Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last 48 hours, LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers ended the city’s long championship drought Sunday night, defeating the Golden State Warriors 93-89 in Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
In winning the franchise’s first championship, the Cavs became the first team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the Finals. Cleveland also became the first team to win a Game 7 in somebody else’s building since the Washington Bullets did so in Seattle in 1978.
James, a native of Akron, Ohio, rightfully proclaimed the championship was for the fans of Cleveland, who hadn’t seen a major pro sports championship since the 1964 Browns.
However, in the heat of the championship moment, he was forgetting a few others: Hundreds of former Cavaliers who came close to winning a championship, but not quite.
Let’s flash back to 2004. The Boston Red Sox became the first team in baseball history to overcome a 3-0 series lead, ending the Curse of the Bambino by winning four straight over the hated New York Yankees, and subsequently sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.
Those Red Sox thanked the long-suffering fans who waited 86 years to see a World Series title. It would be the only one my grandfather would see in his lifetime. But, the players were quick to talk about the likes of Ted Williams, Johnny Pesky, Bill Buckner, and other great Red Sox players who had to live with the heartbreak of “almost, but not quite.” Pesky was even in the clubhouse at Busch Stadium, getting tons of hugs from the players.
Now, let’s flash back to the late 1980’s through the mid 1990’s. The Cavaliers always fielded contending teams. Players such as Mark Price, Craig Ehlo, Gerald Wilkins and Brad Daughtery had pretty good careers in northeast Ohio.
The problem was, there were some other teams that were simply better. Cleveland fell to Michael Jordan’s Bulls in four playoff series, twice on buzzer-beaters by arguably the greatest to ever play basketball. The “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons won a couple of championships. Of course, the Celtics were still pretty darned good, along with the New York Knicks, who gave Jordan’s Bulls plenty of fits in the playoffs over the course of Chicago’s dynasty.
The 2004 Red Sox, they understood the heartbreak that all those great players endured. Not just the fans.
LeBron delivered that long-awaited championship to Cleveland, but he should’ve proclaimed that the title was for those former players who could not get past great teams such as the Celtics, the Bulls and the Pistons. Maybe over the course of the summer, he will do so. Oddly, one of those former Cavaliers? Some guy named Steve Kerr, who coached the team LeBron’s Cavs beat, and endured some tough postseason losses before winning some rings with the Bulls and San Antonio Spurs.
Now, the NBA will shift focus to this week’s draft, and what the Celtics will do with their third overall pick. Brad Stevens will be bringing Banner 18 to Boston before we know it.