Six years ago, when LeBron James made “The Decision,” I wrote a piece for CNN about the long history of sports disappointment in Cleveland.
Has any city suffered so much with its sports teams? I grew up in New Orleans, where fans wore bags over their heads, followed the Mets in my childhood when they were woeful, and now live in Atlanta, which has one world championship in 50 years of major pro sports and where the baseball team’s owners consider the club more valuable as real estate than as a sports team.
But nothing could compare to my wife’s hometown, which wasn’t just bad — it seemed snakebit. Not for nothing did Bill Simmons list all three of the Forest City’s pro teams on his “most tortured teams” list.
Consider the torture over. Last night LBJ put the Cavs on his gigantic shoulders one more time and brought a championship home to Cleveland.
What a game. Every time LeBron and the Cavs would muscle one inside, someone from Golden State — usually Draymond Green — would drain a three-pointer. Golden State would go up, then Cleveland would tie it. Cleveland got down, then went on a tear.
Then, 4:36 left. The score is knotted at 89-all. And nobody can do anything.
For 2 minutes and 41 seconds, it was miss and miss and miss. Was anybody going to win this thing, or would it go on forever, like the spellbound baseball contest in W.P. Kinsella’s “The Iowa Baseball Confederacy”?
Even after Kyrie Irving put the Cavs ahead with a 3-pointer, there was a sense that the gods weren’t done — and you don’t want to tempt the gods when it comes to Cleveland sports. I’ve never lived down a stray comment I made in 2007, when the Indians were up 3 games to 1 against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series. Hoping for a Cleveland pennant but also wanting more baseball in what had been a fairly mundane postseason, I said aloud, “I just want a good series.” The Red Sox took the next three games (easily, too) and went on to win their second World Series of the decade. The Indians have barely sniffed the postseason since. My wife still hasn’t forgiven me.
So when LeBron took a hard fall with 10 seconds remaining and the Cavs still up by three, all I could think about was (forgive me, both for the bleak reference and the fact that it’s baseball again) Robert Coover’s “The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.,” in which a star rookie pitcher gets killed by a beanball in the midst of a perfect game.
I was partly convinced that a) James had broken his wrist; b) he would flub the free throws; and c) he would watch, in vicious pain, as Golden State tied it on a miracle fling as the buzzer sounded. Then the Warriors — an admirable team, a wonder of passing and shooting — would win in overtime. James, his hand permanently disfigured, would have to retire and the Cavs would go another generation before getting their next shot. More Cleveland luck.
But then, this was LeBron James. He probably would have played with no hands if he had to.
Anyway, the worry was academic. James made a free throw, the Warriors didn’t score, and Cleveland won. The city can finally celebrate, and not like this: