These things I believe:
1. LeBron James is the best player in the NBA.
2. The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to win the NBA championship and put an end to the 52-year sports drought that has tortured and plagued the good folks who live by the shores of Lake Erie.
Let’s talk LeBron first. You all know that Stephen Curry was just named NBA MVP for the second straight year. Golden State’s sharpshooting guard was a unanimous pick. His team set the league record with 73 wins, and many expect the Warriors to win a second straight NBA title.
Swell. Curry deserves the award. But every true Basketball Jones knows that LeBron is still the best player on the planet. He’s 6-8, built like Wilt Chamberlain, can put the ball on the floor, rebound, defend, and go to the basket for 2 points or two free throws any time he wishes.
He is one of the top 10 talents in the history of the league. He still has some trouble closing and has won championships only twice in six appearances in the NBA Finals, but I can’t believe there’s a coach out there who would not take LeBron first if all players were available for an open draft to assemble a team for this year’s playoffs.
I will never understand the irrational LeBron hate that pollutes the sports landscape. Certainly “The Decision” was odious, and LeBron is a bit of a poseur, but he has done little to earn the hate that is showered on his huge head nightly.
Enough of that. We’re on to Cleveland.
Mercy. Have these folks not suffered enough? How can any neutral sports fan not root for the Cavaliers to win it all this year?
The Cavaliers are waiting to play the winner of the Miami Heat-Toronto Raptors series in the Eastern Conference finals. That series should be a formality. For all practical purposes, Cleveland is already in the Finals.
The Cavs got there last year and extended the wonderful Warriors to six games before bowing out. Cleveland actually won two of the first three games of that series. That was a Cleveland team carried solely by LeBron. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were on the shelf with injuries.
This year the Cavs are healthy. LeBron, Irving, and Love make for a nifty Big Three. They have the maniacal J.R. Smith and Channing Frye draining rainbow jumpers from international waters. Tristan Thompson is a rebounding robot. Iman Shumpert is a serviceable two-way player. Head coach Tyronn Lue has replaced the stiff and annoying David Blatt, who kept telling us how many playoff games he won overseas.
The Cavs went 57-25 during the regular season, but they are 8-0 in the playoffs. They swept the Pistons and the Hawks (remember the Hawks — the ordinary team that bludgeoned the Celtics?). They have a chance to get to the Finals with a “fo, fo, fo” run originally suggested by the late Moses Malone.
But this is about the city of Cleveland more than it is about LeBron James or the Cleveland basketball team. Cleveland has endured one of the worst half-centuries in American history. Its population has fled. Its downtown is dismal and too often empty. Its people are hungry for a winner after six decades of failure from the Browns, Indians, and Cavaliers.
Bill Belichick and Bill Fitch could not win championships in Cleveland. Rocky Colavito and Manny Ramirez could not get it done. Ditto for Bingo Smith and World B. Free.
Cleveland’s last championship came in 1964 (three years before the first Super Bowl) when Jim Brown and quarterback Frank Ryan led the Browns to a 27-0 win over the Baltimore Colts in the NFL championship game.
In the late 1980s, the Browns lost back-to-back AFC Championship games to the Broncos. In one game, they fell victim to John Elway’s historic 98-yard drive; in the other one, they were killed by a self-inflicted wound when Earnest Byner fumbled near the goal line. Today the Browns are a joke. They do nothing to reward some of the NFL’s best fans.
The Indians last won a World Series when Bill Veeck owned the team in 1948. In 1997, they took a one-run lead into the ninth inning of Game 7, only to lose to the five-year-old Florida Marlins when Jose Mesa blew the lead. Terry Francona keeps the Tribe competitive these days, but nobody goes to the games and there is concern about the long-term health of the franchise.
The Cavs had a pretty good team knocked out in the first round of the playoffs when Michael Jordan canned a jumper over Craig Ehlo in 1989. LeBron has taken them to the Finals twice, getting swept by the Spurs in 2007 and bowing to the Warriors last spring.
So this is the year. LeBron’s Redemption. Duck boats on the Cuyahoga River.
Book it, people. A month before Donald Trump is anointed at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July, LeBron James and the Cavaliers are going to make Cleveland great again.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org