1 as they were in these finals.
Now Cleveland has a new play with a name. The Block will forever place LeBron in Cleveland sports lore.