Skip to main content

Main content


Cursed in Cleveland

Can LeBron, Cavaliers end city's 52-year championship famine?

POSTED: May 29, 2015 10:45 AM ET

By Lang Whitaker

BY Lang Whitaker


Jordan Over Ehlo -- "The Shot": May 7, 1989

In Game 5 of the 1989 Eastern Conference Playoffs, a double-teamed Michael Jordan elevated for a dramatic game-winning jumper over Craig Ehlo.

With their 4-0 win over the Atlanta Hawks in the 2015 NBA Eastern Conference finals, the Cleveland Cavaliers advanced to the NBA Finals for the second time in franchise history. For the Cavs and their fans, it's a milestone, to be sure, and a season to be savored. But at this point, after five decades without a championship, Cleveland fans are ready for a title of any kind.

The Cleveland Indians, Cavaliers and Browns have combined to not win a championship since 1964, the longest-such active drought in sports today. They've been close, advanced to some big games, but at the end of the day, it just hasn't been meant to be.

Right here, let me apologize in advance to Cleveland fans for what we're about to do. Because if you're a Clevelander, you've lived through this, and you're probably not thrilled about having this horrific history regurgitated one more time. But this is necessary for the sake of context. To some people from places other than The Land, Cleveland may be just a town that hasn't won a lot of games. For many people in Cleveland, losing is an unfortunate way of life.

There are have been so many unfortunate instances that these plays are now mostly known as just "The" followed by a one-word description, because they are so memorable and distinct.

The Catch

Ever seen that awesome picture of Willie Mays catching a fly ball over his shoulder in center field with his back to home plate? That was in the 1954 World Series against the Cleveland Indians.

The Drive

In 1987, the Browns led the Denver Broncos by 7 and pinned the Broncos on their two-yard line. John Elway then led the Broncos 98 yards for the tying TD, and the Broncos won in overtime.

The Fumble

In a rematch one year later, as Browns running back Earnest Byner sprinted for the game-tying touchdown, he fumbled on the 2-yard-line and the Broncos held on for the win.

The Shot

During the 1989 playoffs, the Cleveland Cavaliers had a one-point lead over the Chicago Bulls with three seconds remaining in the deciding game of their first round playoff series. Three seconds was all Michael Jordan needed to hit a jumper over Craig Ehlo and knock the Cavs out.

The Series Loss

During the 1990s and early 2000s, the Atlanta Braves won the National League East for 14 consecutive seasons. But despite the repeated trips to the playoffs, the Braves were only able to win the World Series one time, in 1995. Atlanta's opponent? The Cleveland Indians.

The Move

In 1995, the Cleveland Browns announced they were moving to Baltimore. In 1999, the NFL returned football to Cleveland, retaining the name the Browns. For what it's worth, the Browns haven't won a playoff game since 1995.

The Series Loss Part 2

Two years later, the Indians returned to the World Series and had the lead going into the bottom of the 9th of game 7 against the Florida Marlins. Closer Jose Mesa allowed the Marlins to tie the game, and Florida won the game and Series in 11 innings.

The Sweep

In 2007, the Cavs, led by LeBron James, made the NBA Finals for the first time in franchise history. They were swept in four games by the San Antonio Spurs.

2007 NBA Finals

Take a look back as the San Antonio Spurs win the 2007 NBA Championship.

The Decision

In 2010, the best player in the Cleveland Cavaliers history, LeBron James, announced he was leaving Ohio and signing with the Miami Heat on a nationally televised television special. He would make the Finals all four years with the Heat and win two titles. While LeBron was gone, the Cavaliers won an unprecedented 3 out of 4 NBA Draft lotteries.

Any of these events, considered as an isolated incident, could be looked at as just a stroke of awful luck—a bad bounce, a lucky roll, the shot or swing of someone's life.

But assembled as a list, these examples seem to attest to Cleveland's place in history as a team that might, just might, be cursed. After all, at som point the law of averages says things have to go your way, right?

Andy Dufresne once noted on a postcard that "hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things." And that is what we cling to: For fans, the essence of sports is hope. We come to sports over and over again because they present us with the opportunity to find hope, with the chance to believe in something bigger and greater than just us. Sports are our escape from the twists and turns of every day life, and we trust our teams and their ownership to give their all and devote every possible resource to winning a title.

For the luckiest of sports fans, winning that elusive ring or trophy or whatever ends up happening from time to time, or at least occasionally during their lifetimes.

For entire generations of Cleveland fans, they've never seen it happen. But now LeBron is back, and while Kevin Love may be missing and Kyrie Irving is hobbled, lining up alongside LeBron is his most important teammate: Hope. We've all seen what LeBron can do on the basketball court, taking over games basically by himself. But can he do it on the biggest stage against the NBA's best team? Cleveland fans have tobe hoping that he can.

As LeBron said in Sports Illustrated when he announced his return, what's most important to him is bringing "one trophy back to Cleveland." Because that's all it will take: one trophy, just one, to erase fifty years of futility.

And then Cleveland can celebrate and the rest of us can move past The Catch and The Drive and The Fumble and The Shot and The Decision and, most importantly, The Curse.

Because then Cleveland can point to the one great thing that will trump all of those not-so-great things: The Title. The end.

Lang Whitaker has covered the NBA since 1998. You can e-mail him here or follow him on Twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.