Bling and baseball: Cleveland at center of sports storm

ABS-CBN Sports on Oct 26, 2016 03:16 PM
Bling and baseball: Cleveland at center of sports storm
Cleveland Cavaliers players and executives watch as the championship banner is raised before a basketball game against the New York Knicks in Cleveland, Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Phil Long)

TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) — Welcome to the center of the sports galaxy — Cleveland, Ohio.

On the same night the Cavaliers played their season-opening game and raised last year's NBA championship banner, the Indians hosted Game 1 of baseball's World Series against the Chicago Cubs next door at Progressive Field.

And an extraordinary night ended just right — the Cavs won against New York, and so did the Indians, who beat the Chicago Cubs 6-0.

This type of thing never happened in Cleveland, where sports heartbreak was passed down from generation to generation like family heirlooms. But those days are over. This is a new Cleveland — city of champions.

The Cavs flipped that tired script earlier this year when they stormed back from a 3-1 deficit to shock Golden State and give Cleveland its first title in major league sport since 1964, when the Browns won the NFL title. Before receiving their rings on Tuesday — about an hour before the Indians and Cubs got started — Cleveland re-lived those special days earlier this summer when one its teams finally fought its way all the way to the top.

LeBron James was the final player to be introduced and handed his 6.5 karat ring by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver. After slipping it on his hand, James, the kid from Akron who delivered on his promise to win a title for Cleveland, looked at the jewelry with admiration and perhaps some astonishment.

Yes, it really happened. Here.

"This is for you guys," James told the crowd, repeating a message he screamed after the Cavs won Game 7 at Oracle Arena on June 19. "This is all for you."

James paused and then reminded Cleveland that it remains underdogs — even in victory.

"At this point, if you're not from here, live here, play here ... then it makes no sense for you to live at this point," said the three-time champion. "Cleveland against the world."

James made sure to wish luck to the Indians, who overcame adversity all season and won their first American League pennant since 1997. They're trying to end a 68-year Series title drought against the Cubs, those lovable losers 108 years removed from their last championship.

Once the pomp and pageantry ended, James posted a triple-double as the Cavs opened the season with a 117-88 win over the New York Knicks. The Cubs-Indians game was shown on smaller scoreboards during timeouts and James, now 3-0 in ring ceremony games, applauded from the bench when he saw Robert Perez's homer give Cleveland a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning.

"Very emotional, man," he said of the ceremony, "and our fans deserve everything that they got tonight and everything that's going to come in the future. They've been supportive of all the sports here and especially us, so it's great to have a moment like that."

Silver introduced Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, who has spared no expense in building a super team. Cleveland's starting five this season will make $100 million in salary.

"When this is all over and that banner goes up there, there is really only one thing left to do — repeat," Gilbert said. "And, go Tribe."

In the hours leading up to the ceremony and Game 1, fans of the Indians, Cavs — and a sizeable contingent of Cubs backers — posed for photos around the two buildings. They were savoring a day many never dreamed possible.

Indians outfielder Coco Crisp stopped and signed autographs on his stroll to work. For Crisp, in his second stint with Cleveland after the Indians traded for him in August, the chance to play in the World Series for the team he started with is beyond special.

"It's a dream come true," said Crisp, who also played for the Indians from 2002-05. "To be here now in this situation is unbelievable. And for Cleveland, I mean, what a day. These fans have done a great job of keeping the faith."

It was rewarded by the Cavaliers, whose championship transcended all three teams and connected Clevelanders like nothing else.

Coach Tyronn Lue, who took over the Cavs midway through last season, shared the story of what it meant to a pair of fans he met after Cleveland won the title. The father and son approached Lue as he had dinner in Las Vegas.

Lue said the man told him, "You don't understand how much this means to the city of Cleveland. My dad is not alive but he supported all three sports every year. It's so sad he's not here to see this. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart."

"Then he broke down and started crying," Lue said. "That was one of the best moments I experienced this summer."

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