LOS ANGELES, June 5, 2015 — After a ridiculously long delay, the NBA finals finally tipped off as the Cleveland Cavaliers took an overtime loss against the Golden State Warriors, 108-100, Thursday night in Oakland, California. The obvious story lines are rightfully about what Lebron James and Steph Curry did and will do throughout this series, but it is also a tale of two cities so desperate for a championship.
For those who have no idea where the Golden State Warriors even play, the answer is Oakland. They began in Philadelphia, moved to San Francisco, and then moved across the bay. Very few cities have taken as much abuse as Oakland and Cleveland. So with Game 1 in the books, it needs to be said. Cleveland and Oakland are no longer losers.
Cleveland has been frequently derided as the Mistake by the Lake. After the Cleveland Browns of Paul Brown, Jim Brown and Otto Graham reached ten straight pro football championship games in the 1950s and 1960s, the city of Cleveland went from the top to the bottom. The Browns have been tormented since, with “The Drive” and “The Fumble” being the height of the agony. Browns fans are also haunted by Red Right 88, which ironically came against the Oakland Raiders. The Indians reached the World Series twice in the 1990s, but lost both times.
The city of Oakland was insulted buy Gertrude Stein, who wrote, “There is no there there,” but she was very wrong. Oakland was once a sports powerhouse. In the 1970s, the Raiders became the only team to reach five straight AFC Title Games. They won three Super Bowls in eight years from 1976 through 1983.
The Athletics won three straight World Series championships from 1972 through 1974. They went to three straight World Series championships from 1988 through 1990, winning the middle one in a sweep over rival San Francisco. The Warriors had their moment in the sun in 1975, then came hard times. The Raiders have had 12 straight non-winning seasons, becoming the only NFL team to have seven straight seasons of 11 losses or more.
Neither city has a hockey team. The closest teams, the Columbus Blue Jackets and San Jose Sharks, provide more heartbreak than victories.
Enough is enough. Cleveland and Oakland are turning things around, and they deserve some respect.
The Browns began 7-4 last year before injuries took their toll. Johnny Manziel squandered his rookie season, but could still turn out to be special. The Cavaliers took a bunch of players who had never played together and survived the initial bumps and bruises. They fought through injuries, as LeBron carried them on his back.
The Raiders finally have star players at key positions. Quarterback Derek Carr is gifted and smart. Pass rusher Khalil Mack is a disruptive force. Wide receiver Amari Cooper is fast and strong. Coach Jack Del Rio is a tough guy who understands defense. As for the Warriors, their record speaks for itself. Kerr won multiple rings as a player with the Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan was the star, but Kerr made the winning shot in one finals game en route to a series victory. Kerr turned down his former coach Phil Jackson’s offer to coach the Knicks, who finished 50 games behind Golden State in the standings.
Beyond sports, Cleveland and Oakland are gritty, blue-collar cities. Neighborhoods are rough and respect has to be earned. As King James himself said, you have to earn everything growing up in Eastern Ohio. He grew up in Akron. He knows. Cleveland is even getting the 2016 Republican Convention. Whatever one’s politics, getting a major political convention is a financial boon to a city and a sign that the city is respected as a place to do serious business. San Francisco has a superiority complex, but Oakland people know that San Francisco is soft. Oakland is for the most hard-boiled of eggs.
Most importantly, the Cavaliers and Warriors do it the right way. Their stars play clean, honest basketball. LeBron James and Steph Curry are both pleasant, polite, likable individuals who keep their noses clean off the court. They are positive role models and reflect their cities well.
Neither city contains the type of people who believe everybody should get a trophy. One of these two cities will experience severe basketball heartbreak. Nevertheless, both the Cavaliers and Warriors have done their cities proud. Whoever wins the series, both cities have already earned plenty of respect.
Cleveland and Oakland are no longer losers.