Tags : :
Welcome to this special edition of "Number One Says," which analyzes the longevity and the death of The Cleveland Curse.
The city of Cleveland, located in northeast Ohio on the Lake Erie coastline, is one of the biggest sports cities in North America. Even before the city's sports jinx began, Cleveland was hardly a championship city, mainly due to the fact that the Indians and Browns were the stalwart teams until the Cavaliers were instilled in 1970. Here's a team by team look at Cleveland's three teams.
December 27, 1964. Until last night, that would be the last time that the city of Cleveland would celebrate a championship in pro sports; 20 years and three days before LeBron James was even born. On that date, the Browns defeated the Baltimore Colts, 27-0, to win the NFL Championship, and what made it slightly worse was the fact that this win came just two years before the first Super Bowl season. In the 31 seasons that followed, the Browns made the playoffs 14 times. Their biggest chances to reach the Super Bowl came in 1986 and 1987, reaching the AFC Championship both times but losing to the Broncos. Each loss was heartbreaking. In the first game, the Broncos forced OT with a 98-yard drive (simply known as "The Drive"), and then won it with a field goal. The next year, the Browns had a golden opportunity to tie the game late with a TD, but running back Earnest Byner fumbled at the one-yard-line.
And then there was "The Move"; the late Art Modell's highly controversial decision to move the Browns to Baltimore, where they play as the Ravens. The sad yet humorous story claims that Modell basically took the team under the noses of the whole city, and to this day, even four years after Modell's passing, his name is highly cursed in Cleveland. The Browns returned in 1999, but to say that they are a far cry from the near-perennial playoff team that the original team was would be an understatement. In the 17 seasons that have passed, the Browns only reached the playoffs once, and have racked up a record of 87-185 overall. The mess that is Johnny Manziel further damaged the Browns' image. Meanwhile, the Ravens have been a near perennial playoff team since "The Move," and have won the Super Bowl twice.
At the time of the Browns' last championship, the Indians were going through a drought of their own, having not won a pennant in a decade. In fact, the Indians spent a good part of the latter quarter of the 20th century as one of the worst teams in baseball; often parodied and spoofed at every chance. The first two Major League films poked fun of how bad the Indians were, and CBS' Garfield and Friends took shots at the Tribe as well. One instance on Garfield included an episode where Jon Arbuckle was shrunk down to size as part of an odd mini-baseball game against a bunch of rats. When Jon sees the rats, he quips, "They have to be better than Cleveland."
The Indians' pennant drought came to an end in 1995, when they went 100-44 (season slightly shortened due to the previous year's strike) and ran away with the AL Central. The Indians defeated the Red Sox in the ALDS, and then defeated the Mariners in the ALCS to reach the World Series for the first time since 1954. However, they were defeated in six games by the Atlanta Braves, who won their ONLY World Championship during their 14-year division title streak. The Indians returned to the World Series two years later, but suffered a disappointing seven game loss to the Florida Marlins, who were only in their fifth season of existence. Though they were one of the AL powerhouses in the late 90s and early 2000s, the Indians have not won a pennant since 1997 and are STILL looking for their first championship since 1948. As of today's post, though, the Indians are in first place in the AL Central; leading by a half a game over the World Champion Royals.
The youngest of Cleveland's three franchises, the Cavs--like the Browns and Indians--also had their nemeses. In the case of the NBA franchise, it was MJ's Bulls. Perhaps one of the most heartbreaking moments in Cleveland's sports history was MJ's game winning shot that eliminated the Cavs from the playoffs in 1989. The Cavs spent many years after that as one of the worst teams in the NBA. And then LeBron James arrived. 18 years of age, homegrown LeBron was drafted by the Cavaliers and at that moment, hope was restored. The longer he played, the better the team became, and by 2007, the Cavaliers were in the NBA Finals for the first time ever. However, they were swept by the Spurs, but the Cavs got noticed. But with that notice comes expectations, and that put more and more pressure on LeBron, as well as frustration when he couldn't get back there.
And then came the last moments of the 2010 East Semifinal series between the Cavs and the Boston Celtics. We all remember this. The season all but over for the Cavaliers, LeBron heads to the locker room and angrily removes his jersey; amid many rumors of him leaving Cleveland. These rumors were heavily denied, especially by anyone in Cleveland. Then "The Decision" happened, and LeBron uttered the following words:
"I'm taking my talents to South Beach."
To this day, I still say LeBron had every right to do it the way he did, but even so, I have to look at this from Cleveland's perspective. They had already experienced betrayal when Art Modell uprooted the Browns and moved them to Baltimore, but at least this was (apparently) done behind the city's backs. LeBron got in the faces of not only Cleveland, but the entire nation, and told them he was leaving for Miami. Being the wrestling fan that I am, I can't help but compare this to a babyface (hero) turning heel (villain), and boy, was LeBron vilified! I often compare it to Hulk Hogan's surprise villainous swerve back in 1996; in fact, the comparisons nearly match, as both joined new teams! In the case of LeBron, he joined the NBA's equivalent of the NWO, the Heat, with LeBron as Hulk, Wade as Scott Hall, and Bosh as Kevin Nash. LeBron won back-to-back championships in 2012 and 2013, while the Cavs suffered and suffered; having very poor seasons. It really looked like there was no hope for the city of Cleveland.
And then came "The Return." After four years and four straight Finals appearances in Miami, LeBron announced that he would be going back to Cleveland. Again, the wrestling fan in me can't help but compare this to something Hulk Hogan stated about babyface turns in wrestling, stating that it's all about repent and forgive. That is exactly what happened with LeBron as he decided to go back home and try to get Cleveland a championship. In his first year back with the Cavs, LeBron (with Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, among others) led the Cavs to their second-ever NBA Finals appearance. The Cavaliers picked up their first ever NBA Finals game win with an OT victory in Game Two, and had their first Finals lead when they went up 2-1 after winning Game Three. However, the Golden State Warriors would win the next three games and prolong Cleveland's misery for another year.
The Cavaliers finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference and were expected to return to the Finals again this year. Regarding the playoffs, Cleveland went on a tear, starting 10-0 before losing Game Three of the East Finals to the Raptors in Toronto. After losing that game and Game Four, the Cavaliers won Games Five and Six to return to the Finals for the second straight year. They again faced the Warriors, who went a historic 73-9 and looked to repeat. It looked bad for Cleveland, they lost the first two games badly and were down 3-1 heading back to the Bay Area. However, the resurgent Cavaliers fought back, winning Game Five in dominant fashion to force a final home game, which they also won. The Cavs became only the third team to even force Game Seven after a 3-1 deficit in the Finals (the previous two teams lost Game Seven).
Death of the Curse
On June 19, 2016, the Cleveland Cavaliers won a close and gritty Game Seven, 93-89. The Warriors latest big lead was 87-83 with under six minutes left, and after LeBron made three free throws, it was a one-point game. A three-pointer gave the Cavs a two point lead; the Warriors would never pass them. Klay Thompson tied the game with 4:39 left in regulation; it would be the final time that the Warriors scored. After over three minutes of scoreless play, and a block by LeBron, Kyrie Irving hit a three pointer with 53 seconds left. After Curry's three missed, LeBron was fouled hard by Draymond Green with 10.6 seconds left. LeBron missed the first FT, but made the second, making it 93-89. GS's last ditch effort fell short, and when the clock reached all zeroes, the Cavaliers were NBA Champions for the first time. The Cleveland Curse was over.
It was an emotional moment for the players, and for the people watching the game not just in Cleveland (at their homes and outside their arena) but for sports fans all over. The postgame will be forever remembered for the image of LeBron James on the floor shedding tears of joy. LeBron did what he promised he would do: he returned to Cleveland and delivered them a championship; something that had eluded the city for just over half a century. As the saying goes, "You can always go home," and that's exactly what LeBron James did. His ultimate redemption was completed last night.
So Cleveland's championship jinx is now dead and buried, with the Cavaliers as champions. But I know ask this question: Is there any hope for the Indians and/or Browns?