Last night, the Cleveland Cavaliers punched their ticket to the NBA Finals, defeating the Boston Celtics in five games. If you’ve been following this team throughout the postseason, you realize why said outcome wasn’t terribly surprising.
Cleveland steamrolled through the Eastern Conference, and arrives at the last round of the postseason carrying just one loss. If anything, said defeat – last Sunday’s Game 3 upset at the hands of the Celtics – says more about the Cavs than all of their 2017 postseason wins combined.
Judging by the response from Cleveland fans, nobody began feeling nervous or worried, suddenly panicking about increased chances of Boston leaving the series victorious. Instead, many were just perplexed, but with this confusion came the certainty that the Cavs were still going to come out on top.
It was just assumed Cleveland was going to win. The Cavs reaching their third Finals in a row was everyone’s expectations playing out exactly as anticipated.
Read that again. A team from Cleveland playing for the championship a third straight time was seen as the most likely scenario. You need only to have followed sports franchises from this city to realize how shocking a concept like this truly is.
So, as the Cavs spend the next few days preparing for a grudge match against the vaunted Golden State Warriors, I have one simple request for Cleveland fans – don’t take this for granted.
It would be no surprise if last night’s Eastern Conference championship lacked a slight amount of shine when compared to 2016. Last year, the Cavs were seeking revenge from their 2015 loss to this same Warriors team, this time without having to overcome injuries to Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving. At this time, the city of Cleveland was in year 52 of one of the most grueling championship droughts in sports. Back then, a 3-1 lead was still seen as insurmountable.
We all know how things played out from there.
I only bring this up because the worst thing Cavs fans could do leading up to the 2017 Finals is feel satisfied. Don’t let the outcome of last year ease the desire for another trophy.
Why? Well, it’s pretty simple. The fact is we may never see a team like this again. Not just in Cavaliers uniforms. In Cleveland, period.
We may never again see a team this loaded with All-Stars, some in their prime and a few who, despite lengthy careers, are just now getting their first real crack at a championship. What are the odds another Cleveland team will be able to have two incredible scorers like Love and Irving, yet be so good neither of them are even considered the best player on the roster. What are the chances a club from this city finds another talent like LeBron James, who last night surpassed none other than Michael Jordan for most points scored in the postseason.
In the moment, the Cavs reaching their third straight Finals is a foregone conclusion. However, all you have to do is look at the history of sports in Cleveland to realize such a concept should never be taken lightly.
Remember, the Cleveland Browns were once a dominant team in the 1950’s and 60’s. Nobody thought their 1964 title would be the end of their run. 53 years later, the idea of a championship remains nothing but a far-fetched fantasy to the Browns organization, and it’s been that way for decades.
After the legendary Cleveland Indians of the 90’s went to two World Series in three years, it wasn’t seen as crazy to ease the heartbreak of the notorious 1997 finale with “we’ll get it next year.” It took almost 20 years for the Tribe to even get that far again.
Think back, too, to the Cavs of 2011-2014. To the Cleveland teams dependent on Jamario Moon or Daniel “Boobie” Gibson. Make the cold realization that the team’s starting small forward before James returned in 2014 was Alonzo Gee.
I say this not to drudge up bad memories as the Cavs attempt to win back-to-back titles, but to instead remind you that times have never been like this in Cleveland. It’s been forever since this city had a team which would view anything short of the Finals as failure.
I urge you to keep this in mind in the coming days. Don’t watch the next series with the mindset of “well we won last time, it’s OK if it doesn’t work out this season.” Don’t get complacent. Don’t feel fulfilled based solely on what happened last year.
Instead, remember how long it took the city of Cleveland to win another title. There’s no guarantee the wait for the next one will be shorter from now on, nor that we’ll ever again be blessed with a team which sees playing in the NBA Finals as a summer tradition.
Soak it in, Cleveland. To do anything less would be seen as a crime by anyone who waited half a century to be reminded of what a championship feels like.