Cleveland is starving for a world championship in professional sports, but on Friday night in Toronto, its Cavaliers once again found a place at the table in the NBA Finals.
In an unprecedented basketball moment, a turn of events not seen in northeastern Ohio in over 50 years, a team from “Believeland” earned the right to play for a world title in a second straight season. Before the Finals begin in June, it’s worth noting the magnitude of what the Cavaliers achieved in Game 6 against the Raptors. A second straight Eastern Conference championship marks an historic moment in Cleveland’s largely barren sports history.
Understand this about the Cavs’ back-to-back Eastern Conference titles: As easy as they might have been in terms of how each of the past two East Finals series actually unfolded, they remain unique in the franchise’s history. The maiden voyage to the NBA Finals in 2007 was followed by the rise of the Boston Celtics in 2008. Only now can Cleveland claim consecutive conquests of the East.
The Indians reached the 1995 and 1997 World Series, but they never made back-to-back World Series appearances at any point in the franchise’s history. The NFL Browns have never reached a Super Bowl since the event began in 1967. The Browns have played for the NFL title in consecutive years, but not since 1965. Cleveland is therefore able to boast of an achievement which hasn’t visited the Great Lakes metropolis in over half a century.
Think of that before you huffily sneer at or dismiss what the Cavs have achieved.
Yes, the Finals will be the true measure of this team. Yes, the upcoming series against Oklahoma City (or maybe Golden State) will create the lasting memory of the 2016 Cavs, for better or worse. Nevertheless, doing something not done since Lyndon Johnson was president and Bill Russell was playing basketball should merit some applause and appreciation.
What’s more is that this Eastern Conference title affirms another point about the Cavs: Far more than in the uncertain 2015 season, when it was harder to peg how LeBron James would perform in his second go-round with the team — under a coach he never got along with — this season showed that Cleveland has been the worst-covered team in the NBA.
It’s not a debate, folks.
Remember the hysteria which was thrown in this team’s direction in March, after a loss to the Brooklyn Nets?
At the time, even the most thoughtful columns were couched in terms which suggested a full-blown crisis.
(Note: Writers do not write their own headlines. The editors of websites insert them to get pageviews. Nevertheless, the effect on readers and the general public is unmistakable, and should be viewed quite negatively within the realm of media criticism.)
— CBS Sports NBA (@CBSSportsNBA) March 25, 2016
Regardless of whether certain writers or publications genuinely thought Cleveland was in danger of losing the East this year, enough “Cavs in trouble” columns (and TV segments, and podcasts, and radio shows) proliferated to suggest the idea.
Much as American “cable news” outlets (the term deserves to be in quotes, signifying something which is technically true but hardly authentic in terms of practice) are covering Donald Trump because they know he’ll deliver ratings, the basketball media industry falls so easily into “LeBron Crisis Mode” because it knows the clicks will follow. It’s intellectually and substantively bankrupt, but it’s the mentality the blogging business encourages. It’s the philosophy most embodied on television and broadcast media by First Take.
It makes business sense, but it remains terrible in terms of the quality of coverage provided. It always will. The desire to portray the Cavs as a team in crisis — whether intellectually sincere or not on the part of the writers who poured forth all those columns in late March and early April — makes Cleveland the worst-covered team in the NBA.
By not merely winning the East Finals against Toronto, but winning easily enough (in Game 6) that this six-game series won’t be remembered as a particularly close battle, the Cavaliers re-established themselves as the best team in the East by a large margin. They slipped in Games 3 and 4, ever-so-briefly validating the idea that their dwelling was a house of sand and fog, but by winning Games 5 and 6 by an average of 33 points, they swatted away that notion.
The 2015 season — marked by Cleveland’s struggle to eclipse the .500 mark in the middle of January — represented a time when LeBron and David Blatt, thrown together in new circumstances, had to earn a measure of trust from each other, their teammates, and the NBA community at large.
This 2016 season, for all the turmoil it might have involved, was nothing like 2015. If anyone wrote a single Cavs-in-crisis column during the 2016 season (with the sole allowable exception of the aftermath of the 132-98 loss to the Warriors on Jan. 18), it was one column too many.
Yes, we’re all waiting for the Finals, the series which will say the most about the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers. For now, though, do appreciate what it means for the Cavs and their city to win consecutive conference championships for the first time in their NBA existence.