The people of Cleveland are delirious today as their basketball team the Cavaliers won the NBA championship beating the Golden State Warriors 93-89. One has to have lived in this city to really appreciate the powerful emotions that are coursing through them. The city has suffered from all manner of economic difficulties in the last half century or so and like so many people in difficult economic times, they seek escapism and validation and self-worth in sports, however ephemeral that may be.
But here too they suffered failure as the last time they won a national championship was in 1964 when their football team won. But not only have they failed to win anything since, they have come very close to doing so and had the cup of victory dashed away from them at the last minute by either a colossal error or an outstanding performance by an opponent. These moments of excruciating defeat have become legends and have names like The Fumble, The Shot, The Drive, and Red Right 88 that are immediately recognizable for the Cleveland sports fan.
While my sport of choice is cricket, I felt sorry for the people of Cleveland and hoped that they would win something to take away the woebegone attitude they carried around with them and of the three major teams, the basketball one is the one that most deserves it. I hope the baseball team keeps losing as long as they retain their ghastly Chief Wahoo mascot and football is something that I now despise since it has become clear that it causes serious damage to players.
So I share in the pleasure of the people of Cleveland, even though I am aware of how exploitative these big sports franchise teams are.
The win last night, that broke a 3-3 tie in the best of seven series, was all the more creditable because the score was tied 89-89 almost to the very end. The Cleveland team has had a tendency to lose games in the final moments so this was ominous. The team had also been trailing 3-1 in the series and had fought back to tie the series. No team had even come back from a 3-1 hole to win the championship. Furthermore, their opponents had had a record-breaking season and were the clear favorites to win. They had been almost invincible on their home court and the thought of Cleveland having to win games 5 and 7 there was daunting. Right up until the last moments, Cleveland fans seemed resigned to the possibility that they would get so close and then blow it, adding to their woes.
But then there were two clutch plays by Cleveland. One was an incredible block of a shot by LeBron James. Like all superlative athletes, he seems to have a sense of where the play is going. With the score tied at 89-89, two opponents passed the ball between them in heading for a clear shot at the goal that would give them the lead. You can see James charging down from mid court to the exact spot where the ball would be thrown and leaping up and blocking the shot in a remarkable piece of anticipation.
The other occurred immediately after and was a three-point shot by Kyrie Irving over the head of the opponent’s star player Steph Curry that gave them a 92-89 lead at the end with just 53 seconds left.
I was worried that the huge numbers of fans who jammed downtown Cleveland to watch the game on big screens would go berserk and riot but thankfully the only damage that seemed to have been done was to a police cruiser that some fans jumped on.
So well done Cavaliers. The people of Cleveland can now stop whining about their past losses and about their sports teams being the butt of jokes.