Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lit up like Vegas

OK, now what? A Cleveland team has made it to the NBA Finals. How exactly do we handle this prosperity stuff?

When the Ping Pong balls bounced our way in 2003, meaning Akron native LeBron James was staying home, he promised us that he was going to light Cleveland up like Las Vegas. But who really believed him? In the city that names its sports tragedies, that was like the hottest girl in school promising to call you sometime. Believe it, and you're going to the prom dateless.

But something happened. LeBron lived up to the hype immediately, debuting with 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds, and four steals against the Sacramento Kings. Sure, the Cavs lost -- like usual. Sure they went just 35-47 that first year. Sure, they choked their way out of a playoff spot the following season by losing three of their last five games. Sure, they choked away a great chance to beat the Detroit Pistons in the conference semifinals last season. Sure, they looked like just another Cleveland team that would litter our memories with broken promises.

But something was happening. And when LeBron James finally ascended to his throne in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Pistons, scoring 29 of the Cavs' last 30 points en route to a double-overtime victory over the Pistons, we all believed again.

And something's happening. It's different this time, with a transcendant player leading the way, someone with the confidence of an action hero. Someone talented enough to put his team and a city on his back. Someone young enough to help erase the past while remembering everything that's happened before.

Our last chance at a championship came when the Indians made the World Series 10 years ago. And that's really not that long ago. But a lot's happened between now and then. The Browns were gone, came back to much fanfare, but spent most of their new lives wobbling around on legs not strong enough to hold up a newborn pony. The Indians began shedding their most popular players as well as their fans, taking us to the precipice of the playoffs in 2005 before leaving us sitting outside the dance and then going back into the tank. And the Cavs were basically irrelevent, with six straight losing seasons.

Now? Now the Cavs have a chance to win almost as many games this postseason (16) as they did in all of the 2002-03 season (17), the final year without LeBron. And we have a chance to exorcise the demons of the past.

Can we handle it?

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