For more than 50 years, fans agonized while waiting for one of their three major professional teams to win a championship, a drought that defined the city and its people. All the parades, the trophy presentations, the visits to the White House happened for other teams, in other places.
Cleveland was always left out. Those days are done.
And on Tuesday night, Cleveland will be center stage for the sports universe with a celebration that once seemed inconceivable.
LeBron James and the Cavaliers, who delivered Cleveland’s first championship since 1964 by beating Golden State with a historic comeback in the NBA Finals in June, will receive their rings and raise a banner at Quicken Loans Arena before their season opener against New York, and the emotional ceremony will be but a first act.
Thirty minutes later next door at Progressive Field, the Indians will host the Chicago Cubs in Game 1 of the World Series.
It’s an almost unimaginable doubleheader along Ontario Street. Two Cleveland teams at the top of their games.
”There won’t be any place better in the sports world than Cleveland, and a lot of people in Cleveland have been waiting a long time to hear those words,” said Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis. ”It will be the No. 1 place to be in sports. What a special day.”
In the hours leading up to the games, fans of the Indians, Cavs – and a sizeable contingent of Cubs backers – posed for photos around the two buildings.
Indians outfielder Coco Crisp stopped and signed autographs on his stroll to work. For Crisp, in his second stint with Cleveland after the Indians traded for him in August, the chance to play in the World Series for the team he started with is beyond special.
”It’s a dream come true,” said Crisp, who also played for the Indians from 2002-05. ”To be here now in this situation is unbelievable. And for Cleveland, I mean, what a day. These fans have done a great job of keeping the faith.”
During Game 1, the Indians will show highlights of the Cavs’ ring ceremony on their enormous scoreboard. And while James and his teammates may not make it across Gateway Plaza to watch Game 1 after playing the Knicks, they’re hoping to attend Game 2.
With the sun ducking in and out of the clouds on a crisp autumn afternoon, Jill Davis of Marietta, Ohio, stood on the plaza between the Q and Progressive Field and reflected on a year Cleveland fans won’t forget.
”It’s been surreal,” she said. ”It’s something you can’t even explain to your kids. It’s a dream for the whole state of Ohio.”
For so long, championships remained just out of reach as the Cavs, Indians and Browns took turns breaking Cleveland’s heart in the postseason.
But with their unexpected comeback to unseat the champion Warriors, the Cavs put Cleveland on top – and the city is enjoying the view.
Nearly 1 million people showed up for the Cavs’ parade, pouring off the sidewalks onto the streets to show their affection for James and his teammates, who will always have the distinction of being drought busters. The Cavs’ victory also released a sense of civic pride that was on display while Cleveland hosted the Republic National Convention and right through the summer as the Indians began their run toward an AL pennant.
The potential conflict between the ceremony and Game 1 first appeared in August when Major League Baseball released its postseason schedule. Back then, the possibility was met with the usual skepticism from locals, who muttered it was only a matter of time before the Indians buckled. Well, not only did they not collapse, they ran away with the AL Central and have gone 7-1 in the postseason.
Until last week, there was a conundrum for Cleveland fans torn over being able to enjoy both events because they were starting simultaneously. But the NBA pushed the Cavs’ ceremony up 30 minutes, allowing fans extra time to recover from one big moment and get ready for the next.
For many Clevelanders, that will require putting away their tissues before grabbing their Indians rally towel.
The images of the Cavs closing out Game 7 remain vivid to their coach Tyronn Lue, who broke down in the mayhem after the horn sounded at Oracle Arena. Four months later, he’s still touched by the video highlights of Kyrie Irving’s 3-pointer, James’ chase-down block on Andre Iguodala and Kevin Love pestering Warriors star Stephen Curry into a miss.
”I’m probably going to cry again,” Lue said. ”Every time I see those last plays, guys celebrating and crying, it just sends chills through my body. I’m pretty sure that on opening night it’s going to be even more than that. It’s going to be an emotional night, I know that and I’m going to enjoy it also. It’s going to be one of those nights. It’s a great night. Who wouldn’t want to be in that position as an NBA player or NBA coach? It’s going to be a great night for us.”