CLEVELAND (AP) — With the city’s 52-year-old championship drought finally over, bleary-eyed fans next look forward to a Wednesday parade for the victorious Cavaliers and northeast Ohio’s homegrown star, LeBron James.
Yes, Cleveland rocks. But it’s also on a roll.
The city is preparing for the Republican National Convention, which is scheduled to begin next month at Quicken Loans Arena, where the Cavs play. An estimated 50,000 people are expected to come to town for an event that will draw even more attention than usual, with Donald Trump as the presumptive nominee.
One of the city’s leading civic figures says the significance of the Cavs’ win stretches beyond the realm of sports.
Cleveland is the prototypical Rust Belt city, suffering from population losses, entrenched poverty and a string of horrific crimes. But it’s also enjoying a renaissance, its downtown housing in great demand and its entertainment districts, high-end restaurants and tourist attractions like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum having dramatically changed perceptions about a city once known as the Mistake by the Lake.
“One of the things that has held Cleveland back over the last several decades is a lack of community self-confidence,” said David Gilbert, who heads the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and is president and CEO of the Cleveland 2016 Host Committee for the Republican National Convention.
“This championship was far more about a whole city than it was about a particular sports team.”
Cleveland’s title drought stretches back to 1964, when the Browns won the last of its NFL championships. The Cleveland Indians got within one out of a World Series title in 1997 before blowing a lead in Game 7.
The Cavaliers got to the NBA finals in 2007 with a younger James leading the team, but they got swept by the San Antonio Spurs. LeBron leaving Cleveland for Miami in 2010 demoralized the city, but his surprising return in 2014 gave Cleveland sports fans new hope. Last season’s loss in six games to the Golden State Warriors was not unexpected because of injuries to key players, but it did make the Cavaliers’ unprecedented comeback from a 3-1 deficit in this year’s final against the Warriors that much sweeter.
On Monday, fan loyalty was on full display in Cleveland. Cavaliers T-shirts and jerseys were the obvious fashion choice, worn casually with shorts and jeans but also matched with skirts, dress slacks and suits.
At the Tower City shopping mall, Brittany LeMar, 30, was waiting in line at a sporting goods store to buy a Cavs T-shirt. The native Clevelander now lives in North Carolina and said she couldn’t wait to flaunt her shirt to her friends when she returned home.
Ethan Moses, 25, wore the No. 5 jersey of Cavs player J.R. Smith over a pair of khakis Monday. He high-fived a security guard as he walked out of a downtown grocery store. Asked how he felt, Moses rattled off a list of superlatives.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said, smiling. “I can hardly speak.”
Moses said he and some high school friends rented a hotel room downtown to watch the game and then joined revelers on the street afterward, partying until around 3:30 a.m. Moses managed to get himself to work by 9 a.m. More than three hours later, he was still a little woozy.
“It’s the best hangover of my life,” he said with a laugh.