Ron Cook: Some towns deserve better, even Cleveland

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At the risk of being sacrilegious as a lifelong Pittsburgher, I’m rooting for Cleveland. I hope LeBron James decides to take his talents back to the Cavaliers. I’m pulling for James to lead his hometown team to an NBA title, ending a championship drought in Cleveland that has gone on for nearly half a century.

Can we agree?

Hasn’t Cleveland suffered enough?

It has been so bad for so long in America’s most woebegone sports city that it makes you wonder what will happen there if James elects to return to the Miami Heat. Cleveland people have convinced themselves that James is coming back to finish the job that was interrupted four years ago when he left for South Beach as a free agent, humiliating Cleveland in the process with that ridiculous “The Decision” show on ESPN.

Back then, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert accused James of “a cowardly betrayal.” Fans were furious, burning James’ No. 23 Cavaliers jersey in the streets. Their Chosen One had failed to deliver a championship despite twice leading the team to the best record in the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers came close in 2007, losing in four games to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals. In James’ final season in Cleveland, they were beaten by the Boston Celtics in the 2010 playoffs, prompting Gilbert to accuse James publicly of quitting on his team.

Well, don’t look now, but Gilbert and Cavaliers fans are begging James to come home. He is from Akron, Ohio. The fans will be absolutely crushed if James picks the Heat again. He took Miami to four consecutive NBA Finals, winning the championship in 2012 and 2013.

Knowing Cleveland’s miserable sports history, it’s easy to bet on James breaking the city’s heart again.

Even before James, the Cavaliers knew disappointment. One of the most famous shots in NBA history was Michael Jordan’s winning jumper over Craig Ehlo in the 1989 playoffs at Cleveland’s Coliseum at Richfield. “The Shot,” as it is known simply, has been replayed on television at least a million times. You can almost feel Cleveland’s tears each time.

The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948. They nearly went in 2007, blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Championship Series, losing the final three games, 7-1, 12-2 and 11-2. They nearly won in 1997, blowing a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 against the Florida Marlins and losing, 3-2, in 11 innings. You want to make Cleveland fans sick? Mention Jose Mesa.

The Browns haven’t won an NFL championship since 1964, Cleveland’s most recent major title. Pittsburgh has won 12, for comparison’s sake. The Browns haven’t even been to a Super Bowl. The Steelers have played in eight. Everybody knows the Browns came close a couple of times. If you are feeling especially nasty and really want to pile on Cleveland fans, mention “The Drive” and “The Fumble.”

None of that agony matched the pain Cleveland felt when it lost the Browns after the 1995 season. Cleveland is a great football town with fans every bit as loyal and passionate as Steelers fans. One day, those fans were cheering for their team. The next day, the Browns were the Baltimore Ravens. Cleveland still hasn’t forgiven former Browns owner Art Modell. It hasn’t recovered, either, even though the NFL gave it the new Browns before the 1999 season. The Browns have made it to the playoffs just one time since. They have lost at least 11 games each of the past six seasons. Oh, yes, the new Browns are 5-26 against the Steelers. Is that piling on?

I have no idea who is running the Browns these days. They change owners, general managers and coaches at least every other week. The franchise has had 20 starting quarterbacks since the 1999 season. All of Cleveland is counting on No. 21 being the savior, but, really, would it surprise anyone if Johnny Manziel does something stupid and gets suspended before the start of training camp? Knowing Manziel’s character? Knowing Cleveland’s rotten luck?

James can make all of the anguish go away. If you have a heart and any kind of human decency, how can you not be rooting for Cleveland? Heaven help it if James takes his talents back to South Beach.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the “Cook and Poni” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

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