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Cleveland's Championship Drought Takes Its Toll On Exasperated Sports Fans

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Tonight's deciding game of the NBA playoffs pits the defending champion Golden State Warriors against their 2015 opponents, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs are also battling a disappointing Cleveland sports legacy. It's been five decades since a Cleveland professional team has won a championship. David C. Barnett of WCPN Ideastream says fans are desperate to break that losing streak.

DAVID BARNETT, BYLINE: Linda Marshall dresses the part of a Cavs fan, sporting the Burgundy team color on her T-shirt and in her matching lipstick. But sitting in a downtown street cafe, she says Cleveland sports can be hard on your health.

LINDA MARSHALL: Honestly, about four years ago, I had to stop watching the Browns, the Indians, the Cavs. Even though I have a good heart, my heart couldn't take it because it was just a, you know, a seesaw.

BARNETT: To love Cleveland sports is to know deep frustration. The 1964 Browns were the last professional team to win a world championship for the city. And the intervening 52 years have been a litany of thes (ph) like The Drive in 1987 that denied the Browns a Super Bowl birth, The Shot in 1989 by Chicago Bulls superstar Michael Jordan that knocked the Cavaliers out of the NBA playoffs and The Blown Save in 1997 by reliever Jose Mesa that cost the Indians the World Series.

BRIAN VARGO: My father would get so frustrated watching the Browns.

BARNETT: Brian Vargo says exasperation is a family tradition.

VARGO: I remember being a kid watching the playoffs and having to go outside and play in the snow 'cause it was just too intense, you know?

BARNETT: On the air Friday morning, sports talk broadcaster Anthony Lima of 92.3 The Fan admitted that it's been hard for him to watch this playoff series.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "SPORTS RADIO")

ANTHONY LIMA: I think you're not human if you're not always a little bit guarded. As cocky as we want to get, as much as we have LeBron on our side and no one else does, you still want to guard against the unthinkable happening.

BARNETT: But the unthinkable has happened for the past half century. Still, the fans want to believe, even though the game is being played in Oakland. A whole lot of Clevelanders are once again thinking this time will be different, even though no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA finals. Longtime fan Eric Williams says he isn't even worried.

ERIC WILLIAMS: No. At this point, no. We got it. It's historic. It's history. We're a part of it. I'm just waiting for the parade.

BARNETT: And so are a lot of other long-suffering Cleveland sports fans. For NPR News, I'm David C. Barnett. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.