Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

How will we remember the LeBron Era?

With each passing day, the anguish over LeBron James’ decision to go to Miami slowly fades away. But how will the LeBron Era be remembered by Cleveland fans? And how will it compare to other post-1964 eras of Cleveland sports?

Before LeBron, the Cavs were just … there. After firing Lenny Wilkens and prior to drafting James, the team went through a succession of boring, dull coaches – Randy Wittman and Keith Smart anyone? – and even worse players (Trajan Langdon, Ricky Davis, etc.), playing in a downtown arena they didn’t need in front of mostly family and friends.

With LeBron, the Cavs were back on the NBA map with sellouts and national TV games. The team won two division titles, made it past the first round five consecutive years, was the top seed in the East two years in a row, went to two Eastern Conference finals and one NBA final, and had the best five-year record in franchise history.

Along the way their games became events; one of the best feelings was looking at the upcoming schedule on a Sunday morning and, seeing back-to-back games on Tuesday/Wednesday and another game on Friday, knowing the week was set. Watching this team – especially the past two years – has been so much fun.

I know some will argue that the Daugherty/Price/Nance Cavs of the late-’80s/early ’90s were better, but they never accomplished what LeBron’s Cavs did, not by a long shot. No division titles, one conference final, first-round playoff losses.

Not all of that was their fault, as injuries and Michael Jordan conspired against the team. It still hurts, almost 20 years later, to think about what might have been with that team.

Probably the closest to LeBron’s Cavs were the Indians of the mid- to late-90s. They captured the town’s fancy with an excitement level and star power equal to the Cavs and had just as much on-field success. Six division titles in seven years, three American League Championship Series and two World Series appearances.

Of course, they also lost to the Florida Marlins and were the only team to lose to Atlanta in a World Series, but they still hold a spot in many fans’ hearts.

The one team that the LeBron Era may never surpass in popularity is the late-’80s Browns. With four division titles in a five-year span and three losses in the AFC Championship Game, those teams still hold a firm grasp on Cleveland fans, many of whom probably still remember the lyrics to Bernie Bernie (“Bernie, Bernie. Oh, yeah! How you can throw! Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”)

As hard as it may be for some to believe, eventually we will be able to separate LeBron’s “decision” from the seven years he was on the court for the Cavs. And we will look back and remember when the Q was rocking and, for a short time, anything seemed possible in Cleveland.

Even a championship.

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