Cleveland Hopes To End Its Losing Streak With NBA Championship Win
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The NBA finals begin tomorrow night in Oakland. The Golden State Warriors host the Cleveland Cavaliers. Now if Cleveland manages to win the best-of-seven series, it would be the first major sports championship the city has had in more than half a century - 51 years. That's the longest streak for a city with three major sports teams. Mark Urycki of member station WCPN in Cleveland puts it in perspective.
MARK URYCKI, BYLINE: The struggle to win a professional championship in Cleveland has been a long slog of near-misses and last-minute losses. Hopes are riding on Cavs star LeBron James, who was called at the Chosen One when he was still in high school. But even he couldn't do it the last time his Cavaliers team made the finals five years ago. Author and sports columnist Terry Pluto says generations here share the experience of losing.
TERRY PLUTO: A number of years ago, ESPN said that Cleveland was the most miserable sports city, barely edging out Philadelphia. I'm like - barely edging a Philadelphia? We drill Philadelphia. We got a lot more to be miserable about sports-wise than Philadelphia. We're sort of proud of our misery, too. That would be interesting. If we actually win a title, then how will we handle that?
URYCKI: Most cities have names for their playoff victories. Cleveland names its playoff failures - the Shot, the Fumble, the Drive and then five years ago, the Decision, when local hero LeBron James announced he was leaving the Cavs.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE DECISION")
LEBRON JAMES: Man, this is - this is very tough. And this fall, I'm going to take my talents to South Beach.
(SOUNDBITE OF GROANING)
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: No.
URYCKI: That's a reaction from patrons at a bar in Akron, James' hometown. But the Chosen One is now rebranded as the Second Coming. LeBron James, who never give up his home in Akron and never stopped donating his time and money locally, has been embraced again by fans here, and he wants to return that.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
JAMES: I just want to try to give it all back to them as the best way I can, both on the floor and off the floor, as a role model, as a basketball player, as a father - whatever the case may be. And, you know, I think they recognize, you know, my passion, not only on the floor, but off the floor. And I recognize their passion, as well, so, you know, it's mutual.
URYCKI: Cavaliers coach David Blatt is new in town. Born in Massachusetts, he spent more than half his life in Israel. If he didn't know before about the epic losing streak, he does now.
DAVID BLATT: Fans have been so loyal to this team. The fact that their anxious for us to try to do something special here in Cleveland - you know, it's a good feeling. It really is.
URYCKI: Blatt even heard it from his boyhood idol, Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer Jim Brown. The running back helped bring Cleveland its last sports championship in 1964.
BLATT: And I had the opportunity to meet him. And Jim told me then, hey, it's about time we win another one here, so I haven't forgotten that. I said, nothing I'd like better.
URYCKI: The excitement is palpable here, as strangers will chat with each other on the street about the team. But with years of near-misses, fans tend to temper their enthusiasm out of sheer self-preservation. Sitting outdoors at a downtown plaza, having beers with friends, Dave Friedt says as a lifetime Indians and Browns fan, it's just been heartache after heartache.
DAVE FRIEDT: I know - being a Buckeye fan, I know what winning a championship feels like. But winning a professional - no, I don't. I would love to have that feeling. Yeah, I'm 41 years old, and I've been close. And just to have your heart ripped out time and time again - yeah, it's been a long wait - real long wait.
URYCKI: So maybe it would be a combination - joy and relief. The Cavaliers have suffered serious injuries to a couple of their key players, so if they don't win the title, Clevelanders have learned to adapt. They'll probably even come up with a name for the loss. For NPR News, I'm Mark Urycki in Cleveland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.