Sunday marked the end of the most infamous championship drought in American professional sports, as the Cleveland Cavaliers erased 52 years of frustration by winning the city’s first championship since the Browns won the 1964 NFL championship.
Before Sunday, the first thing that came to mind when it came to Cleveland sports was heartbreak. The moments didn’t even have to be described — their names alone made the fans of Northeast Ohio shudder.
Red Right 88.
Game 7 of the 1997 World Series.
Each one saw Cleveland teams come tantalizingly close to glory, only to have the rug pulled out from them in the most devastating way possible.
While Sunday’s win won’t make long-suffering Cleveland fans hate John Elway or Michael Jordan any less, or erase the pain Earnest Byner still feels after what happened at the goal line at Denver’s Mile High Stadium in January 1988, It moves Cleveland off the top of the list when it comes to America’s longest championship drought.
That title now belongs to San Diego, which last experienced a title when the Chargers won the AFL crown in 1963. Buffalo (51 years), Milwaukee (45) and Portland (39) occupy spots 2-4.
What city is fifth?
Hint: it sits to the east of the Oquirrh Mountains and is named for a rather large body of water.
That’s right. Salt Lake City hasn’t won a championship in one of the four major sports (that means Real Salt Lake’s MLS Cup title doesn’t count for this argument) since the Jazz came to town in 1979 — 37 years ago. The other cities ahead of Salt Lake City each have at least one championship to their name.
That begs the question: will it ever be Utah’s turn?
The Jazz certainly came close during the heyday of Karl Malone and John Stockton. It can be argued that they ran into the only team that possibly could have stopped them when they lost back-to-back NBA Finals series to the Jordan-led Chicago Bulls.
Today, the excuse is that star players don’t want to come to Salt Lake City. They find it too small. Too quiet. Too boring.
So you’re telling me they’d rather go to Cleveland, aka “The Mistake by the Lake?” Or Detroit, which is the poster child for urban blight and where the Pistons play in an even older building than Utah’s Vivint Smart Home Arena?
The excuse is just that — an excuse. Players aren’t going to Cleveland because it’s Cleveland. They’re going there because LeBron James is there. Players didn’t go to Detroit for any other reason than to play with Chauncey Billups and Ben Wallace 10 years ago. Oklahoma City, anyone?
If the Jazz can make a trade for a superstar or draft a player who can take Utah deep into the playoffs, suddenly Salt Lake City doesn’t sound like such a bad place to be. Wednesday’s addition of veteran George Hill via trade isn’t quite a big enough splash, but it does give the Jazz an interesting core of talented players with Hill joining Shelvin Mack, Rodney Hood, Gordon Hayward and Trey Lyles, among others.
The Jazz can take a big step toward being the next small-market success story with just one big name. They could be like the Carmelo Anthony-era Denver Nuggets, a squad that plays third fiddle behind football and hockey during the winter in its own city that managed to come within two games of the NBA Finals in 2009. Or they could be like the Kevin Garnett-era Minnesota Timberwolves squad that went to the Western Conference Finals with help from Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell.
They could even be the second coming of the 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers. All it takes is one big move and a little luck, and the glory days could come to downtown Salt Lake City once again.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. Even as a Denver sports fan who was on the winning end of The Drive and The Fumble, he’s still happy that Cleveland finally broke through. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.