LeBron James & Co. missed an opportunity to end the streak last season. This year, it didn't look much better. Down 3-1 in the series, the championship drought looked like it would continue, 52 years and counting. But the Cavs won three straight games, including a Game 7 on the road on Sunday, to improbably clinch their first NBA title.
Cleveland hadn't won a championship since the Browns won the 1964 NFL title, the longest drought by a city with three or more major professional sports teams. (San Diego's is nearly 53 years, but only the Chargers and Padres have played in the city since the Clippers departed for Los Angeles in 1984.)
Here's a look at the history of heartbreak that LeBron James and Cleveland finally overcame in this year's Finals.
The glory years
Cleveland sports weren't always associated with misery. While the Cavaliers have never won a title, the Indians won the World Series in 1920 and 1948. The Browns, who won four consecutive All-America Football Conference championships from 1946-49, won three NFL titles in the 1950's and appeared in four other championship games that decade. They followed that up with a championship in 1964, when Jim Brown and Gary Collins helped lead Cleveland to a 27-0 victory over Johnny Unitas' Colts in the penultimate season of the pre-Super Bowl NFL.
Heartbreak for the Browns and Indians
While no Cleveland team has won a title since 1964, the city has come tantalizingly close to sports glory over the last half-century.
The Browns have suffered the most heartbreak. Despite the franchise's early dynasty, Cleveland has never appeared in a Super Bowl. The 1986 Browns fell to the Broncos at home in the AFC championship after John Elway famously led Denver 98 yards on "The Drive" to tie the game at 20 with just 37 seconds remaining in regulation. Denver won 23-20 in overtime.
The following year, "The Drive" gave way to "The Fumble": With Cleveland trailing Denver by seven points, Browns running back Earnest Byner coughed up the ball near the goal line with just over a minute remaining.
The Broncos defeated the Browns in the AFC conference title game following the 1989 season, as well. These conference title game defeats don't even account for other forms of heartbreak, like a blown 17-point lead in the 2002 postseason against the Steelers or the team relocating to Baltimore following the 1995 season.
The Indians haven't won a World Series since 1948. The Tribe appeared in two World Series in the '90s, losing 4-2 to the Braves in 1995 and falling 4-3 to the Marlins in 1997. In 2007, the Indians blew a 3-1 American League Championship Series lead against the Red Sox, who ended up winning the World Series that year.
Cavaliers come close
The Cavaliers made their first NBA Finals appearance in 2007, when LeBron James led the Cavs to an upset of the Pistons in the Eastern Conference finals before being swept by San Antonio in the Finals.
In the years that followed, the Cavs seemed to be on the precipice of a title: Cleveland fell to eventual-champion Boston in a seven-game Eastern Conference semifinals in 2008, and the Magic upset the league-best Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals the following year. During the 2010 postseason, which marked the conclusion of LeBron's first stint in Cleveland, the favored Cavaliers lost to the Celtics in the conference semifinals.
But the Cavs' history of postseason futility started before the LeBron James era. Cleveland also fell in the Eastern Conference finals in 1976 and 1992, and in 1988-89, the Cavs finished with the league's second-best record but fell in the first round of the playoffs as Michael Jordan hit "The Shot."
In last year’s Finals, the Cavs gave the Warriors a good run, despite playing nearly the entire series without both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. LeBron James improbably put Cleveland up 2–1 over the favored Warriors, but Golden State roared back to win the series in six games.
James was incredible during the Finals, averaging 35.8 points and 13.3 rebounds per game. But the Cavs came up short.
The Cavs win it all
A Cavaliers victory in the NBA Finals ended more than a half-century without a title for Cleveland. The Browns and Indians still aren't out of the woods, however: The Browns are one of four NFL teams that have never played in the Super Bowl, while only the Cubs' 107-season title drought overshadows the Indians' 67-year dry spell.
But LeBron James led Cleveland to a championship, and the city's title drought finally expired. And now the longest title droughts—of cities with three or more pro sports teams—belong to Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., both of which last won a title 25 years ago.