Can the Cavs avoid another Cleveland moment?
The Cleveland Cavaliers did the improbable on Thursday night in forcing a Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors.
Tonight, they have the opportunity to do the seemingly impossible in delivering Cleveland its first major pro championship since 1964.
On that December afternoon at Municipal Stadium, the Cleveland Browns defeated the supposedly invincible Baltimore Colts – a similar situation facing the Cavs against a Warriors team that many were calling the NBA’s best ever after a 73-win regular season.
Tonight’s game will be just the second time since 1964 that a Cleveland team has been in a title-deciding game and, again, the situation has a familiar feel to it.
In 1997, the Cleveland Indians forced a Game 7 against the Florida Marlins, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion.
Tonight’s game is why LeBron James came back to Cleveland, and the past two years have given truth to his statement that “nothing is given, everything is earned” when it comes to Northeast Ohio.
Almost 20 years later we remember that weekend as if it happened only yesterday. Leaving work on the day of Game 6 from my job at a New Jersey newspaper, the boss asked me how the series was going to turn out. I told him that the Indians would probably not lose Game 6 because while that would be disappointing, it wouldn’t be soul crushing.
If the Tribe was going to lose, I explained, it would have to be something far more painful that a simple loss.
We all know how that turned out.
The memory of that weekend, along with the accumulated memories of every sports misstep from Cleveland teams over the years is what has us looking forward to tonight’s game with a sense of uneasiness. We’ve seen so much over the years, we can’t help but wonder what fresh horrors await tonight.
While there are similarities between the situation the Cavs face tonight and the one the Tribe faced that October weekend in 1997, there is one crucial difference.
The Cavs have LeBron James.
Even by his standards, what James has done to the Warriors during the finals is amazing.
It has been hard at times to know where to place James on a list of all-time greats because of the Cleveland bias (of course Cavs fans think he’s great) but also because it is difficult to compare players from different eras.
We never saw Wilt Chamberlin, Jerry West and Bill Russell play in their prime, for example. We did a large part of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career, and entire careers of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, among others.
Knowing that, it is still safe to say that James has earned his place amid the conversation for a place on the all-time Top 10 list.
That is why the Cavs have a chance tonight it was is going to be a difficult atmosphere in Oracle Arena. Not only are the Warriors trying to hold onto their place in history, but James is carrying the burden of an entire region’s hopes for a title.
Coming into the series we thought if the Cavs had a chance at winning they would need to win at home and then hope that James had one more special game in him for Game 7.
It hasn’t worked out that way, of course, as after falling behind 3-1 the Cavs have needed James to be at his best for Games 5 and 6. Now they need to do it one more time, in what is only the biggest game played by a Cleveland team in almost 20 years.
Tonight’s game is why James came back to Cleveland, and the past two years have given truth to his statement that “nothing is given, everything is earned” when it comes to Northeast Ohio. The journey hasn’t always been smooth for the Cavs the past two seasons, but they are just 48 minutes away from the first title in franchise history and the first in Cleveland in 51 years.
James also represents why this time it may be different. This time James and the rest of the Cavs may deliver a Cleveland moment filled with joy rather than misery.
No one thought that the Cavs would be playing tonight after the Warriors ran them off the floor in Game 4. But now that they are, there is only one thing left to do.