Around 11 p.m. Sunday, a mob scene unfolded at the corner of E. Fourth St. and Prospect Ave. On this night, there were no strangers among Clevelanders.
Snapping a 52-year championship drought that had loomed like a hex over this sports-mad metropolis of 2 million people, the Cleveland Cavaliers toppled the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors in what sports fans will doubtless call “one for the ages.”
No, the series wasn’t pretty — the first six games all ended in double-digit wins dictated by home-court advantage — but those who tuned in for Game 7 got a treat. And judging from footage of elated or slack-jawed fans running through the streets, it appeared the whole city of Cleveland tuned in.
Throngs decked out in the Cavs’ wine-and-gold colors, many of them rocking LeBron James’ No. 23, flooded the streets of Cleveland, 2,500 miles away from the Oakland’s Oracle Arena, where King James & Co. had ended Cleveland’s ring-less streak.
They ran, danced, pumped fists, jumped, embraced, cried and gave high fives. They held up shirts that said, “Defend Cleveland” and twirled towels saying, “Cleveland Against the World.”
“Believe It! cried the front page of The Plain Dealer, above a broadsheet-long photo of star LeBron James weeping and holding the Larry O’Brien Trophy like an infant.
“It’s over,” read the caption. “OK, Cleveland sports fans, take a deep breath, then say those two words — it’s over.”
The win came after several minutes of clumsy basketball by both teams. But when the Cavs’ Kyrie Irving let a three-pointer fly in the face of two-time league MVP Steph Curry, it rang true, breaking an 89-89 tie with 53 seconds remaining.
You knew it was going to be big deal as soon as Curry, typically a marksman, hoisted up a brick with seconds left. It clanked off the rim, as so many of his shots in the series had.
Even with Marreese Speights collecting the rebound and floating to the corner for another three-point try, you could see the Cavs’ bench standing — teeming, giddy — waiting to rush the floor for this historic moment. Speights’ shot was long, and within seconds, the court was covered in Cleveland faithful.
“Our fans, they ride or die, no matter what’s been going on, no matter the Browns, the Indians, the Cavs and so on, and all other sports teams,” James told reporters. “They continue to support us. And for us to be able to end this, end this drought, our fans deserve it. They deserve it. And it was for them.”
In the streets of Cleveland, it was evident that any bad blood over James abandoning the city in 2010 for the Miami Heat was long gone.
“It’s wonderful!” said one fan.
Another crowed, “Finally, we did it! My city, Cleveland, is finally champions!”
Echoing James, another said,”Cleveland deserves this. We’ve waited so long. Cleveland needs nice things.”
Former Cleveland Brown and Hall of Famer James Brown, who ran for 114 yards in the city’s last championship — a 27-0 win over the Baltimore Colts in 1964, three years before the first Super Bowl — dished out accolades as well.
“What a great night and moment for the city of Cleveland. Congratulations to the entire @cavs organization for bringing it home,” he tweeted.
You soccer fans may be thinking: What about the Columbus Crew?
Yes, the Crew won an MLS Cup in 2008 and played in the finals last year. But this is America, where soccer rarely enjoys equal billing with the country’s so-called “Big Four” sports (even if the Columbus Crew tend to draw a few hundred more fans to its stadium than the Cleveland Indians do).
Thus, you must excuse Cleveland fans when they say this is their first championship in more than five decades. The Crew have been around only since 1994, several decades less than the rest of Cleveland’s sports teams.