Can LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers make history?
A week ago in this space, with the Cavs wobbling on the ropes, trailing the Golden State Warriors 3-1 in the NBA Finals and seemingly doomed to suffer a knockout punch, I wrote about how it looked like the dreaded "Cleveland Curse" was destined to continue.
After all, that star-crossed Ohio city hasn't won a major professional sports championship — National Football League, Major League Baseball or NBA — in over 50 years. Not since the Cleveland Browns claimed the National Football League crown in December 1964 has a major sports ballclub based in Cleveland been able to hoist a title trophy and stage a now long-overdue parade for its fans.
A couple of irritated readers sent me uncomplimentary, agitated-sounding emails, including one who chided me for being the kind of man who would gladly kick a team when it was down.
Then there were two very short notes from one person who quickly pointed out that Cleveland has indeed won a sports championship, referring to the American Hockey League title that was recently captured by the Lake Erie Monsters.
And I'm sure, with an intended tone of disgust, that guy's (or gal's) email was signed off each time by calling me a mild expletive which, for family newspaper purposes, we'll censor and revise just a bit while still trying to communicate a somewhat similar meaning: In their words, I am undoubtedly a "stupid donkey."
(Funny thing is, my mother-in-law once referred to me repeatedly by that same nickname for something I'd done that she thought was extremely dumb. Sadly but not surprisingly, my wife sided with her mom).
Well, here we are a week (and two Cleveland victories) later, and LeBron and the Cavs have valiantly forced a Game 7 showdown for all the NBA marbles tonight at Oakland.
No team in NBA history has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the Finals and won the championship. In fact, only three NBA teams have ever trailed 3-1 in the Finals and been able to push the title series to a Game 7 — the Cavs being just the third franchise to accomplish that difficult task — and it hasn't happened for 50 years.
Back in 1951, the New York Knicks were the first team to do it, battling back from a 3-0 Finals deficit against the Rochester Royals to win three straight games and send it to Game 7. Rochester, however, won the decisive game at home, 79-75.
In 1966, a Los Angeles Lakers team led by Jerry West and Elgin Baylor trailed the Bill Russell-led Boston Celtics 3-1 in the Finals. The Lakers, following a similar path as Cleveland has this year, won Game 5 on the road and then won Game 6 at home. But in Game 7 at Boston Garden, the Celtics prevailed 95-93 for their eighth straight NBA championship. They wound up winning 11 titles in 13 years.
That kind of dynasty most likely won't ever be seen again in any sport, but King James and the Cavs are on the doorstep of making some glorious history for themselves.
Sure, over the years, 10 NBA teams have rallied from 3-1 deficits to win playoff series, including Golden State in this year's Western Conference Finals. But nobody's ever been able to do it before in the NBA Finals.
Now the Cavaliers have a chance.
LeBron has been an absolute beast in Cleveland's do-or-die victories in Games 5 and 6, scoring 41 points each time. And now, he has his guys, his franchise and his long-tortured city in his home state on the verge of ending that agonizing curse once and for all.
Can he and Cavs do it? Can they actually knock off the defending champion Warriors, who won a league-record 73 games during the regular season, three straight times on their way to the title?
Wouldn't that be a dandy Father's Day gift for two or three generations of long-suffering Cleveland dads who've never seen one of their teams bring home a championship?
It'd be magnificently historic if they did, and it would help cement LeBron's legacy as one of the game's greatest players and most determined competitors ever. Winning two of the last three games of the Finals on the road, after trailing 3-1, would almost elevate him to Russell-Magic-Jordan status.
Now only history, and a very strong Golden State squad trying to go back-to-back and playing on its raucous home court, stands in his way.
Will Cleveland finally squash its reputation as "The City That Always Weeps?"
We'll find out tonight.