Americans love their sporting stories, and the city of Cleveland has reserved a special, unenviable place on account of its sporting tales of woe over the past four decades.
Cleveland is a city on Lake Erie, with a proud industrial history. John D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was initially founded here, and the city’s lakeside location meant that it developed as a manufacturing centre in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The great American songwriter, Randy Newman, wrote the lyrics to Burn On after watching news reports about a fire on the city’s Cuyahoga River caused by oil pollution- a recurring theme from the 1860s through to the 1960s that helped add momentum to the developing National environmental movement in the States.
Cleveland is home to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, though with its succession of famed sporting failures, it could more fittingly be labelled the home of the Blues.
Cleveland is home to teams from three of the four major professional sports in the US: the Cleveland Indians (baseball), Cavaliers (basketball) and Browns (football.)
Over the past forty years, each team has come close to securing championships for the success starved city, only to cruelly fall at the last hurdle.
These tales of sporting failure have become legend, developing their own names: ‘The Shot’, ‘The Fumble’, ‘The Drive’, ‘Red Right 88’. The Browns last won a Championship for the city in 1964, two years before the inaugural Super Bowl was played. They were cruelly denied a trip to the Super Bowl by John Elway’s Broncos three times in the late 1980s, and local fans suffered the humiliation of their team’s owner, Art Modell, relocating the Browns to Baltimore in 1996, leaving the city without a team for a period of years until 1999.
The Indians suffered their own disappointment, losing out in two World Series finals in the 1990s, including to the Atlanta Braves in seven games in 1995 after taking a lead into the ninth inning.
The sad but storied history of these two iconic city teams have been the backdrop for a couple of Hollywood movies. Major League (starring Wesley Snipes, Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger) was a famous baseball movie in the late 1980s which used the Indians’ history of failure as the backdrop to a fictional story, whilst the more modern Draft Day (starring Kevin Costner and Dennis Leary ) used the Browns for a similar purpose.
But whilst neither the Browns nor Indians have brought the city to even the verge of success in the 21st century, the city’s basketball team, the Cavaliers, have delivered hope and heartbreak in equal measure in that period, and all due to the presence of one man: Lebron James.
James is an Ohio native, who grew up in Akron, not far from Cleveland. He was drafted by the Cavaliers in 2004 straight from high school and he immediately altered the fortunes of the team, bringing them to a Finals appearance in 2007 (which they lost.)
When he left the city and team in 2010 for the promise of glory in Miami, there was a tremendous outpouring of grief and anger in Cleveland. The fact that he took to announcing the move in a live, televised interview (known as The Decision) was viewed as a slap in the face for his adopted hometown.
James’ next four years with the Miami Heat would see him lead his team to the Finals in each season, emerging as winners on two occasions.
But in the summer of 2014, James rejoined the Cavaliers, and promptly led the team to another Finals appearance the following season. Alas, the Cavs would lose out to a Golden State Warriors team led by the sport’s new superstar, Stephen Curry.
Remarkably, James has once again led the Cavaliers to another Finals appearance, his sixth successive trip to the Finals. Once again, the Curry-led Warriors stand in the way of the Cavs and glory for the city of Cleveland.
The Cavaliers and James go into the Finals as underdogs, but ahead of tomorrow night’s series opener, there is reason to hope that this may be the year the city’s sporting fortune turns.