CLEVELAND — When it finally happened, when 52 years of waiting came to an end, it was, in a word, civil. Yes, civil. Part of me thought there would be mayhem, but the closest we saw (thankfully) were some guys climbing downtown and a report, later debunked, that a fire truck had been stolen. (How do you steal a fire truck, anyway? It’s not like they leave the keys to those things in the sun visor, or you can just pop the hood and hotwire it.)
No, Cleveland’s first title in half a century was greeted with massive outbursts of high-fiving, fans filing past one another in handshake lines as if they had just wrapped up a Stanley Cup playoff series. Of course, much of the dapping was punctuated by suggestions of things that Steph Curry could do to himself, so maybe “civil” is stretching it. But still, on the whole it was nice.
The scene inside Quicken Loans Arena for Game 7 was electric. Tickets for the watch party sold out in one minute (they were $5 each, with the money going to charity), and scalpers were asking for $600 online—though the guys on the street would take $150. The game played on the video screens, with the floor below oddly dominated by the stage being constructed for the Republican convention.
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It was a fairly young crowd, possibly because the old-timers wanted to stay away from the ruckus, but more likely because the old-timers knew not to get their hopes up. After the last 52 years, you couldn’t blame them (us, actually, as I fall in that category). People attribute the, shall we say, shortcomings of the past half-century to a lot of things. Bad ownership is way up there (when Ted Stepien isn’t your worst owner, you’ve got problems), but there are, of course, those who blame a curse. That talk can now finally be put to rest.
As everyone knows, curse lore holds that a hex can’t be broken you confront it at its source in some sort of cleansing ritual. Which is why the Red Sox couldn’t win the World Series until they vanquished the Yankees, and why the Cubs won’t win one until Steve Bartman backs over a black cat with his car while leaving a goat roast at Leon Durham’s house.
For Cleveland fans, it all began with Oakland. It was early 1981 and the ‘Land was sitting on a title schneid that was a mere 16 years long. The Indians were in their .500-is-a-great-season mode and the Cavs were in the midst of the Stepien years. The Browns, though, had just plowed through an 11–5 season and were hosting a playoff game for the first time in a decade. They had the league MVP, a penchant for pulling off improbably comebacks and a jaunty Christmas jingle based on The Twelve Days of Christmas (“…Both the Pruitts mooooooves…”).
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Then they ran Red Right 88, Brian Sipe threw that interception and everything went sideways. The Browns would lose two devastating AFC title games by the end of the decade then moved to Baltimore and win a ring for He Who Shall Not Be Named. The Indians would eventually become the best team in baseball but never win a World Series. And the Cavs would do their part in crafting Michael Jordan’s aura. Suddenly, that 16-year losing jag hit 30 years, then 40, then 50, then 52. And all that heartbreak started with one bad pass against Oakland.
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So where better to finally win a title than the East Bay, against an Oakland team on its own quest for history? I still have no idea how the Cavs pulled it off. I say that only partly because the Q was so loud that the simple acts of thinking and comprehending were nearly impossible. That’s probably why the celebrations downtown were so chill. Don’t get me wrong, there was energy and excitement and shirtless dancing on RVs (not by me), but the mood was affected to a degree by some measure of relief. Relief that we won’t die without a title, relief that we can stop trying to figure out why it’s taken so long. It may not replace Red Right 88 and the Drive and the Fumble and all the rest, but at least we can add to Cleveland sports lore the Shimmy, or whatever it is we're calling Kyrie Irving's shot. (Unfortunately "The Shot" is taken.) And that's a nice feeling.
It’s 6:30 in the morning. I just went downstairs to look for a paper, clear my head and check for any residual carnage on the downtown streets. (None, I’m happy to report.) The first person I saw was a maintenance worker leaving the Jack Casino that dominates Public Square. He was wearing a Cavs hat, and he greeted me with two things: a big smile and a high five.