Happy Tuesday, WFNY!
What a crazy extended weekend we just had.
Obviously, we had Christmas and the holiday season over the weekend, with many getting together with family and/or friends and celebrating. We also had the Cleveland Indians signing Edwin Encarnacion on Thursday evening, the Cleveland Cavaliers delivered a thrilling win over the Golden State Warriors on Sunday, and the Cleveland Browns actually won a football game on Saturday!
It was a good weekend for Cleveland sports. But honestly, even with the Browns season being what it was, it was a great year for Cleveland sports. This is my final While We’re Waiting of 2016. We’ve discussed the dichotomy of 2016 in this space in the past, but with the year coming to an end now, I want to briefly revisit it one more time.
By most accounts, 2016 was a bad year. And yes, a lot of bad things happened this year, and I’m not talking about celebrity deaths. 2016 was a year of violence and turmoil, of political upheaval, and a general sense of malaise, fear, and wanting. I think many Americans seem more uncertain of what the next year has in store for us than any other year-end in recent memory.
But when it comes to Cleveland sports, 2016 was a simply phenomenal.
I can’t try to prop up the Browns season in any meaningful way. 2016 was mostly a pretty bleak year for Cleveland’s favorite team. Forgetting about the losing streak for a moment, 2016 was just tough in every way. From Johnny Manziel being cut and having to watch the 2016 NFL Draft alone at a bar in Columbus, to the sad conclusion to the Josh Gordon era in Cleveland, to the mass exodus of most veteran players with skill, this year was hard.
But there were some interesting moments. The hiring of Hue Jackson was an exciting moment. Personally, I thought the rise of the Harvard Brain Trust in Berea was a truly fascinating moment. In particular, I was genuinely excited by the hire of Paul DePodesta. Whether it’s going to work out, I have no clue. But I’m truly enjoying watching the Browns try to do something different.
When it comes to the Cleveland Indians, 2016 has to go down as one of the best seasons in the long, storied history of this franchise. It could have been better, of course. But who can deny that 2016 was an incredibly fun and joyous season for fans? The Indians took over first place in the American League Central Division on June 4, and they held on to the top spot in the division the rest of the way. We had a season-long Party at Napoli’s, we saw the emergence of Francisco Lindor as a genuine star, we had the Andrew Miller trade, and we got to watch one of the best starting pitching rotations in baseball setup in front of an incredible bullpen. All of it was fun.
And then came the postseason. We got to watch the Indians be the team to put an end to David Ortiz’s baseball career by knocking the Boston Red Sox out in the ALDS. Then we got to watch the Indians use timely hitting, heroic starting pitching efforts, and a masterful use of the bullpen to completely dismantle the Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS. The Indians carried that momentum all the way to a 3-1 lead in the World Series before the team simply ran out of healthy and rested arms.
Nothing in 2016 topped the Cleveland Cavaliers, though. In one NBA Finals series, the Cavs completely altered all of our existence and identity as Cleveland sports fans. No longer the butt of every joke, no more the disgraced recipients of a montage-worthy drought of championship-less years, no longer the standard-bearer for losing. In coming back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Golden State Warriors, Cleveland fans became Champions.
It’s why we were able to suffer through the Browns starting a season 0-14 (although it wasn’t always pretty and certainly some handled it better than others) and why we can still hold our heads high even after watching the Cleveland Indians blow a 3-1 lead in the World Series. Can you imagine the pain of that World Series loss had the Cavaliers not just delivered all of us our own personal misery force-shield just a few months earlier?
The Cleveland Cavaliers didn’t just win an NBA Championship. They did it in the most remarkable, story-book fashion imaginable. They became the first team in NBA history to come back from 3-1 down in the Finals to win. They did it against the Golden State Warriors. The team that beat the Cavaliers in the Finals the previous season and the team that just broke the record for best regular season record in NBA history. They did it by having each member of the Big Three make a signature play in Game 7 with Kevin Love’s stop on Steph Curry, LeBron James’ block on Andre Iguodala, and Kyrie Irving knocking down the game-winning three-pointer right in unanimous MVP Steph Curry’s face.
None of us who care about Cleveland sports will ever forget June 2016. Every single time I rewatch Game 7 I can feel all the same emotions I felt that night in June come rushing back. It’s hard to keep a dry eye when watching replays of Kyrie’s shot or LeBron falling into Love’s arms as a rush of emotions overtook him. That single moment in time made 2016 one of the best years of my life.
2016 as a whole may have been a hard year, but 2016 for Cleveland sports fans was, well, complex. But for all of us who have dedicated so much time in our lives to following Cleveland sports teams, finally winning a Championship is still so hard to put into any kind of meaningful context. In some ways, it still seems surreal, but in other ways, it has given me almost a permanent high that has yet to really wear off.
No matter how you feel about the Cleveland Cavaliers, sports, or anything else in 2016, I hope you guys have all enjoyed your year here at Waiting For Next Year, and I hope all of you have a safe New Years weekend. Here’s to 2017, you guys! I hope it is at least half as great as 2016 was from a sports perspective. Let’s have some more fun!