Sports Page

​Cleveland: Land of Champions

Chad W. Lutz
​Let me first start off by being a little self-indulgent. Ever since I found out I got into Mills College back in March, I've been anxiously hoping, practically pleading, with the universe for a send-off like this. I can't tell you how many nightmares I've had of boarding a plane bound for Warrior's country where I'll be living for at least the next two years with the bad taste of back-to-back Finals defeats lingering in my gums. I can still remember the feeling of just utter disappointment back in 2004-2005 when the Cavs missed the playoffs by a single game, only to be eliminated the following year by the Detroit Pistons in the second round, and getting swept by the eventual champion San Antonio Spurs the year after that.

Watching Lebron James bolt for Miami in 2010 made the disappointment even more unsavory. Salt in open wounds. At that point, I could have given up on the Wine and Gold, and many of us, although superficially, actually did. We burned his jerseys, stopped attending games, and shifted our attention to the Indians and Browns, hoping for a second coming or an answer to the dark angel Lebron ultimately seemed to be.
Iconic image of a Lebron James jersey burning after the ill-fated Decision of 2010
​As time ticked down in the fourth quarter of last night's Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, just about every single one of my nerves was tingling. It was kinda like being on fire, only, in the end, the fire makes you jump out of your chair for joy instead of screaming from the excruciating pain caused by third-degree burns. I couldn't help but think what I was seeing on TV was just an elaborate hoax, a cruel joke. Ashton Kutcher was going to step out of the shadows at any moment and laugh in our war-torn faces. But that never happened.

The Cavaliers, bucking unprecedented odds, went on to win the game and take the best-of-seven series away from the defending champion Golden State Warriors 4-3 on the road, in Oakland, after trailing the Western Conference Champions 3-1. The Wine and Gold became the first team in the history of the league to rebound from such a deficit and win a title by a final score of 93-89.

I watched as Lebron James, the Cleveland Cavalier, hoisted not only the Larry O'Brien trophy presented by league commissioner Adam Silver but the Bill Russell Finals MVP trophy. Tears streamed down the gigantic man's face. He'd finally done it; he'd brought a championship home to the City of Cleveland. But it was during that same four or five minute presentation that I truly realized Ohio and Cavs fans around the world had all earned the title of champions, not just the players and coaches on the floor.
The Wine and Gold celebrate their 2016 NBA Championship with the Larry O'Brien Trophy.
​I say, "Truly realized," like no one else has thought of it, but as much will be written about the topic today, tomorrow, and for many, many weeks to come, I think the notion deserves one more article of attention. I think we all knew that winning a championship takes an entire community of people coming together for a single cause. It requires rallying and cheering and soldiering on; licking wounds and getting back out there no matter what. It takes belief in something that may not even happen, but you have to believe it anyway. And I think it takes an earnest amount of courage to put stock in something, as a fan, that being a player only ever gives you a glimpse of.

See, unlike Lebron and Co., who get paid millions of dollars to care about the outcome of their season, we don't. Fans sign on if they feel like it, and if they don't, they watch Netflix, read to their children, or mow their lawns. We have to just sit back, while having limited impact on the actual results of the games we watch, and take what happens in stride. We have to watch as Craig Ehlo fails to defend a super-charged Michael Jordan or as John Elway picks apart our defense on his way to a 98-yard, all-time-great drive. We don't get to put hands in the faces of our defenders or execute game-saving chase-down blocks as time runs out. We just have to sit there and take it.

The 2016 NBA Finals rewrote the history of Cleveland forever. Regardless of whether this season becomes a flash-in-the-pan, we've got one. Generations of Clevelanders will talk about this championship for decades to come, perhaps centuries. While I won't sit here and quote the dictionary, I think we can all agree that the definition of a champion includes facing up to the odds and never backing down. Cleveland embodies that spirit.

Where other cities in other states might have beaches, famed amusement parks, national monuments, or internationally renowned skylines, we have cold weather and a total of six (COUNT THEM: one, two, three, four, five, six) cumulative days of totally clear skies per year. Per year! When Miami isn't in the NBA Finals, they turn to South Beach clubs and palm trees for entertainment. San Francisco has budding art scenes and the Cascade Mountains. Boston and Los Angeles have so many championships that winning one is like a drop in the pond at this point, not to mention being cultural hubs for their respective states and perennial winners in multiple sports, not just basketball.
Seasonal Affective Disorder and colds: no longer Cleveland's only pastimes.
​The reason why I wanted to take this time to talk about something that's been 30-for-30ied and analyzed ad nauseam by sportscasters already, not even twenty-four hours removed from the feat, is because regardless of what hardships Cleveland sports fans have endured over the last 52 years, they never shied away from their teams. Even as attendances dipped and hope faded, no one has ever, truly counted Cleveland teams down and out. And that, ladies, gentlemen, and transgendered readers, is the true mark of a champion, a title all of us should take pride in, even if we've never see playing time on the floor.

We've all been a part of this journey together, and instead of turning to anything (or everything) else, we remained faithful to the idea that one day, not someday, a championship title would return to the Forest City. I for one couldn't be happier. Not everyone looks good doing yoga while paddle-boarding.

Congratulations, Cleveland Cavaliers, from us, your faithful champions.