Let’s start this off with a nod to 2016.
What a year for sports.
The two biggest events of the year?
Well, they are pretty related.
The Cleveland Cavaliers and Chicago Cubs, two of the longest drought stricken teams both came back from 3-1 deficits to win a championship. Two of the most passionate fan bases, two of the biggest parades in sports history. As a matter of fact, the Cubs parade in Chicago was the seventh largest gathering in human history at an estimated 5 million. Cleveland’s drew 1.3.
What else would we expect? Cleveland had not had a title of any kind in 52 years. Cubs fans hadn’t celebrated one in 108 years. Their reactions were passionate, emotional, genuine. We saw one gentleman travel to his father’s grave to listen to Game 7 of the World Series as he promised he would listen to the game with him if the Cubs ever made the World Series. His father passed in the early 80’s. We witnessed families led by grandfathers and fathers who grew up life long fans of Cleveland sports celebrate a title for the first time, sharing the moment with their children wearing shirts that read “Won While I Was Alive.”
It’s basketball and baseball. Apples and oranges. They are hard to compare.
But in this day and age, comparisons keep the sports media alive, and putting my personal Cleveland bias aside, if I had to pick which one of these championships really meant more, I think the answer is quite obvious.
Cleveland and Chicago. They both are very proud sports towns, but one would have to really reach to say that Chicago has endured more misery than Cleveland. As a matter of fact, it would be a reach to argue that any sports town had received as much grief as Cleveland has. Chicago is the fan base as passionate as Cleveland, but they have much more to hang their hats on.
Chicago actually ranks third in the nation for total amount of sports championships behind New York and Boston. Cleveland is a third place tie for eighth when you account for NFL, AFL, AAFC Championships, the majority all occurring before the 60’s.
The Cubs aren’t even the only MLB franchise in Chicago. The White Sox are located in the same city, have won six American League pennants placing fifth all time for wins in the American League. They also have won three World Series titles, the last occurring in 2005.
The Blackhawks, an NHL franchise, has won six Stanley Cup championships, and the NFL’s Chicago Bears have won eight NFL championships and one Super Bowl.
The basketball portion of Chicago isn’t all that starved either.
Michael Jordan led the Bulls to a decade of dominance in the 1990’s, winning six titles in 9 years. It’s completely plausible that had Jordan not retired to play baseball for the majority of two seasons, and not retired in 1999 during a shortened lock out season, that the Bulls could have ran the table for the entire decade winning three more titles. Speaking of that guy, Jordan, he led the Bulls through the Eastern Conference at the expense of another city, Cleveland.
One of Jordan’s most memorable moments came in 1989 when he hit “The Shot” to eliminate Craig Ehlo and the Cleveland Cavaliers from the Playoffs, and during his Wizards years at the turn of the century, Jordan, in his early 40’s, did it to Cleveland again, only this time in the regular season.
Simply put: Michael Jordan owned Cleveland.
Cleveland doesn’t have much to hang their hats on.
The last world championship before 2016 was in 1964 when the Cleveland Browns led by Jim Brown won the NFL championship in the pre-Super Bowl era.
The Cleveland Indians, the team the Cubs defeated, had appeared in the 1995 and 1997 World Series, losing both. They won in 1920 and 1948, with their current drought the longest active World Series drought, and the fifth longest in baseball history.
The Cavaliers were hot in the late 80’s and early 90’s, but never won anything. They made their first NBA Finals in 2007 with a notoriously bad roster led by LeBron James, who for the most part, did it alone.
When James left for Miami in 2010, the Cavs went from a 60 win team to the worst team in the league every season until James returned in 2014, when they made back to back Finals appearances in 2015 and 2016.
The fashion that the Cavaliers finally won their first franchise title will likely never be replicated. The Golden State Warriors were led by the first ever unanimous league MVP and claimed the best regular season record in NBA history, beating Chicago’s 72-10 record by one game, finishing 73-9. The Warriors led 3 games to 1, a lead no NBA team had ever lost in league history. The Cavaliers not only tied the series, but they won two of the last three games on the road in an arena the Warriors finished 39-2 playing in.
Add in the narrative of the James factor. This was the culmination of an entire career’s worth of expectation. The Cavaliers tanked in 2002 to win the first pick of the 2003 Draft, where they took nearby Akron’s own LeBron James. Billed as the man destined to end the drought, James fulfilled his promise and expectation to “Light Cleveland up like Las Vegas” by bringing this trophy back to Cleveland. The home town native who left, and came back to end the longest sports drought of any city in history certainly adds to the Cleveland story line.
The Cubs also came back from a 3-1 deficit, but it was far from the first time in league history. Including the Cubs this year, eight times a team has gone down 3 games to 1 and came back to win the series. The Cubs were the eighth team.
The Cubs World Series win is a big moment for sports, it’s a feel good story, but it’s not the moment of the year. It’s not the defining Championship for title starved franchises, and it’s not the moment that will define 2016. The Cubs delivered a World Series to their franchise for the first time in 108 years, but it was the eleventh pro sports title for Chicago since 1964. The Cavaliers title was the first title of any kind since 1964.
Congratulations Chicago, you added to your legacy of Championships.
Congratulations Cleveland, you finally brought one trophy home for the decades of humility you suffered, and embraced.
The Cubs broke a franchise curse, and the Cavaliers broke a city curse.
Regardless of how you feel, we can all agree on one thing:
What a time it has been.