Best of 2016, Cavaliers

The Cavs Win It All: Top Stories of 2016 — No. 1

As we have throughout the last several years, WFNY will use the last two weeks of December to discuss the most important stories of the last twelve months. Stay with us as we count down the biggest and most discussed topics of 2016. Our “Best of 2016” finishes up with—surprise!—your Wine and Gold Winners.

We left the arena and flooded the streets. Thousands of us. Strangers; hugging and crying and smiling. A mass of people moving  throughout downtown with nowhere to go and no place they’d rather be. Moving, walking, running, dancing, all because we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Some people chanted, others drank, many just stood and stared off into the distance. They absorbed everything about the moment even as their eyes looked miles away.

The celebration didn’t stop, it just moved. To the airport as the team arrived. To the team shop to grab every piece of clothing that could fit a trophy on it. To the phone lines to call loved ones. And finally, to the streets again. Up Euclid. Down 9th. Confetti filling the sky. The celebration moved even as the parade couldn’t. The streets were so packed with people it took the team hours to reach their destination. It didn’t matter. Other cities can have parades, this was a gathering. The people taking the streets was the main attraction. The parade was just an excuse.

Kyrie hit that damn three and the city of Cleveland celebrated like it hadn’t for 50 years.

This city has spent it’s whole life being overlooked for flashier, more flamboyant options. In that way, the Golden Boy Warriors were a familiar opponent. Some years they wear Yankees or Red Sox jerseys. Bulls and Celtics during others. If you squint hard enough, those yellow shirts worn inside Oracle Arena begin to look a lot like Terrible Towels.

Cleveland is always being dismissed before it is given a chance. Being the butt of jokes. Being nothing more than a montage of highlights for other cities to celebrate. For fifty years validation on the playing field and off has felt light years away.

The celebration didn’t stop, it just moved.

But games aren’t played through memory. This Cavaliers team spent an entire season being overshadowed by the Warriors. The way they played. The way they talked and danced. The Cavaliers were used to being told they didn’t stand a chance. Being told their locker room still smells like champagne from the Warriors winning on their court the year before.

This team craved validation in the same way the city did. Validation of still being the best player in the world. Of being the best young point guard in the league. Of still being the star that shone so bright in Minnesota. Of being worth that $82 million contract. Of not being the head-case that was portrayed in stints with Denver or New York.

This Cavaliers team wore the city’s insecurities the same way they wore their own. Their entire history was rife with missteps, in-fighting, and failure. The Cavs had a way of highlighting the back page instead of the box scores. They invited controversy and derision. And they were on the verge of being a footnote to the greatest season in NBA history, again a background to someone else’s highlight.

And then they weren’t. Suddenly, the outside noise didn’t matter. Suddenly, it was the Warriors who were worried about hurt feelings and cheap shots. It was the Warriors who were arguing with referees and having on-court temper tantrums. The Cavaliers had taken control. Down 3-1 in the NBA Finals, the Cavaliers no longer had anything to lose. And they wouldn’t lose again.

  WFNY’s Top 10 Stories of 2016:

  1. Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA Champions
  2. The Indians’ World Series Run
  3. David Blatt Fired
  4. Browns hire Hue Jackson
  5. Cavs Championship Parade
  6. Indians Acquire Andrew Miller
  7. Party at Napoli’s
  8. Gordon out, Pryor in
  9. Jose Ramirez Arrives
  10. Ohio State’s Return to the CFP

In a funny way, Cleveland probably underplays the significance of this championship. It’s easy to see what it’s done for the city. We all watched the way it impacted the players individually. Even as the Indians went on their World Series run, you could see how Cleveland had been elevated on a national level. But the Cavaliers didn’t just change the fortunes of Cleveland, they changed the landscape of the NBA forever.

Had the Cavs lost, they may have broken up the team. They may have traded Kevin Love, or even Kyrie Irving. There’s a chance LeBron never wins another ring, his place in history frozen in time, with the NBA firmly in the hands of arch-nemesis Steph Curry. The Warriors would easily be favorites heading into this season, though the pesky Oklahoma City Thunder would be waiting for them. The city of Cleveland would likely be staring down additions to the Misery Montage, first from this Finals, and then from the Indians’ World Series loss.

Instead, LeBron James cemented his place as one of the top two or three best players of all time. His re-asserted himself as the undisputed best player in the NBA. Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving remain Cavaliers, putting up their best numbers since the Big 3 formed in Cleveland.

And outside of Cleveland, the Cavaliers just broke up the best regular-season NBA team in history. Kevin Durant, a consensus top-three player in the NBA, joined the Warriors and in doing so, broke up another title contender in Oklahoma City. What once looked like the beginning of one of the greatest dynasties in NBA history is suddenly searching for title number two. The NBA just instituted a new CBA that specifically addresses some of the issues that were created with the movements just described. By sitting on top, Cleveland had turned the NBA world upside-down.

You could see it on LeBron’s face when he embraced Kevin Love in the final seconds of Game 7. The validation. Of coming home. Of being one of the best players ever. You could see it from J.R. Smith as he broke down on stage following the game. You could see it from Kevin Love, who wore a WWE-style championship belt everywhere he went for a week.

And you could see it in the city of Cleveland. In the streets after the game. In the lines for the team shop. In the masses during the parade. In the way an entire country that had spent 50 years knowing little more about Cleveland than the nickname “Mistake by the Lake” embracing this team and celebrating along with them.

We all woke up on June 19, 2016 thinking one thing, and went to bed knowing something else completely. All because of those Cavaliers. Because LeBron James returned home. Because Kevin Love sacrificed everything. Because Kyrie hit that damn three.

And because of them, inside Cleveland and out, nothing will ever be the same.

  • Shadow_play

    Love this!

  • Saggy


  • Chris

    I watched Game 7 in Cleveland Heights with a group transplants, of whom all but 2 or 3 were rooting for Cavs. As best I can remember, I was the only native out of 10-12 of us. Somewhere in the middle of it all, there was a basketball game. I stuck around to watch the trophy presentation, then I was GONE!!! I had to get downtown with all of you fine folks. The Uber couldn’t get us any closer than East 22nd due to all the gridlock, so two of us walked and high-fived everyone with an open window along the way. Euclid Ave was overrun with people from Playhouse Square to beyond the fenced-off Public Square. Each of the two bars we visited ran out of inventory.

    2:30 rolls around and every bench is claimed, people are sitting on the sidewalk with their backs against random buildings, and the CPD had most roadways closed off for inbound traffic. We hadn’t planned at all so we tried to find a hotel – 0 for 3. Cabs/Uber either couldn’t get into downtown or were in severely short supply… we found some airport shuttle and offered him everything we had (about $100) to go 45 minutes out of his way just to get us back to Case. We were lucky. I have absolutely no idea how the rest of those people got home. I’d love to hear some stories about that.

    What an incredible experience. The parade was a blast, but the unabated in-the-moment celebration that night was tops for me.

  • Jeff Nomina

    Yeah – the night of game 7 downtown was just something you can’t explain. Like -the normal rules of society just sort of evaporated. We took over the streets – and everyone just celebrated together. I was just talking / high fiving / hugging random strangers all night. Just so surreal. We probably high fived at one point haha.

  • Harv

    I’ve re-watched the last few minutes at least 27 times, and that’s just what I DVR’d, doesn’t count the regular replays posted on Twitter and wherever. It’s not like I don’t know how it ends. And yet, my blood pressure still elevates, I actually groan when LeBron misses the first of his post-crash free throws, and still “yes!” when the second one barely rattles in. I’m still sick that Shump puts his freakin’ hand anywhere near Curry with 6 seconds left, when I foul and make would have tied it. Whywhywhy?

    And when LeBron raises his arms with Speights’ uncontested last shot, it’s still surreal. And still choke up when LeBron primal screams his “OMGs” beneath the scrum on the floor.

    Top story of 2016. Top story since ’64.

  • Harv


  • RGB
  • Saggy

    I still have it on my DVR. I don’t want to continue with Directv but I kinda need to, otherwise I will lose the recording. I’ve got to put that puppy on hard drive!

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  • JNeids

    So very well put, Nom. Let me just finish bookmarking this to comeback to and read anytime I need a pick me up…aaand done.

    Family stuff aside, this was easily the greatest night of my life. I watched from the second last row of the Q with some extended family. My uncle constantly reminds me of how, after the final buzzer, he just turned and saw me with my hands on my head and tears in my eyes, unbridled joy. We stayed inside for a few minutes after, watching the trophy presentation on the Jumbotron. I remember seeing the security guards around the Q enjoying it just as much as the rest of us in the stands. And then outside…surreal is the only way to describe it. I was one of those Jeff described as standing and staring. I just couldn’t believe it, and I needed to take it all in. It was just an ocean of euphoria. And the way Cleveland handled it – (mostly) peaceful celebration – was another validation for the city. I’m sure most expected chaos and riots. Hell, I joked that I wanted to be in the center of the city when we burned it down. But I’m not sure a 50-year drought-ending celebration could have gone any better.

    I really don’t want this year to end.

  • Greg Popelka

    It’s on YouTube