2017 NBA Finals: Warriors vs. Cavaliers

NBA Finals Offcourt Preview: A look at the best things Oakland and Cleveland have to offer

Famous faces, food, movies, music along with sports history define these two NBA cities

Lang Whitaker

For the third year in a row, the NBA Finals will feature The Land squaring off against Oaktown.

OK, sure, we’ll see the Cleveland Cavaliers play basketball against the Golden State Warriors, but don’t forget this is also a meeting of Oakland versus Cleveland, two cities with rich histories and unique cultures.

By this point, we have a pretty good idea of how the Cavs and the Warriors match up. So let’s take a quick look at some of the things the cities of Cleveland and Oakland are bringing to the table…


According to 2010 Census data, the city of Cleveland has a population of 388,072, while including some outer suburbs, Cleveland’s population swells to 2,055,612. Oakland, meanwhile, has a population of 419,267, but when you include the entire nine county Bay Area region which includes Oakland as well as cities like San Francisco and San Jose, the population swells to 7.68 million.


Cleveland has famously had a tortured history with pro sports, not winning a sports championship from 1964 to 2016, when the Cavaliers broke that streak. Prior to that, the Browns won NFL championships in 1950, ’54, ’55 and ’64. The Cleveland Indians won titles in 1920 and 1948, and made it to Game 7 of the 2016 World Series before losing to the Chicago Cubs. Before the Warriors’ 2015 and 1975 titles, the Oakland A’s were a dynasty, winning the World Series in 1972, ’73 and ’74, and adding another in 1989. The Oakland Raiders won an AFL title in 1967, and then NFL championships in 1976, ’80 and ’83.


This may be recency bias talking, but for Cleveland it must be the Cavs unexpectedly coming back from a 3-1 deficit to win the 2016 NBA championship. And if you have to winnow that down to a single moment, it would probably be from Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals — either LeBron James’ chasedown block of Andre Iguodala or Kyrie Irving’s 3-pointer to seal the win. For Oakland fans, the A’s putting together a three-peat in the ‘70s has to be up there, as well as Stephen Curry winning back-to-back MVP awards.


Oakland fans have been on the wrong end of a few memorable moments, particularly in the NFL — the Immaculate Reception, the Tuck Rule — but neither of those actually happened in Oakland. Which leaves us maybe The Flip Play, where Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter made an incredible defensive relay against the A’s in the 2001 ALDS to nail Jeremy Giambi at home plate. For Cleveland, perhaps it would be The Drive, when John Elway led the Broncos to a last-second win over the Browns in the 1987 AFC Championship game to spoil a potential trip to the Super Bowl.


The Cavs have had some great players over the years, including Mark Price and Brad Daugherty, and before that guys like Austin Carr and Larry Nance and World B. Free. But by far the greatest player in franchise history has to be King James. For the Warriors, while Curry’s two MVP awards make him one of the greats, that conversation also has to include Wilt Chamberlain, who came along with the Warriors when they moved out west from Philadelphia but never actually played in Oakland (he played in San Francisco). In 1975 Rick Barry led the Warriors to a title and won the Finals MVP award.


Far be it from me to decide the most famous native of these cities. According to Cleveland.com, the top four to hail from Cleveland are Paul Newman, Bob Hope, Dean Martin and Halle Berry. According to VisitOakland.com, some big-time Bay Area natives include Tom Hanks, Clint Eastwood, Zendaya and Luke Skywalker (well, the actor who plays him, Mark Hamill).


It’s perhaps not a coincidence that as the Cavs and Warriors face off, the series will feature two of the NBA’s most prominent sneaker salesmen: LeBron James, who is one of Nike’s cornerstones; and Stephen Curry, who has helped make Under Armour into a major player on the NBA scene. Both guys have produced some memorable commercials through the years…




Cleveland is the home of several fictional TV shows, including “The Drew Carey Show” and “Hot in Cleveland.” For greatest movie, I’ll have to go with the “Major League” series. Similarly, Oakland was the home of the terrific baseball film “Moneyball.” As far as TV shows in Oakland go, it’s hard to beat the hoops-adjacent “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper.”


While plenty of musicians hail from Oakland and Cleveland, what are the best-known lyrical references? Of course, Huey Lewis proclaimed that the heart of Rock and roll was in Cleveland, and more recently Kid Cudi has given mention to The Land. Oakland, meanwhile, has been referenced by artists from Frank Sinatra to Too $hort to Tupac.


There doesn’t seem to be a consensus as to the predominant food item from Oakland. Barbecue comes up frequently, as does Mexican food, and two of America’s most celebrated restaurants — Chez Panisse and The French Laundry — are both located nearby. According to Wikipedia, Cleveland is known for its Polish and Central European food, and of course chef Michael Symon is one of the city’s best-known culinary ambassadors.


To back up Cleveland’s rock and roll bonafides, visitors can stop in at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, which is located on the shore of Lake Erie. In Oakland, the Chabot Space and Science Center is a popular stop for those into astronomy.


Several NBA players have hailed from Cleveland, including Earl Boykins, Clark Kellogg and Charles Oakley. Oakland also counts several former NBA players as natives, such as Drew Gooden, Jason Kidd and Gary Payton, as well as current Portland star Damian Lillard. Of course, the two biggest stars in these NBA Finals, LeBron James and Stephen Curry, were both born in the same city, Akron, Ohio, which is about 40 miles from Cleveland.

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

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