You knew this one was coming. You just knew it.
While the Cavaliers ended a city’s long-standing drought of a professional championship by being the kings of the basketball world in 2016, it really hasn’t negated all the pain and heartbreak over the years with the Cavs, Browns, and Indians. Worse, since the Cavaliers won it, we’ve seen more heartbreak in Cleveland and more bad luck with the Browns (1-31 in 2016 and 2017) and the Indians (blowing a 3-1 World Series lead in 2016 and then losing in the first round after being up 2-0 and having a 20-game winning streak earlier in the year and winning 100 games for the first time since 1995).
So what gives that makes the teams in this town so cursed? It seems like every year when a Cleveland team is in the thick of it, they find a way to blow it apart. While you youngsters have probably always thought the Browns were putrid, the teams of the 80’s were most certainly not and had a few chances to find their way to the Super Bowl, but heartbreaking game after heartbreaking game took place and Cleveland fell apart. The Cavs, even before and during LeBron’s stints, had some heart-ripping moments. The Indians, for the last 25 years have experienced numerous heartbreaking moments as they could have seen a couple of world championships roll through the Lake. So let’s divulge a little bit.
CLEVELAND: CLEVELAND INDIANS (2 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS, LAST IN 1948), CLEVELAND BROWNS (NO SUPER BOWLS), CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP, LAST IN 2016); CHAMPIONSHIP DROUGHT OF 2 YEARS
CLEVELAND INDIANS: 2 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (1920, 1948); DROUGHT OF 70 YEARS
To go through a historic franchise like the Indians have will take me a day in its own right. So I will start with the Indians really in the 90’s. Before that, the Indians hadn’t been relevant to Major League Baseball since the early 50’s when they had the likes of Lou Boudreau, Larry Doby, Al Rosen, Early Wynn, and Bob Lemon dominated. In 1954, Cleveland won 111 games, a major league record until when the 98 Yankees broke it. However, the Indians were swept by the Giants and Willie Mays (where the highlight of the series was Mays’s over the shoulder catch). Cleveland contended yearly in the 50’s, but really from 1960-1991 they were horrid. The 70’s were rough and the 80’s would like to be forgotten by most Indians fans (two 100-loss seasons in 3 years and they were the only AL East team never to win the division in that decade, but to me that was probably one of the most roughest, toughest divisions in professional sports history for that period of time (maybe I should do a blog on that), but Cleveland was really never figured in the mix (save for 1986 when they won 84 games and finished 5th). The 80’s and early 90’s were messes and it never had the vibe Cleveland would ever get out of that rut. For today’s fans, while we like to make jokes on the Browns of being putrid and garbage, the Indians were the Browns of that time period.
However, despite a season in 1991 where the Tribe lost 105 games, things were on the rise. The Indians farm system was starting to produce stars such as Kenny Lofton, Albert Belle, Carlos Baerga, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, and others. In a few short years, the Indians fielded a team full of all-stars all over the place. The Indians went from being a joke of the American League to the powerhouse of the American League by 1995, when they won 100 games in the post-strike shortened season.
Cleveland advanced into the 1995 World Series against the Atlanta Braves, who somewhat encountered their own small path similar to Cleveland before the Indians did, but not to the length like the Indians. The Braves, partly due to more experience and better pitching throughout, brought down Cleveland in 6 games but the Braves pitching stuffed the powerful Indians bats, including Tom Glavine one-hitting the Tribe in the final game of the World Series. But hope never seemed to be lost to the Indian fans.
Cleveland continued dominating in 1996, and were considered the favorites to win it all. They slugged teams to death from beginning to end and really had zero competition in the American League Central so they cruised to the playoffs, only to have the Baltimore Orioles club Cleveland in the ALDS, beating the Tribe in 4 games. After the season ended, what felt like the first cracks of the Indians hope had started to take place.
Albert Belle, the talented, yet very controversial slugger, left the Indians to the hated White Sox via free agency before the 1997 season and days before the start, the Tribe sent all-star Kenny Lofton to Atlanta for Marquis Grissom and David Justice, giving questions by Cleveland fans of “what is going on?”
Cleveland didn’t “dominate” like they had in 1995 and 1996, never really beating teams down and while there wasn’t any major threat within the division, they didn’t really fend off the Milwaukee Brewers until late in the year. Instead of being the heavy favorites going into October, they were more of an afterthought as many believed the other three teams (Orioles, Yankees, Mariners) had far better teams and all-around squads as opposed to Cleveland’s bash the ball squad. However, they took down the defending champion Yankees and took down Baltimore in 6 as the vision of Roberto Alomar taking strike 3 down the middle to end the series is still a vision I see today. Cleveland went to face the “best team money could buy” Florida Marlins in the World Series. The entire series was a seesaw series with some classic games happening. But Game 7 is what we will know most (and most Indians fans still like to forget). The Indians took a 2-0 lead after 3 innings and held that way until the 7th inning before Bobby Bonilla (a curse to Mets fans) homered to make it 2-1. The 9th inning came, with Cleveland still up 2-1. Mesa blew the save by giving up a sacrifice fly to Gregg Zaun to push it to 11 innings. In the bottom of the 11th, the Indians Tony Fernandez made an error on the ball and a couple of batters later, the Marlins won on a see-through single by Edgar Renteria. The curse was building and Mesa’s blown save has gone down into lore as he mightily struggled in the World Series. Many thought he was the wrong move to be put in that situation too.
From 1998-2001, Cleveland remained near atop of the division and mostly winning the divisional title in the weak AL Central. However, the Tribe was overthrown by the Yankees as being the favorites every year. Cleveland lost to New York in the 1998 ALCS, and then they blew a 2-0 lead in 1999 to Boston in the ALDS where the last three games Cleveland gave up 44 runs (including a 23-run outing to Boston in Game 4) and then Pedro shut Cleveland down after the Tribe scored 8 runs after 3 innings. 2000 saw the Indians actually relinquish the AL Central to the up-and-coming Chicago White Sox. After the season Cleveland was unable to keep Manny Ramirez as he left for Boston.
2001 saw the Tribe win the division and were somewhat a sleeper as many started to write the team off. They held a 2-1 series lead to the record breaking Mariners squad in the first round, but failed to close it out and Seattle found a way to win the series. It would end the string for the Indians being a threat to the American League as really the next five seasons they really didn’t have a lot happening besides Jim Thome leaving for Philadelphia and losing out on the Wild Card to Boston on the last day of the season in 2005.
Cleveland rebounded in 07 winning the American League Central with the likes of Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia, Grady Sizemore, and Travis Hafner. They took down the Yankees in the ALDS in 4 and held a 3-1 ALCS series lead to Boston, where once again, Cleveland’s pitching imploded, giving up 30 runs in the final 3 games to Boston as the Red Sox won the series.
The Indians in 08 were expected to contend for the title, but struggled in part with players unable to keep healthy, the pitching (notice a trend?), and the Tribe was out of it by the trade deadline and moved CC Sabathia to Milwaukee.
For the next four years Cleveland returned to the doldrums of the American League, being irrelevant to the division where it had really been dominated by Detroit. However, a new batch of Tribe players were coming through such as Corey Kluber, Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, and Jason Kipnis. During the 2013 season, Cleveland surprised many and hung around Detroit in the AL Central, finishing 1 game back of the strong Tigers squad (had they have been able to beaten the Tigers at all that year, they would have won the division), but lost out to Tampa Bay in a 1-game playoff in Cleveland. The next two seasons, Cleveland didn’t live up to the hope or hype as the Indians were finishing 3rd place and being a .500 squad. However, in 2016 and 2017 had that feel of the mid-90’s where the Tribe dominated, but more of pitching this go around with Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar. Kluber had probably been the best pitcher the Indians had in 30-40 years (yes, I’m including him over Sabathia and Lee).
2016 saw the Indians dominate October, thumping Boston in a sweep and then taking Toronto out in 5 games getting to their first World Series in 19 years against the Cubs. Cleveland, once again had a 3-1 series lead (feels like I’ve typed that time after time) and failed to put it way. Yes, most of it had to do with the pitching as the arms started to wane down the stretch (though Kluber pitched out of his mind until Game 7). However, in Game 7, Cleveland made an epic comeback in the 9th, scoring 3 runs, capped off by Rajai Davis game-tying 2-run home run to push it into extras. At that point even I thought it would be Cleveland’s game. However, the next inning, the oft-reliable bullpen fell backwards a bit, giving up 2 runs. The Indians had a strong chance to tie and even win the game in the bottom of the 10th but came up short, furthering the heartbreak for Indians fans, and somewhat stinging the euphoria Cleveland fans had after the Cavs had won the NBA Finals months prior.
2017 saw a better Indians team winning 20 games in a row late in the year and the Tribe also winning 100 games for the first time since 1955. While the offense never really resembled the slugging squads in the 90’s there were quality players around with Lindor, Ramirez, Carlos Santana, and Edwin Encarnacion. The pitching however was stout with Kluber winning his 2nd Cy Young with Carrasco pitching strong and Mike Clevinger somewhat coming out of nowhere to be a quality starter. But it was the bullpen that dominated. Many felt it was Cleveland’s year in 2017 and they started out with a young Yankees team.
And once again….the Indians held a 2-game series lead on a team, unable to put the series away. This time it was not really the pitching but the hitting that fell apart (though the pitching crashed a bit in the final game), scoring only 5 runs in the final 3 games, thus really sensing that Cleveland is in a curse with the Indians. Maybe the political correct fans are saying it is the usage of Chief Wahoo as it has no business in today’s age to use. I have a “second” theory of that later on.
CURSED MOVE: The Curse of Rocky Colavito feels like it is a huge one as Cleveland made many porous moves over the years keeping them near the bottom of the AL from the 60’s through the 90’s. Colavito was a star slugger who won the HR title with Cleveland in 1959 and the Indians traded him to the Tigers for batting champ Harvey Kuenn. Colavito was a hero to the Indians fans and they were furious on the trade. Kuenn spent one year in Cleveland and Colavito had a nice run in Detroit, but Colavito never had the same popularity in Detroit as it was in Cleveland (Tigers had Al Kaline as Detroit’s hero). Many view it as that. People say going from League Park to the monstrous Municipal Stadium was the cursed move as the Indians played losing baseball there. But the Tribe has played in a beautiful ballpark in Progressive Field for 23 years and still haven’t garnered a whole lot of luck. But I’m looking at the Tribe’s recent history. I know I will have disagreements with this one, but letting Albert Belle walk was the cursed move. “But he stunk really after Cleveland and the Tribe still played great without him!” Yes, VERY true. However, while it didn’t have the negative effect on the Indians on the field, but it paved the way for Indians stars like Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez to leave via free agency. It was also somewhat of a trigger with Cleveland trading Lofton away to Atlanta because of a fear of not being able to re-sign him (though they did after the 97 season coming back after one “meh” season from the Braves). But it may have also been a key reason why CC Sabathia was traded too. So really while there really hasn’t been one disastrous signing or trade, it was the Belle’s leaving that just had that vibe that the Indians wouldn’t keep their stars when the big payday arrived.
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: With this team in the past 23 years? To me seeing Renteria’s single in the 97 World Series to end it has to be the one. No team save the Texas Rangers 14 years later came THAT close to winning a World Series only to blow it like they did. And many go “yep, that’s Cleveland for you!”
CURSED RATING: 5/5 (SUPER CURSED): With the Indians losing to the Cubs in 2016, they now inherit the longest drought in baseball between World Series championships. Adding on, how many times have the Indians been able to close playoff series out and failed? I see 6 times on here that the Indians have failed to end a series where really they were in control and just somehow the bottom completely falls out on them. No team is more cursed than the Tribe in MLB.
CLEVELAND BROWNS: 0 SUPER BOWL CHAMPIONSHIPS
Similar to the Charlotte Hornets in basketball, you are talking about really two different franchises as there is the historic one that has been around since 1944. I’m not going to hit the heavy history stuff either though those Browns teams in the 50’s and 60’s thanks to Jim Brown who dominated the times. Cleveland was originally an NFL team but when the NFL/AFL merger happened, Cleveland was moved to the AFC, away from their NFL brethren such as Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota, and Chicago, but they weren’t the only ones as Baltimore and Pittsburgh joined them and were now in the same division as their old coach and owner Paul Brown and his new team, the Cincinnati Bengals. Instead of dominating the old AFL foes, Cleveland found themselves mostly near the bottom of the AFC Central in the 70’s, notably rival Pittsburgh who had been the team of that decade. But when the 80’s arrived, Cleveland returned near to the top. After winning the AFC Central in 1980 and having a first round bye, the Browns played the Raiders. The Raiders led 14-12 late and Cleveland was driving. However, instead of going for a field goal as kicker Don Cockroft was having an awful day for Cleveland (Cockroft said he was injured in that game), missing 2 FG’s an extra point, and another bad snap, Cleveland went for a touchdown. However, in the red zone, quarterback Brian Sipe misread the defense Oakland had and threw an interception to Mike Davis to end Cleveland’s chances. The play was called “Red Right 88” and while it isn’t the most famous (or infamous) of the names Cleveland had, it was the first of what was many to come. Had Sipe read the defense correctly, how things would have changed.
After a few years of “average” football, the Browns were at the forefront of the AFC with the 70’s teams of Pittsburgh a thing of the past and the major contenders were Denver and Miami. In 1986 with Marty Schottenheimer as the head coach, Cleveland started to become the AFC heavyweight with a quality quarterback in Bernie Kosar, . They had homefield throughout the playoffs, and beat the Jets in what really was a great game (yes, young people, the Jets and Browns were playing playoff football and were very good at that time). And then it was a battle with the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship. Cleveland fans know the story: 5 and a half minutes left with a 7 point lead. John Elway on his own two against an opportunistic defense with the howling wind against him. And Denver scores the game-tying touchdown with about 39 seconds left. Cleveland failed to score on the first drive in overtime and then Elway drove down again to get Denver into field goal territory and Rich Karlis buried the Browns hopes. What was not implied was Don Rogers, Cleveland’s star safety, had passed away from a cocaine overdose before the season began. Had he been alive and on the field, does “The Drive” even happen?
A year later, Cleveland shook off “The Drive” and won the division again. They beat the Colts in the Divisional playoff with ease, and faced Denver in the AFC Championship. However, Cleveland had to go to the Mile High City. Early on it seemed like it was all Denver, going up 21-3 and then 28-10. However, Kosar was having himself a day. Earnest Byner was having himself a day. Cleveland came back to tie the game at 31. Denver scored again with 6 minutes left from an Elway TD pass to Sammy Winder and then it was Cleveland’s turn to make a drive. And they were driving.
The Browns gave it to Byner, who was pretty much the reason for their comeback and was about to score but Jeremiah Castille stripped the ball out of Byner’s hands at the one and Denver recovered on their own two. Instead of having the Browns get it on more time, punter Mike Horan ran out of the end zone to end the game for a safety to give the Broncos another win over the Browns, thus for the second straight year, giving a nickname for Cleveland fans on the game: “The Fumble.”
A year later, the playoff heartbreaks continued with the Browns losing a home game to the Houston Oilers 24-23 in the Wild Card round and the Browns said bye to Schottenheimer for all his playoff woes (which he recovered a little bit when he coached Kansas City, but then the nightmares returned to him in San Diego). Bud Carson, who had been the Jets head coach before and the defensive coordinator for those Steel Curtain teams in the 70’s in Pittsburgh, took over. Byner was gone after the 88 season, being traded to Washington (where he would be a key factor in the Skins Super Bowl run in 1991) and moved up to get running back Eric Metcalf. Carson had some highlights in 1989 with the Browns, including winning against Denver in the regular season and finished at 9-6-1 surprisingly good enough for another first round bye. They squeaked by the upstart Bills team in the Divisional Round with a late interception sealing Buffalo’s chances of possibly starting their AFC run a year earlier and again headed to Denver. However, while the good news was there was no “Drive” or “Fumble” to go in lore, the Browns were decisively beaten by Denver in the AFC Championship.
However, after that game, that was it for the Browns and really the last time Cleveland would ever be relevant on a consistent level in the NFL. The next 4 years were forgetful and Carson didn’t even make it past the 1990 season (Cleveland fell to 3-13), but they brought in Bill Belichick in 1991 (yes, THAT Bill Belichick), after he came off being the defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. But from 91-93, the Browns remained at the bottom. In 1994, Cleveland got it together under Belicheck as the offense under quarterback Vinny Testaverde was being a solid player while the defense, coached by Nick Saban (yes, THAT Nick Saban) was near the front of the NFL. The Browns finished 11-5 and took a Wild Card where they beat the Patriots (yes, Belichick beat the Patriots in the last Browns playoff win), but fell apart in the Divisional round agianst the Steelers.
Saban left the coordinator spot to coach at Michigan State to start his storied college career (minus the speed-bump in Miami for the NFL before returning to build the Alabama dynasty) and the Browns defense fell apart in 1995, but it wasn’t the reason why it goes down into lore of heartbreak of the Browns fans. It was Art Modell, really out of the blue announced he would move the team to Baltimore at season’s end because of “money lost” throughout the years and not having up-to-date facilities. Cleveland nearly rioted after the announcement of “The Move.” It was controversial as Modell didn’t really hint at any point of moving the team anywhere and it was the only time the cities of the Midwest (Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Pittsburgh, etc.) were all aligned together in sports to protest the move. Modell did it anyway.
For three years, Cleveland did not hold a football team. In 1999, they were brought back with an expansion Browns team, but retaining the records and everything else from the Ravens. However, the 2nd stint of the Browns have been really forgettable while the “old” Browns, the Ravens, have won two Super Bowls, including Cleveland’s second year back in the NFL (has anybody seemed to notice something about the #2 for both the Indians and Browns? The Tribe always seemed to be up 2 games in playoff series before blowing it, the 2 yard line against Denver has been pretty symbolic, and this of Cleveland’s second year back). Cleveland drafted Kentucky QB Tim Couch with the first pick in 1999 as the guy to get back to relevance in Cleveland. And….not really. Couch had reportedly never had a playbook in Kentucky under Hal Mumme. When he played, he was streaky at best and in his first three years weren’t impressive as he was a bit of a turnover machine (43 INT’s in 3 seasons). In 2002, many wanted a switch between Couch and backup Kelly Holcomb, who played well in spurts whenever Couch was injured. Couch also had been ridiculed by boobirds in Cleveland for his porous play while he fired back on the Browns fans. However, it didn’t do him any good as it proclaimed him soft. Despite all of it, Cleveland made the playoffs in 2002 at 9-7 as they had some quality players (William Green, Dennis Northcutt, Robert Griffith, Dwayne Rudd, etc.), and a Wild Card match-up against the hated Steelers.
Holcomb started the Browns game and played well, having two separate times of Cleveland holding (wait for it) a two touchdown lead on Pittsburgh. However, Pittsburgh and quarterback Tommy Maddox came back from a 24-14 deficit to score 22 points (really?) in the 4th quarter including 15 points in the final 3:36 of the game to beat Cleveland 36-33 as Cleveland’s secondary had no answer. It would be the final playoff appearance for the Browns to date.
However, there may have been a bit of another “cursed” moment similar to what the Browns experienced in 1986 on “The Drive” during the regular season. Dwayne Rudd, the reliable and consistent linebacker he was, took his helmet off at the end of what was supposed to be a Browns win in Week 1 vs. Kansas City, but the play continued and was flagged 15 yards which netted a Chiefs Field Goal to win the game. Some felt that stuck with the Browns and could have won the division and maybe changed the outcome for the season despite the playoff appearance.
Since 2002, Cleveland has only had one winning season (2007, but failed to make the playoffs as it was a dog-eat-dog AFC that year, and the sweep by rival Pittsburgh on them proved costly including blowing a 21-9 halftime lead in Pittsburgh losing 31-28 on a late touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger from (you guessed it) 2 yards out with 3 minutes left in the game in Week 11.
Since then, thanks to poor drafts, numerous coaching changes, terrible pick-ups, numerous front office changes, etc. the Browns from 2008 to now, only has had one season where they lost less than 11 games. Every year has been 11 or more losses, which includes the 0-16 season from last year when they really weren’t too terrible (and probably by far better than the 1-15 squad in 2016), but the Browns continued making costly mistakes and coaching mistakes.
CURSED MOVE: The casual fan today would say “well if they had kept Belichick they would not have had all this mess.” Well, 1 playoff in 5 years for Belichick and honestly people laughed when New England hired him to coach. And Cleveland fans were angry that Belichick cut the longtime Browns quarterback in Kosar in 1993. So really that wasn’t it, though Belichick may have been proven right on the move. People point out Tim Couch as a cursed move because of his inconsistencies. But technically, he and Holcomb were the last quarterbacks to lead Cleveland to the playoffs. I’m going to say the cursed move was Johnny Manziel. The hilarity was on Draft night, Browns fans cheered like they won the Super Bowl with getting Manziel, a very gifted college quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy in 2012 and pretty much tortured Alabama in two games during their defensive dynasty run. However, Manziel had numerous troubles and issues off the field which really stunted his on-field troubles. He showed signs of brilliance in Cleveland, but rumors of him going to practice and team meetings hung over and really not listening to anybody within the organization made this pick of Manziel one of the worst and to me makes the Ryan Leaf pick to San Diego pale in comparison. However, Manziel wasn’t an NFL caliber QB but Cleveland and its fans thought they hit a home run with the move. I guess at some point if you’re a fan of a team with complete misery over the years, you will get excited on anything that looks shiny. In this case, the Browns and their fans looked silly in retrospect on Manziel. I still look back and laugh at Manziel coming out doing his silly “money” flash with his hands. Ironic because it really costed Cleveland’s franchise in the years after. Honorable mention is hiring Hue Jackson, who is really inept as a head coach and so far keeping him around for a 1-31 start to his coaching career.
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: “The Drive,” “The Fumble,” “Red Right 88,” “The Move,” take your pick. I won’t argue with any of them. Heck, anything involving the number #2 seems to be what is cursing the Browns. And this is their technically second go around so you have that….and then you have Tim Couch wearing the #2 with Cleveland. And you had TWO of the greatest coaches ever on one staff from 1991-1994 and the Browns were unable to do anything as neither one were at that point “great.” Hmmm…..
CURSED RATING: 5/5 (SUPER CURSED): It should be more like 1,000/5 but there ya go.
CLEVELAND CAVALIERS: 1 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP
Compared to the Indians and Browns, the Cavaliers have it made. Of course, that doesn’t mean the Cavs have been sitting pretty with their history. Cleveland started in the NBA in 1970-1971 and went 15-67. Typical for expansion. Not the problem. Really, the 70’s were just irrelevant for the Cavaliers as they only made 3 playoff appearances in the 70’s (though one year they did get into the Eastern Conference Finals losing to Boston in 6 but they held their own). Until the late 80’s the Cavaliers continued to be near the bottom of the Eastern Conference and felt like it was a consistent string of 50+ losses and even had a young George Karl to try to right the ship (but to no avail).
However when the late 80’s arrived, Cleveland had pieces working. Brad Daugherty was an all-star center. Mark Price was one of the better point guards in the NBA, and an all-star who could shoot from three. Ron Harper could shoot it and Larry Nance was one of the more gifted athletes in the NBA while having a quality bench with Hot Rod Williams and Craig Ehlo with a winning head coach in Lenny Wilkens. In 1989, Cleveland won 57 games, only finishing behind the Bad Boys Pistons in the Eastern Conference and claimed the 3rd seed behind Detroit and New York in the playoffs and then went to face off against Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan, a team Cleveland swept in the regular season in 6 games. And the series goes to 5 games and in the last minute both Chicago and Cleveland traded leads. Cleveland got the lead on Nance’s layup with 3 seconds left (couldn’t it have been 2 seconds left?) And the Bulls Brad Sellers inbounded it to Jordan, who was double-teamed by Ehlo and Nance to avoid getting the ball, but escaped both to get open. Sellers passed to Jordan, who dribbled to the foul line and hit the shot over Ehlo (where you hear the Bulls announcers say “the shot over Ehlo…GOOD! THE BULLS WIN!” with no time left. The video has gone into lore as we see Jordan jump and fist-pump while Ehlo fell to the ground in disbelief and has gone into Cleveland infamy (which stinks because he was always a quality guy off the bench all throughout his career). Of course, Chicago starts their meteoric rise to their dynasty (though it took 2 more years) while Cleveland didn’t recover.
The next two seasons were somewhat forgettable as Cleveland hovered around .500 both years (mostly because of injury to the likes of Nance & Daugherty and traded Harper early in the 1989-90 season) and either a first round playoff exit or missing the playoffs. However, Cleveland rebounded in 1992, having the 2nd best record again and getting to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time and taking the Bulls to 6 games in a tough series. The Cavs got back to the playoffs, winning 54 in 1993, and made it to the 2nd round where Chicago swept them and the series clinching shot was another buzzer-beater on the Cavs, this time over Gerald Wilkins.
After the season, Wilkens went to coach the Atlanta Hawks and the Cavs started to really age and transform to a half-court game where it was arguably the most boring brand of basketball (to go along with one of the worst jersey schemes ever). Cleveland’s injuries to Nance, Daugherty, and Price really took the sting out of their runs, and was really a “slightly above .500” squad with Fratello. From 1994-1998 Cleveland either was a first round casualty or had not seen the playoffs. After the lockout-shortened season saw Cleveland finish under .500 the Cavs tried to “speed things up” with hiring Randy Wittman, where things didn’t work as Cleveland lost 50+ in his two years. Wittman was the first of three in a line of coaches that made the Cavaliers the laughingstock of the NBA from 2000-2003.
However, Cleveland struck gold in winning the ping-pong ball in the 2003 NBA Draft, getting LeBron James, a nearby Akron native. James, out of high school, took the league by storm. Despite LeBron’s first two years in the NBA being stellar, Cleveland still hadn’t seen the playoffs with him under Paul Silas. So Cleveland hired Mike Brown and the Cavs took off, sending a string of teams deep into the playoffs yearly, where they had made it to the NBA Finals in James third appearance in the playoffs. However, Cleveland was considerably beaten in the playoffs by far more deeper teams (Heat, Pistons, Spurs, Celtics, Magic). And a frustration level for LeBron was mounting.
After the 2010 season where it ended in Cleveland winning 60+ games and failing to make the conference finals for the second straight time, LeBron said it was time to “take his talents to South Beach” in a live interview. My initial reaction was from a Simpsons show where Bart slowly shows Lisa a video of her telling Ralph Wiggum she didn’t like him as a boyfriend and saying “there you can see his heart being ripped out right there.” Cleveland was Ralph Wiggum in this case. Fans burned their LeBron jerseys as James won two world championships with the Heat and Cleveland went back into futility.
However, all was patched up after the 2014 season where LeBron returned back to the Cavaliers and Cleveland dominated the very weak Eastern conference from 2015-2018 going to the Finals each of the 4 seasons he was there. Of course, 2015-2016 was the year for Cavaliers fans as they saw the Cavs come back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the 73-9 Warriors team with LeBron making a clutch block late in the game and Kyrie Irving nailing a huge 3-pointer to end Cleveland’s sports misery, only temporarily. The next two years Cleveland got back to face Golden State, but the match-up was lopsided with the Warriors winning each time, winning 8 of 9 meetings. The last two seasons, LeBron seemed to be at odds with the Cavs management, not giving LeBron’s “wants” of certain players and such (which they did after their win against Golden State when he told the Cavs to keep JR Smith around-oops!) The last of the LeBron runs ended somewhat in Cleveland fashion with the Cavs going against the heavily favored Warriors and James himself having an amazing Game 1 only to be stopped by…JR Smith, thinking the game was over with the Cavs inning (when in reality it was tied) with seconds waning down in the 4th. You even heard Smith say “I thought it was tied” to a stunned LeBron. Golden State wins that game and destroys Cleveland the rest of the way. LeBron has left again, but this time Cavs fans “understand” as his career is past the halfway point, though it seems like it is the old high school story of “normal guy gets girl next door before she becomes super hot, she leaves him for the nice-looking guy at school with the cool car and the cool beach house (Miami), but when she realizes that that guy was not what she wants, she goes back to the boy and have a great run, but the time had ended to go their separate ways as she’s going on to bigger and better things in the future (Lakers and retirement) while the boy is wanting to find himself.”
CURSED MOVE: Well, probably trading Kyrie Irving makes some fans wonder if that was the beginning of the end for James second stint in Cleveland, but I think that wasn’t it. I’m going to say the Ron Harper trade where the Cavaliers got the second overall pick in the 1990 Draft that netted them Danny Ferry is somewhat of the poor move. Harper was a quality all around player for the Cavs and later on the Clippers. Ferry, while being a solid contributor for Cleveland but for being a #2 pick, you wanted someone with impact. Let’s say had Cleveland didn’t make that trade, the Cavs probably keep Harper and what may have been Loy Vaught (who really was about as solid as Ferry), and would have been a strong lineup that could have competed with the Pistons and Bulls in the late 80’s/early 90’s. But hey, Lenny Wilkens evidently loved trading star players to the Clippers and stunting the teams’ growth (see Dominique Wilkins and Atlanta).
DEFINING CURSED MOMENT: You really can’t go wrong with either Jordan’s shot over Ehlo or LeBron’s “Decision.” I have to say “The Shot” was it because it was coming off the Browns heartbreaks in Denver just a couple of years before. And you had to go “yep, Cleveland is cursed.
CURSED RATING: 2/5 (SOMEWHAT CURSED): Yes, the championship eases the sting, but as a few friends of mine say the 2016 championship hasn’t cured ALL ills of the city’s sports scene. And having LeBron come & go back & forth, well, that doesn’t help and having the greatest player ever moniker to only net one world championship hurts arguments that he is better than Jordan, who won 6 titles with the Bulls.
I failed to mention the Cleveland Barons, who were Cleveland’s NHL team in the late 70’s, only lasted two years. They relocated from Oakland to Cleveland and had small flashes of success (beating the defending champion Canadiens at home and taking down 3 of the powerhouses in Toronto, Buffalo, and the Islanders in one week), but losing 15 in a row doomed them. And the next season was a mess as Cleveland fans, fickle at times, weren’t showing up to the games. And adios Barons, as the team merged with the Minnesota North Stars.
Cleveland is without question, even with that 2016 world championship by the Cavaliers one of the most cursed cities in sports. In fact, since the Cavaliers won, there have already been numerous events on all three sports teams to give them more gut punches (2016 World Series, 1-31 by the Browns in the last two seasons, and JR Smith’s running around dribbling the ball out to send the game into overtime are enough right there). So the debate still rages that Cleveland is still cursed. And after writing about this forever, I wouldn’t disagree at all. And you do have to wonder of “what on planet earth did Cleveland do to have this much disaster and heartbreak?”
Maybe it has something with the number two.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat