Can LeBron James and the Cavs Finally End Cleveland’s Sports Suffering?

The city of Cleveland is home to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so it seems fitting to quote Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Tom Petty, who once said in a song, “The waiting is the hardest part”.

For Cleveland sports fans, few words could be truer. There may be franchises that have had longer droughts like the Chicago Cubs, but for a city as whole, perhaps no one has been through more than the fans of Cleveland.

The city hasn’t celebrated a major sports championship since the Browns won the 1964 NFL Championship which predates the Super Bowl.

Cleveland has had its share of close calls. However, they’ve always seemed to end in heartbreak.

The Browns looked destined for the Super Bowl in both 1986 and 1987, but a 98-yard march orchestrated by Denver Broncos’ quarterback John Elway in 1986 and a fumble by Ernest Byner on the goal line in 1987 squashed those championship dreams.

In Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, the Cleveland Indians took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the ninth against the Florida Marlins, but a pair of singles and a sacrifice fly off Indians’ closer Jose Mesa forced extra innings where the Marlins would win in it on a walk-off single by Edgar Renteria in the 11th.

For Cleveland sports fans, hope has returned. On Tuesday night, the Cleveland Cavaliers led by LeBron James dominated the Atlanta Hawks to complete a sweep of the Eastern Conference Finals and land in the NBA Finals for just the second time.

For a city that’s had stars like Jim Brown, Otto Graham, Bob Feller and Satchel Paige, James may be the biggest star in Cleveland sports history. Five years ago however, the city thought it had lost the NBA’s best player for good.

An Akron native, James first came to Cleveland after being selected first overall in the 2003 NBA Draft. James won Rookie of the Year for the 2003-04 season and had the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals by 2007.

Like most of Cleveland’s recent postseason history, the 2007 NBA Finals ended in defeat, but not heartbreaking fashion this time as the Cavaliers were easily dismantled by the dynasty that was the San Antonio Spurs in a 4-0 sweep.

The customary heartbreak for Cleveland fans would follow in the years to come.

In 2008, the Cavaliers fell in seven games to the eventual champion Boston Celtics as a Paul Pierce free throw that bounced off the back rim and fell through put the series away. In each of the next two seasons, Cleveland would finish the regular season with the best record in the NBA, but a return to the Finals was not in the cards.

The Cavaliers were eliminated by the Orlando Magic in six games in the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals after blowing a 16-point lead in Game 1. The next season, Boston eliminated Cleveland in six games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

That summer, Cleveland’s “King” was gone. In a nationally televised event known as “The Decision”, James announced to the basketball world that he was “taking his talents to South Beach”, joining Dwyane Wade and newly-signed Chris Bosh with the Miami Heat.

The fans of Cleveland felt betrayed as many recorded themselves burning James’ jersey. Owner Dan Gilbert guaranteed that the Cavaliers would win a championship before James.

That prediction could not have been more wrong as James played in the NBA Finals in each of his four years in Miami, winning it twice. Meanwhile, Cleveland became a mainstay near the top of the NBA’s Draft Lottery.

Few would have guessed it in 2010, but upon becoming a free agent in 2015, James elected to go back to Cleveland. Gilbert’s perceived disdain for the guy his franchise once picked first overall was magically gone and the hope that LeBron James might finally bring a championship to Cleveland returned.

Through Cleveland’s run of futility, the Cavaliers were able to add pieces through the draft like eventual All-Star MVP Kyrie Irving and forward Tristan Thompson. First overall picks Anthony Bennett and Anthony Wiggins were traded to Minnesota in exchange for Kevin Love as the Cavaliers now had a roster that made them instant contenders.

But as the 2014-15 regular season ended and the postseason began, it started to look like more of the same for Cleveland. The Cavaliers swept the Celtics to open the playoffs, but lost Love to a shoulder injury for the remainder of the postseason in the process.

Against a Chicago Bulls team that had Derrick Rose healthy for the playoffs for the first time in three years, the Cavaliers fell behind two games to one.

In Game 4, the Cavaliers looked to have the contest in hand, leading 84-79 with less than 30 seconds to play, but a 3-pointer from Jimmy Butler and a Rose layup following a James turnover evened the game. James was blocked by Nikola Mirotic with a second to play and the contest appeared destined for overtime with Chicago having all the momentum.

After a timeout, James caught a pass in the corner and delivered one of the more clutch shots of his playoff career as the final horn sounded. Cleveland had evened its best-of-seven series and the Cavaliers have not lost since.

James has not been a one-man show however. With Irving as one of the best No. 2s he’s ever had, the Cavaliers have gotten contributions from players who didn’t always mesh well in previous places like Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert.

The Cavaliers now sit four wins away from Cleveland’s first major sports championship in over a half century, but the task at hand will not be an easy one.

The Western Conference champion Golden State Warriors finished with more wins than any other team this season. Golden State features a duo of young players, who can light it up offensively, a defense stalwart up front and a young head coach, who experienced winning championships as a player.

Though the task will be daunting, the opponent’s description is one not that different from an Oklahoma City team that James led the Heat past in 2012 for his first world championship. James has long been vocal about his goal of bringing a championship to Cleveland and for that to happen against a Golden State bunch with very few weaknesses, he may need to play his absolute best.

With the Finals set to begin Thursday, only time will tell if James’ Cavaliers will be able to alleviate the long suffering Cleveland sports scene, but the invaluable experience advantage will be on James’ side as he’ll be playing in a fifth straight NBA Finals.

Stephen Curry may be the league MVP, Draymond Green may be the Defensive Player of the Year and Klay Thompson may have set the NBA record for points in a quarter this season for Golden State, but the good news for the fans of Cleveland is that their guy, LeBron James, will still be the best player on the court.

To quote Tom Petty once more, “It’s good to be king.”

About Mike Ferguson

Mike Ferguson is a Bloguin contributor, the editor of Noled Out and a lifetime Florida State sports enthusiast. Mike vividly remembers watching Warrick Dunn run down the sideline in Gainesville in 1993, the "Choke at Doak" in 1994 and Monte Cummings' driving layup to beat #1 Duke in 2002. Mike has worked as a sports reporter in both print and online. For isportsweb in 2013, Mike gave press coverage of Florida State football's run to the 2013 national championship. Mike has been featured on, and Yahoo Sports while interviewing major sports stars such as 2013 National League MVP Andrew McCutchen. Mike graduated from Florida State University in 2009 with a major in Religion and a minor in Communications. Mike currently resides in Haines City, Florida with his wife Jennifer and daughters Trinity and Greenly. Mike is a full-time reporter at Polk County's newspaper, The Ledger, in Lakeland, Florida. Mike can be followed on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.