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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Cleveland, City of Champions

I don't follow the NBA very closely any more--not since the Bad Boys days of the Detroit Pistons--but I did tune in Sunday night to see the last quarter and a half of game seven of this year's championship between the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It was the first time watching any of the playoffs for me, but I knew the situation--Golden State had won a record number of games this year, and were the defending champions. They had a 3-1 lead on the Cavs, but had lost it, and it all came down to this game.

The Cavaliers were led by LeBron James, who had come back to Cleveland after winning two championships in Miami, promising the city a title. They were the underdogs, even though it's hard to imagine LeBron as any kind of underdog.

I had no horse in this race. I have nothing for or against LeBron, but Cleveland was the most hapless of any city in American sports, not having any kind of championship since the 1964 Browns. Golden State was kind of a machine, and I thought it would be fitting for them to cap off the best regular season of all time with a title.

But it would be the Cavs night. I can't go to deeply into it to tell you why, as I am not a basketball savant. I do know that Steph Curry had an off night--whether or not it was the Cavs defense or his own inability to hit the big jump shot I don't know--but it is clear that LeBron was a beast. He had a triple-double, after scoring 41 in consecutive games, and his iconic moment on this night would not be a shot but a block, on Andre Iguadala's lay-up, which was analyzed as showing that Lebron reached the height of eleven-feet, five inches in the air.

So Cleveland is now title-town U.S.A. I'm glad the city can enjoy something, for it has been a joke for a long time. The Indians have not won a World Series since 1948, and took a lead into the ninth inning of the 1997 Series only to blow it. The Browns left town to be the Baltimore Ravens, who have won two Super Bowls, but the team that replaced them has been historically bad. The only hockey team to have been in Cleveland was the Barons, who existed for two years before being merged with the Minnesota North Stars. They are the last such franchise in the big four sports leagues to simply cease existing.

Beyond that, Cleveland has long had the tag of being a place for no one wants to live. The Cuyahoga River, which caught fire in 1969, has long haunted the city. A search for "Cleveland jokes" calls up numerous web sites, including Amy Schumer's recent appearance there--"Ladies, don't go to L.A. Stay here, where you're hot." In poking around the Internet looking for a reason for Cleveland's bad reputation, there doesn't seem to be any one instance. It's just a typical Midwestern city that doesn't have a lot of excitement related to it. At my grandmother's funeral, my mother read their wedding announcement in the paper. We all laughed when it was revealed they honeymooned in Cleveland.

Now Cleveland has the rock and roll Hall of Fame and LeBron James, so I think, that things are looking up for them. The question today has been who is the new city of losers? Technically, San Diego hasn't had a championship since 1963, and that was the AFL. Shortly they will have only one professional team, the Padres, who don't look capable to winning anything for a long time, as the Chargers are going back to L.A. But San Diego is at least a place people want to go. Buffalo, on the other hand, has never won anything of any kind. The Bills famously lost four Super Bowls in a row, including one a missed kick, while the NHL's Sabres have never hoisted the Stanley Cup. And no one wants to live in Buffalo.

Congratulations, Cleveland. It feels good. Let it last a good long while.

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