CLEVELAND: Cleveland’s long-suffering sports fans, waiting since 1964 for a championship team in any major sport, welcome the NBA Finals to town hoping their Cavaliers can end the epic title drought.
But defending champion Golden State leads two games to none in the best-of-seven series after a 110-77 romp Sunday over the same Cleveland squad the Warriors beat in last year’s finals.
Golden State’s combined 48-point win margin was the largest in the first two games in NBA Finals history.
Not since the Browns took the NFL crown 52 years ago, two years before the first Super Bowl, has a Cleveland team tasted the ultimate glory. Frustrated squads failed to clutch a trophy, falling victim to untimely injuries, late-game mistakes and iconic fightbacks from rivals.
“Our city deserves it. Our fans deserve it,” Cavaliers superstar LeBron James said. “But that gives us no sense of entitlement.”
Through a combined 146 seasons, the Browns, Cavaliers, Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians—and a National Hockey League team that folded after two futile seasons—came away empty, creating a longing and hunger that builds with each near-miss.
“It would mean a lot,” said Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue of an NBA title. “I know this city has been craving for a championship and we have the right team and we have the right talent.”
Located on the southern edge of Lake Erie, Cleveland has often been a punchline. Its Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it caught fire in 1969. Insulting nicknames like “Mistake by the Lake” and “Snore on the Shore” didn’t help either.
Cleveland fans thought their luck had turned when prep star James from nearby Akron was taken by the Cavaliers with the first pick of the 2003 NBA Draft. Four years later, the Cavs reached their first final only to be swept by San Antonio.
But in 2010, James left for the Miami Heat and the love affair turned bitter, fans burning James jerseys and booing him when Miami visited. James won two titles in four finals with the Heat, then pulled another shocker in 2014, returning to the Cavs and vowing to make them a championship club.
It looked as if he might make good his vow in his first try, but Cleveland lost Kevin Love to a shoulder separation in the first round of the playoffs, lost Kyrie Irving to a broken leg in the first game of the final and lost the title to Golden State in six games.
Back-to-back finals rare
This year, the Cavaliers became the first Cleveland team to play for a title two years in a row since the defending champion Browns lost in the 1965 NFL title game.
Since the original Browns moved to Baltimore, an expansion team returned the NFL to Cleveland in 1999. The new version of the club has yet to win a playoff game while the Baltimore Ravens have won two Super Bowls.
The Indians won World Series crowns in 1920 and 1948 but lost the best-of-seven final in 1954, 1995 and 1997. Their 67-season baseball title drought is second only to the US sport futility record of the Chicago Cubs, whose last title came in 1908.
Some of the post-season heartbreak has become lore to frustrated fans—notably mis-steps by the Browns.
In 1981, a turnover in the dying seconds of a playoff game against Oakland cost the Browns a chance at a winning field goal.
In 1987, the Browns were one win shy of the Super Bowl but John Elway marched Denver 98 yards in what became known as “The Drive” to equalize a game the Broncos would win in over-time.
In 1988, Browns rusher Earnest Byner lost a fumble on the verge of a tying touchdown and Cleveland fell to Denver, again exiting one win shy of the Super Bowl.
The Indians lost the 1997 World Series to the Florida Marlins despite leading with three outs remaining in game seven, allowing the hosts to level and then win in 11 innings.